The Maya are groups of indigenous people in Mexico and Central America. They are often mistakenly thought to have long died out but their descendants are still inhabiting most of the lands in Campeche, Tabasco, Yucatan, and Chiapas in Mexico. And even if we know them as the Maya’s surviving descendants, they prefer to call themselves Yucatec or Quiche which depends on whether they live in the North or South of the lands that were once occupied by the old Mayan kingdom.
Aside from their amazing architecture skills, the Mayas also invented a couple of things that we still use until today like rubber, chocolate, and the number zero. Let’s take a look at the amazing and unusual inventions of the Mayans.
The Mayan’s Developed the Concept of the Number Zero
In the old world, people have understood the idea of nothing and having nothing. And according to current understanding, the concept of zero was fully developed in India around 458 AD. Although there are arguments that this knowledge was inherited from the Babylonians.
But amazingly, the Mayans had their own concept of the number zero in about 350 AD, that’s at least a hundred years earlier than in India. And the fact that they were able to conceptualize it is incredible because the continents of America were held back from the old world because of their geographical isolation.
The Mayans were the First People to Vulcanize Rubber
They say that the rubber did not become useful until Charles Goodyear developed the vulcanization process in 1840. But this might not be entirely true. Because the Mayans and other Mesoamerican civilization have managed to create their own vulcanization process in around 1600 BC. They seem to have been able to make some form of elastic from normal latex by mixing it with other vegetative substances.
They used juice from vines to make their own form of elastic and use it in making things like “bouncy balls” to play a violent ballgame in their specially built and designed ballcourts. These ballcourts were built at the base of their religious sanctuaries and they had expansive playing regions where a stone loop is mounted in the divider toward one side. And this where they played a game named “Pok-a-Tok” which was like a cross between basketball and football.
They Invented Chocolate
The Mayans were able to develop a form of beverage with the use of smashed cocoa beans. And during their time, cocoa beans were very valuable it was even used as a form of currency.
It was around 250 to 900 AD when the Mayans noticed that the cocoa beans tasted delicious when it was aged, grounded, simmered, and blended with fixings. They also made hot cocoa by mixing it with cornmeal and stew peppers. They poured the liquid from one cup to another which enables them to create a frothy foam on top. The Mayans consume these cacao drinks during marriage celebrations and religious ceremonies. Some say that the word chocolate was derived from the Mayan word “xocolatl” which means “bitter water”.
The Mayan’s Agriculture Was Ahead of Their Time
Even if their somewhat limited by their location and local plant species, the Mayans were expert farmers and agriculturists. They cultivated like corns, squash, and beans. But recent discoveries showed that the Mayan farmers also planted cassava, which is a highly nutritious root vegetable and an excellent source of carbohydrate. And it is believed that their cultivation of cassava helped them sustain their large population. The Mayans were also highly accomplished engineers and they used their skills to develop farming techniques such as terrace farming and farm beds.
Their Medicine was Advanced for Their Time
Just like in other ancient civilization, the Mayans believed that medicine was a mixture of religion and science. Their medicinal activities were performed by priests who inherited their positions and received extensive training. They also believed that their health was always controlled by gender, age, and diet. They also performed stitches and used human hair to close wounds.
And the Mayan witch doctors were also knowledgeable in creating prosthetics made from jade and turquoise. They also used obsidian for making cuts.
The Mayans have an Advanced Language and Writing System
Just like other long lost civilizations in the world, the Mayans have created and formalized their language into a codified writing system. They glyphs were pretty much like those of Ancient Egypt where sounds, words, and syllables were represented through the use of pictures and different symbols. Historians say that the Mayans have over 700 glyphs and eighty percent of it can still be understood by their descendants today.
The Mayans also established some form of an early book where they record their daily life, news, and other subjects. In fact, they became obsessed with recording their achievements and history they went as far as recording and writing notable events on walls, large stone slabs, pillars.
The Mayan Calendar: Their Most Famous Invention
The Mayan Calendar is probably one of their most famous inventions. It was the remarkable calendar that “predicted” the end of the world in 2012. The Mayan calendar was a pretty sophisticated but just like any other calendar, it records cycles of time based on the movements of the Planets, Sun, and Moon.
The Mayan’s Astronomy was Surprisingly Accurate
It turns out that the Mayans know quite a lot about astronomy. Because according to decoded records, the Mayans have calculated that the Earth’s tropical year has about 365.242 days which was very close to the Gregorian year that we are using today that has 365.2425 days. The Mayan astronomers also knew that the 81 lunar months lasted 2392 days which expressed a lunar month with 29.5308 days. And modern-day estimates are 29.53059 days.
The level of their accuracy in astronomy with their lack of modern science is amazing. But the Mayans were not genuinely curious about the cosmos, because it seemed that they only used it as a tool to provide a giant “clock”.
The Mayan Art
Mayan artists were known to make good use of materials such as jade, obsidian, wood, shells stucco, etched stone landmarks, shell stucco, earthenware production, and finely painted wall paintings. And although it was rarely preserved, the Mayans were also fond of woodcutting. Stone sculptures were also popular in Mayan sites. They have very famous and highly complex stone carvings and the most celebrated among them are from Copan and Quirigua which are remarkable because of their fine details.