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During the Middle Preclassic Period , small villages began to grow to form cities. In the highlands, Kaminaljuyu emerged as a principal centre in the Late Preclassic.
The Classic period is largely defined as the period during which the lowland Maya raised dated monuments using the Long Count calendar.
During the Early Classic, cities throughout the Maya region were influenced by the great metropolis of Teotihuacan in the distant Valley of Mexico.
At various points during the Classic period, one or other of these powers would gain a strategic victory over its great rival, resulting in respective periods of florescence and decline.
During the 9th century AD, the central Maya region suffered major political collapse, marked by the abandonment of cities, the ending of dynasties, and a northward shift in activity.
Classic Maya social organization was based on the ritual authority of the ruler, rather than central control of trade and food distribution.
This only served to exacerbate systemic problems. Stelae were no longer raised, and squatters moved into abandoned royal palaces.
Although much reduced, a significant Maya presence remained into the Postclassic period after the abandonment of the major Classic period cities; the population was particularly concentrated near permanent water sources.
After the decline of Chichen Itza, the Maya region lacked a dominant power until the rise of the city of Mayapan in the 12th century.
New cities arose near the Caribbean and Gulf coasts, and new trade networks were formed. The Postclassic Period was marked by changes from the preceding Classic Period.
Cities came to occupy more-easily defended hilltop locations surrounded by deep ravines, with ditch-and-wall defences sometimes supplementing the protection provided by the natural terrain.
However, in practice one member of the council could act as a supreme ruler, while the other members served him as advisors. Mayapan was abandoned around , after a period of political, social and environmental turbulence that in many ways echoed the Classic period collapse in the southern Maya region.
They were seized by a Maya lord, and most were sacrificed , although two managed to escape. The Spanish conquest stripped away most of the defining features of Maya civilization.
However, many Maya villages remained remote from Spanish colonial authority, and for the most part continued to manage their own affairs. Maya communities and the nuclear family maintained their traditional day-to-day life.
Traditional crafts such as weaving, ceramics, and basketry continued to be practised. Community markets and trade in local products continued long after the conquest.
At times, the colonial administration encouraged the traditional economy in order to extract tribute in the form of ceramics or cotton textiles, although these were usually made to European specifications.
Maya beliefs and language proved resistant to change, despite vigorous efforts by Catholic missionaries. The agents of the Catholic Church wrote detailed accounts of the Maya, in support of their efforts at evangelization, and absorption of the Maya into the Spanish Empire.
The final two decades of the 19th century saw the birth of modern scientific archaeology in the Maya region, with the meticulous work of Alfred Maudslay and Teoberto Maler.
In the s, the distinguished Mayanist J. Thompson promoted the ideas that Maya cities were essentially vacant ceremonial centres serving a dispersed population in the forest, and that the Maya civilization was governed by peaceful astronomer-priests.
Unlike the Aztecs and the Inca , the Maya political system never integrated the entire Maya cultural area into a single state or empire.
Rather, throughout its history, the Maya area contained a varying mix of political complexity that included both states and chiefdoms.
These polities fluctuated greatly in their relationships with each other and were engaged in a complex web of rivalries, periods of dominance or submission, vassalage, and alliances.
At times, different polities achieved regional dominance, such as Calakmul, Caracol , Mayapan, and Tikal. The first reliably evidenced polities formed in the Maya lowlands in the 9th century BC.
The divine authority invested within the ruler was such that the king was able to mobilize both the aristocracy and commoners in executing huge infrastructure projects, apparently with no police force or standing army.
The Maya political landscape was highly complex and Maya elites engaged in political intrigue to gain economic and social advantage over neighbours.
In other cases, loose alliance networks were formed around a dominant city. An overriding sense of pride and honour among the warrior aristocracy could lead to extended feuds and vendettas, which caused political instability and the fragmentation of polities.
From the Early Preclassic, Maya society was sharply divided between the elite and commoners. As population increased over time, various sectors of society became increasingly specialized, and political organization became increasingly complex.
Commoners included farmers, servants, labourers, and slaves. Such clans held that the land was the property of the clan ancestors, and such ties between the land and the ancestors were reinforced by the burial of the dead within residential compounds.
Classic Maya rule was centred in a royal culture that was displayed in all areas of Classic Maya art. The king was the supreme ruler and held a semi-divine status that made him the mediator between the mortal realm and that of the gods.
From very early times, kings were specifically identified with the young maize god , whose gift of maize was the basis of Mesoamerican civilization.
Maya royal succession was patrilineal , and royal power only passed to queens when doing otherwise would result in the extinction of the dynasty.
Typically, power was passed to the eldest son. Although being of the royal bloodline was of utmost importance, the heir also had to be a successful war leader, as demonstrated by taking of captives.
Maya political administration, based around the royal court, was not bureaucratic in nature. Government was hierarchical, and official posts were sponsored by higher-ranking members of the aristocracy; officials tended to be promoted to higher levels of office during the course of their lives.
Officials are referred to as being "owned" by their sponsor, and this relationship continued even after the death of the sponsor.
Ajaw is usually translated as "lord" or "king". In the Early Classic, an ajaw was the ruler of a city. Later, with increasing social complexity, the ajaw was a member of the ruling class and a major city could have more than one, each ruling over different districts.
It indicated an overlord, or high king , and the title was only in use during the Classic period. A sajal was ranked below the ajaw , and indicated a subservient lord.
A sajal would be lord of a second- or third-tier site, answering to an ajaw , who may himself have been subservient to a kalomte. These last two may be variations on the same title,  and Mark Zender has suggested that the holder of this title may have been the spokesman for the ruler.
Different factions may have existed in the royal court. Rivalry between different factions would have led to dynamic political institutions as compromises and disagreements were played out.
In such a setting, public performance was vital. Such performances included ritual dances , presentation of war captives, offerings of tribute, human sacrifice, and religious ritual.
Their houses were generally constructed from perishable materials, and their remains have left little trace in the archaeological record.
Some commoner dwellings were raised on low platforms, and these can be identified, but an unknown quantity of commoner houses were not.
Such low-status dwellings can only be detected by extensive remote-sensing surveys of apparently empty terrain. Warfare was prevalent in the Maya world.
Military campaigns were launched for a variety of reasons, including the control of trade routes and tribute, raids to take captives, scaling up to the complete destruction of an enemy state.
Little is known about Maya military organization, logistics, or training. Warfare is depicted in Maya art from the Classic period, and wars and victories are mentioned in hieroglyphic inscriptions.
The elite inhabitants of the city either fled or were captured, and never returned to collect their abandoned property. The inhabitants of the periphery abandoned the site soon after.
This is an example of intensive warfare carried out by an enemy in order to completely eliminate a Maya state, rather than subjugate it.
Research at Aguateca indicated that Classic period warriors were primarily members of the elite. From as early as the Preclassic period, the ruler of a Maya polity was expected to be a distinguished war leader, and was depicted with trophy heads hanging from his belt.
Maya inscriptions from the Classic show that a defeated king could be captured, tortured, and sacrificed. The outcome of a successful military campaign could vary in its impact on the defeated polity.
In some cases, entire cities were sacked, and never resettled, as at Aguateca. The captured nobles and their families could be imprisoned, or sacrificed.
At the least severe end of the scale, the defeated polity would be obliged to pay tribute to the victor. During the Contact period, it is known that certain military positions were held by members of the aristocracy, and were passed on by patrilineal succession.
It is likely that the specialized knowledge inherent in the particular military role was taught to the successor, including strategy, ritual, and war dances.
Maya states did not maintain standing armies; warriors were mustered by local officials who reported back to appointed warleaders. There were also units of full-time mercenaries who followed permanent leaders.
There is some evidence from the Classic period that women provided supporting roles in war, but they did not act as military officers with the exception of those rare ruling queens.
The atlatl spear-thrower was introduced to the Maya region by Teotihuacan in the Early Classic. Maya warriors wore body armour in the form of quilted cotton that had been soaked in salt water to toughen it; the resulting armour compared favourably to the steel armour worn by the Spanish when they conquered the region.
Trade was a key component of Maya society, and in the development of the Maya civilization. The cities that grew to become the most important usually controlled access to vital trade goods, or portage routes.
The Maya engaged in long distance trade across the Maya region, and across greater Mesoamerica and beyond.
As an illustration, an Early Classic Maya merchant quarter has been identified at the distant metropolis of Teotihuacan, in central Mexico.
Long distance trade of both luxury and utilitarian goods was probably controlled by the royal family. Trade routes not only supplied physical goods, they facilitated the movement of people and ideas throughout Mesoamerica.
Little is known of Maya merchants, although they are depicted on Maya ceramics in elaborate noble dress. From this, it is known that at least some traders were members of the elite.
During the Contact period, it is known that Maya nobility took part in long distance trading expeditions. When merchants travelled, they painted themselves black, like their patron gods, and went heavily armed.
The Maya had no pack animals, so all trade goods were carried on the backs of porters when going overland; if the trade route followed a river or the coast, then goods were transported in canoes.
It was made from a large hollowed-out tree trunk and had a palm-covered canopy. The canoe was 2. Trade goods carried included cacao, obsidian, ceramics, textiles, food and drink for the crew, and copper bells and axes.
Marketplaces are difficult to identify archaeologically. Unusually high levels of zinc and phosphorus at both sites indicated similar food production and vegetable sales activity.
The calculated density of market stalls at Chunchucmil strongly suggests that a thriving market economy already existed in the Early Classic.
Maya art is essentially the art of the royal court. It is almost exclusively concerned with the Maya elite and their world.
Maya art was crafted from both perishable and non-perishable materials, and served to link the Maya to their ancestors. Although surviving Maya art represents only a small proportion of the art that the Maya created, it represents a wider variety of subjects than any other art tradition in the Americas.
The Maya exhibited a preference for the colour green or blue-green, and used the same word for the colours blue and green.
They sculpted artefacts that included fine tesserae and beads, to carved heads weighing 4. Maya stone sculpture emerged into the archaeological record as a fully developed tradition, suggesting that it may have evolved from a tradition of sculpting wood.
The few wooden artefacts that have survived include three-dimensional sculptures, and hieroglyphic panels. The rough form was laid out on a plain plaster base coating on the wall, and the three-dimensional form was built up using small stones.
Finally, this was coated with stucco and moulded into the finished form; human body forms were first modelled in stucco, with their costumes added afterwards.
The final stucco sculpture was then brightly painted. The Maya had a long tradition of mural painting; rich polychrome murals have been excavated at San Bartolo, dating to between and BC.
Among the best preserved murals are a full-size series of Late Classic paintings at Bonampak. Flint , chert , and obsidian all served utilitarian purposes in Maya culture, but many pieces were finely crafted into forms that were never intended to be used as tools.
Maya textiles are very poorly represented in the archaeological record, although by comparison with other pre-Columbian cultures, such as the Aztecs and the Andean region , it is likely that they were high-value items.
Such secondary representations show the elite of the Maya court adorned with sumptuous cloths, generally these would have been cotton, but jaguar pelts and deer hides are also shown.
Ceramics are the most commonly surviving type of Maya art. Maya pottery was not glazed, although it often had a fine finish produced by burnishing.
Maya ceramics were painted with clay slips blended with minerals and coloured clays. Ancient Maya firing techniques have yet to be replicated.
They stand from 10 to 25 centimetres 3. It includes a set of features such as hieroglyphs painted in a pink or pale red colour and scenes with dancers wearing masks.
One of the most distinctive features is the realistic representation of subjects as they appeared in life. Bone, both human and animal, was also sculpted; human bones may have been trophies, or relics of ancestors.
The Maya generally hammered sheet metal into objects such as beads, bells, and discs. In the last centuries before the Spanish Conquest, the Maya began to use the lost-wax method to cast small metal pieces.
One poorly studied area of Maya folk art is graffiti. At Tikal, where a great quantity of graffiti has been recorded, the subject matter includes drawings of temples, people, deities, animals, banners, litters, and thrones.
Graffiti was often inscribed haphazardly, with drawings overlapping each other, and display a mix of crude, untrained art, and examples by artists who were familiar with Classic-period artistic conventions.
The Maya produced a vast array of structures, and have left an extensive architectural legacy. Maya architecture also incorporates various art forms and hieroglyphic texts.
Masonry architecture built by the Maya evidences craft specialization in Maya society, centralized organization and the political means to mobilize a large workforce.
A Classic-period city like Tikal was spread over 20 square kilometres 7. The labour required to build such a city was immense, running into many millions of man-days.
Maya cities were not formally planned, and were subject to irregular expansion, with the haphazard addition of palaces, temples and other buildings.
Sculpted monuments were raised to record the deeds of the ruling dynasty. City centres also featured plazas, sacred ballcourts and buildings used for marketplaces and schools.
The areas adjacent to these sacred compounds included residential complexes housing wealthy lineages. The largest and richest of these elite compounds sometimes possessed sculpture and art of craftsmanship equal to that of royal art.
The ceremonial centre of the Maya city was where the ruling elite lived, and where the administrative functions of the city were performed, together with religious ceremonies.
It was also where the inhabitants of the city gathered for public activities. Residential units were built on top of stone platforms to raise them above the level of the rain season floodwaters.
The Maya built their cities with Neolithic technology;  they built their structures from both perishable materials and from stone.
The exact type of stone used in masonry construction varied according to locally available resources, and this also affected the building style.
Across a broad swathe of the Maya area, limestone was immediately available. The Maya did not employ a functional wheel, so all loads were transported on litters, barges, or rolled on logs.
Heavy loads were lifted with rope, but probably without employing pulleys. Wood was used for beams, and for lintels , even in masonry structures.
Adobe was also applied; this consisted of mud strengthened with straw and was applied as a coating over the woven-stick walls of huts. Like wood and thatch, adobe was used throughout Maya history, even after the development of masonry structures.
In the southern Maya area, adobe was employed in monumental architecture when no suitable stone was locally available. The great cities of the Maya civilization were composed of pyramid temples, palaces, ballcourts, sacbeob causeways , patios and plazas.
Some cities also possessed extensive hydraulic systems or defensive walls. The exteriors of most buildings were painted, either in one or multiple colours, or with imagery.
Many buildings were adorned with sculpture or painted stucco reliefs. These complexes were usually located in the site core, beside a principal plaza.
Maya palaces consisted of a platform supporting a multiroom range structure. The term acropolis , in a Maya context, refers to a complex of structures built upon platforms of varying height.
Palaces and acropoleis were essentially elite residential compounds. They generally extended horizontally as opposed to the towering Maya pyramids, and often had restricted access.
Some structures in Maya acropoleis supported roof combs. Rooms often had stone benches, used for sleeping, and holes indicate where curtains once hung.
Large palaces, such as at Palenque, could be fitted with a water supply, and sweat baths were often found within the complex, or nearby.
During the Early Classic, rulers were sometimes buried underneath the acropolis complex. There is abundant evidence that palaces were far more than simple elite residences, and that a range of courtly activities took place in them, including audiences, formal receptions, and important rituals.
Temples were raised on platforms, most often upon a pyramid. The earliest temples were probably thatched huts built upon low platforms.
By the Late Preclassic period, their walls were of stone, and the development of the corbel arch allowed stone roofs to replace thatch.
By the Classic period, temple roofs were being topped with roof combs that extended the height of the temple and served as a foundation for monumental art.
The temple shrines contained between one and three rooms, and were dedicated to important deities. Such a deity might be one of the patron gods of the city, or a deified ancestor.
The Maya were keen observers of the sun, stars, and planets. The earliest examples date to the Preclassic period. A structure was built on the west side of a plaza; it was usually a radial pyramid with stairways facing the cardinal directions.
It faced east across the plaza to three small temples on the far side. From the west pyramid, the sun was seen to rise over these temples on the solstices and equinoxes.
As well as E-Groups, the Maya built other structures dedicated to observing the movements of celestial bodies. It has slit windows that marked the movements of Venus.
Triadic pyramids first appeared in the Preclassic. They consisted of a dominant structure flanked by two smaller inward-facing buildings, all mounted upon a single basal platform.
The ballcourt is a distinctive pan-Mesoamerican form of architecture. Although Maya cities shared many common features, there was considerable variation in architectural style.
In the Late Classic, these local differences developed into distinctive regional architectural styles. The style is characterized by tall pyramids supporting a summit shrine adorned with a roof comb, and accessed by a single doorway.
The exemplar of Puuc-style architecture is Uxmal. The motifs also included geometric patterns, lattices and spools, possibly influenced by styles from highland Oaxaca , outside the Maya area.
Roof combs were relatively uncommon at Puuc sites. Some doorways were surrounded by mosaic masks of monsters representing mountain or sky deities, identifying the doorways as entrances to the supernatural realm.
The Usumacinta style developed in the hilly terrain of the Usumacinta drainage. Cities took advantage of the hillsides to support their major architecture, as at Palenque and Yaxchilan.
Sites modified corbel vaulting to allow thinner walls and multiple access doors to temples. Palaces had multiple entrances that used post-and-lintel entrances rather than corbel vaulting.
Many sites erected stelae, but Palenque instead developed finely sculpted panelling to decorate its buildings. Before BC, the Maya spoke a single language, dubbed proto-Mayan by linguists.
The Maya writing system is one of the outstanding achievements of the pre-Columbian inhabitants of the Americas. Early Maya script had appeared on the Pacific coast of Guatemala by the late 1st century AD, or early 2nd century.
The Catholic Church and colonial officials, notably Bishop Diego de Landa , destroyed Maya texts wherever they found them, and with them the knowledge of Maya writing, but by chance three uncontested pre-Columbian books dated to the Postclassic period have been preserved.
Archaeology conducted at Maya sites often reveals other fragments, rectangular lumps of plaster and paint chips which were codices; these tantalizing remains are, however, too severely damaged for any inscriptions to have survived, most of the organic material having decayed.
Most surviving pre-Columbian Maya writing dates to the Classic period and is contained in stone inscriptions from Maya sites, such as stelae, or on ceramics vessels.
The Maya writing system often called hieroglyphs from a superficial resemblance to the Ancient Egyptian writing  is a logosyllabic writing system, combining a syllabary of phonetic signs representing syllables with logogram representing entire words.
The Maya script was in use up to the arrival of the Europeans, its use peaking during the Classic Period. The knowledge was subsequently lost, as a result of the impact of the conquest on Maya society.
The decipherment and recovery of the knowledge of Maya writing has been a long and laborious process. The basic unit of Maya logosyllabic text is the glyph block, which transcribes a word or phrase.
The block is composed of one or more individual glyphs attached to each other to form the glyph block, with individual glyph blocks generally being separated by a space.
Glyph blocks are usually arranged in a grid pattern. For ease of reference, epigraphers refer to glyph blocks from left to right alphabetically, and top to bottom numerically.
Thus, any glyph block in a piece of text can be identified. C4 would be third block counting from the left, and the fourth block counting downwards.
Numeric row labels restart from 1 for each discrete unit of text. Although mayan text may be laid out in varying manners, generally text is arranged into double columns of glyph blocks.
The reading order of text starts at the top left block A1 , continues to the second block in the double-column B1 , then drops down a row and starts again from the left half of the double column A2 , and thus continues in zig-zag fashion.
Once the bottom is reached, the inscription continues from the top left of the next double column. Where an inscription ends in a single unpaired column, this final column is usually read straight downwards.
Individual glyph blocks may be composed of a number of elements. These consist of the main sign, and any affixes. Main signs represent the major element of the block, and may be a noun , verb , adverb , adjective , or phonetic sign.
Some main signs are abstract, some are pictures of the object they represent, and others are "head variants", personifications of the word they represent.
Affixes are smaller rectangular elements, usually attached to a main sign, although a block may be composed entirely of affixes.
Affixes may represent a wide variety of speech elements, including nouns, verbs, verbal suffixes, prepositions, pronouns, and more. Small sections of a main sign could be used to represent the whole main sign, and Maya scribes were highly inventive in their usage and adaptation of glyph elements.
Although the archaeological record does not provide examples of brushes or pens, analysis of ink strokes on the Postclassic codices suggests that it was applied with a brush with a tip fashioned from pliable hair.
Commoners were illiterate; scribes were drawn from the elite. It is not known if all members of the aristocracy could read and write, although at least some women could, since there are representations of female scribes in Maya art.
Although not much is known about Maya scribes, some did sign their work, both on ceramics and on stone sculpture. Usually, only a single scribe signed a ceramic vessel, but multiple sculptors are known to have recorded their names on stone sculpture; eight sculptors signed one stela at Piedras Negras.
However, most works remained unsigned by their artists. In common with the other Mesoamerican civilizations, the Maya used a base 20 vigesimal system.
This later developed into a numeral that was used to perform calculation,  and was used in hieroglyphic texts for more than a thousand years, until its use was extinguished by the Spanish.
The basic number system consists of a dot to represent one, and a bar to represent five. In this way, the lowest symbol would represent units, the next symbol up would represent multiples of twenty, and the symbol above that would represent multiples of , and so on.
For example, the number would be written with four dots on the lowest level, four dots on the next level up, and two dots on the next level after that, to give 4x1, plus 4x20, plus 2x Using this system, the Maya were able to record huge numbers.
The Maya calendrical system, in common with other Mesoamerican calendars, had its origins in the Preclassic period. However, it was the Maya that developed the calendar to its maximum sophistication, recording lunar and solar cycles, eclipses and movements of planets with great accuracy.
In some cases, the Maya calculations were more accurate than equivalent calculations in the Old World ; for example, the Maya solar year was calculated to greater accuracy than the Julian year.
The Maya calendar was intrinsically tied to Maya ritual, and it was central to Maya religious practices.
The next unit, instead of being multiplied by 20, as called for by the vigesimal system, was multiplied by 18 in order to provide a rough approximation of the solar year hence producing days.
This day year was called a tun. Each succeeding level of multiplication followed the vigesimal system. No astronomical basis for this count has been proved, and it may be that the day count is based on the human gestation period.
The day cycle repeated a series of day-names, with a number from 1 to 13 prefixed to indicated where in the cycle a particular day occurred.
The day haab was produced by a cycle of eighteen named day winal s, completed by the addition of a 5-day period called the wayeb. Such a day name could only recur once every 52 years, and this period is referred to by Mayanists as the Calendar Round.
In most Mesoamerican cultures, the Calendar Round was the largest unit for measuring time. As with any non-repeating calendar, the Maya measured time from a fixed start point.
This was believed by the Maya to be the day of the creation of the world in its current form. Although the Calendar Round is still in use today,  the Maya started using an abbreviated Short Count during the Late Classic period.
The Book of Chilam Balam of Chumayel  contains the only colonial reference to classic long-count dates. This equates the Long Count date The famous astrologer John Dee used an Aztec obsidian mirror to see into the future.
We may look down our noses at his ideas, but one may be sure that in outlook he was far closer to a Maya priest astronomer than is an astronomer of our century.
The Maya made meticulous observations of celestial bodies, patiently recording astronomical data on the movements of the sun, moon, Venus, and the stars.
This information was used for divination , so Maya astronomy was essentially for astrological purposes. Maya astronomy did not serve to study the universe for scientific reasons, nor was it used to measure the seasons in order to calculate crop planting.
It was rather used by the priesthood to comprehend past cycles of time, and project them into the future to produce prophecy.
The priesthood refined observations and recorded eclipses of the sun and moon, and movements of Venus and the stars; these were measured against dated events in the past, on the assumption that similar events would occur in the future when the same astronomical conditions prevailed.
The Maya measured the day Venus cycle with an error of just two hours. Five cycles of Venus equated to eight day haab calendrical cycles, and this period was recorded in the codices.
The Maya also followed the movements of Jupiter , Mars and Mercury. Solar and lunar eclipses were considered to be especially dangerous events that could bring catastrophe upon the world.
Eclipses were interpreted as the sun or moon being bitten, and lunar tables were recorded in order that the Maya might be able to predict them, and perform the appropriate ceremonies to ward off disaster.
In common with the rest of Mesoamerica, the Maya believed in a supernatural realm inhabited by an array of powerful deities who needed to be placated with ceremonial offerings and ritual practices.
Visions for the chilan were likely facilitated by consumption of water lilies , which are hallucinogenic in high doses.
The Maya viewed the cosmos as highly structured. There were thirteen levels in the heavens and nine in the underworld, with the mortal world in between.
Each level had four cardinal directions associated with a different colour; north was white, east was red, south was yellow, and west was black.
Major deities had aspects associated with these directions and colours. Maya households interred their dead underneath the floors, with offerings appropriate to the social status of the family.
There the dead could act as protective ancestors. Maya lineages were patrilineal, so the worship of a prominent male ancestor would be emphasized, often with a household shrine.
As Maya society developed, and the elite became more powerful, Maya royalty developed their household shrines into the great pyramids that held the tombs of their ancestors.
Belief in supernatural forces pervaded Maya life and influenced every aspect of it, from the simplest day-to-day activities such as food preparation, to trade, politics, and elite activities.
Maya deities governed all aspects of the world, both visible and invisible. The priests performed public ceremonies that incorporated feasting, bloodletting, incense burning, music , ritual dance, and, on certain occasions, human sacrifice.
During the Classic period, the Maya ruler was the high priest, and the direct conduit between mortals and the gods. It is highly likely that, among commoners, shamanism continued in parallel to state religion.
By the Postclassic, religious emphasis had changed; there was an increase in worship of the images of deities, and more frequent recourse to human sacrifice.
Archaeologists painstakingly reconstruct these ritual practices and beliefs using several techniques. One important, though incomplete, resource is physical evidence, such as dedicatory caches and other ritual deposits, shrines, and burials with their associated funerary offerings.
Blood was viewed as a potent source of nourishment for the Maya deities, and the sacrifice of a living creature was a powerful blood offering.
By extension, the sacrifice of a human life was the ultimate offering of blood to the gods, and the most important Maya rituals culminated in human sacrifice.
Generally only high status prisoners of war were sacrificed, with lower status captives being used for labour.
Important rituals such as the dedication of major building projects or the enthronement of a new ruler required a human offering.
The sacrifice of an enemy king was the most prized, and such a sacrifice involved decapitation of the captive ruler in a ritual reenactment of the decapitation of the Maya maize god by the death gods.