A Maya city with a stepped pyramidThe Maya built magnificent stone cities, temples and palaces in the rainforest of Central America between AD 250 and 900. They invented a number system for counting and used picture writing to record important events. The Maya were the only ancient American people known to have a complete writing system. They studied the movements of the Sun, Moon, stars and planets, and created a calendar. The Maya civilization came to an end when Spanish conquistadores invaded in the 1500s. Descendants of the Maya continue to live in the region and speak Maya languages.
In the countryside, most Maya people were farmers. One of their most important crops was maize, which was used to make a type of flat bread, called tortilla, and an alcoholic drink called balche. Other common crops were beans and squash. The Maya made clearings in the forest, called milpas, in which to plant crops. Closer to the village, they tended gardens, where they grew chilli peppers, yams, flowers and tobacco. Cacao (cocoa) and cashew trees bore fruits and nuts.
The Maya made rubber from sticky fluids in trees that grew in the forests of their homeland. To make the rubber durable, they mixed it with substances from the morning glory plant. This process was similar to vulcanization, a technique that was not discovered until the 19th century.
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