The Yucatán Peninsula in Mexico and Belize in Central America were home to the ancient Mayan civilization, which originated in about 2600 B.C.E., rose to prominence in about 300 C.E., and collapsed around 900 C.E. Although often studied as an empire, the Mayan civilization was not a unified society but rather a group of twenty culturally similar, independent states. Mayans created a highly developed culture with systems of writing, calendars, mathematics, astronomy, art, architecture, and religious, political, and military order. Mayans constructed beautiful stone cities and religious temples without the use of metal tools or the wheel, since these tools had not yet been discovered by their culture. Much about Mayan culture is lost forever. The tropical climate of Mexico did not preserve the tree bark books buried with priests, and the Spanish conquerors and missionaries of the 1500s burned or destroyed the remnants of Mayan culture that they found. Nevertheless, archaeologists, people who study the physical remains of past cultures, continue to reveal new aspects of this ancient civilization through present-day excavations or scientific digs.
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