• The Maya are an ancient people, whose civilization thrived in Central America thousands of years ago. Scholars have thought for more than 100 years that Maya culture originated in the northern reaches of what is now Guatemala around 600 BCE, migrating north to the Yucatan Peninsula of Mexico beginning around 700 CE. Throughout the film Quest for the Lost Maya, a team of anthropologists finds evidence that the Maya have been in the Yucatan more than a thousand years longer than believed.

    This segment of Quest for the Lost Maya discusses Xocnacah [SHOHK-nuh-kay], a massive, ancient Mayan city. The construction of the city's center plaza would have required enormous human effort, including the work of architects, mathematicians, engineers, masons, and accountants, overseen by kings and their appointed leaders. Such a labor force suggests that a very well-organized, highly sophisticated Mayan civilization inhabited the Yucatan as early as 600 BCE.

    1. How large was the central plaza at Xocnacah?

      It was 28 feet tall. The top platform was the size of four football fields and could hold up to 1,000 people.

    2. How old is this monumental structure?

      It was radio-carbon dated to 2,500 years ago (500 BCE).

    3. What artifacts did archaeologists find at Xocnacah? What do these artifacts suggest about the Mayan culture there?

      They found basalt tools from what is now Belize, conch shells from what is now the Mexican city of Veracruz, and jade from what is now Guatemala. This suggests that Xocnacah was the hub of a large trade network.

    4. Suppose the year is now 3000, and archaeologists stumble upon the remains of your hometown or city. What remains will they find? What will those remains say about your culture?

      Answers will vary. Encourage students to think about artifacts of our own civilizations, as well as connections to other places.

  • Term Part of Speech Definition Encyclopedic Entry
    ancient Adjective

    very old.

    anthropology Noun

    science of the origin, development, and culture of human beings.

    Encyclopedic Entry: anthropology
    archaeologist Noun

    person who studies artifacts and lifestyles of ancient cultures.

    architect Noun

    person who designs buildings or other large structures.

    artifact Noun

    material remains of a culture, such as tools, clothing, or food.

    Encyclopedic Entry: Artifact
    city Noun

    large settlement with a high population density.

    civilization Noun

    complex way of life that developed as humans began to develop urban settlements.

    Encyclopedic Entry: Key Components of Civilization
    culture Noun

    learned behavior of people, including their languages, belief systems, social structures, institutions, and material goods.

    engineer Noun

    person who plans the building of things, such as structures (construction engineer) or substances (chemical engineer).

    evidence Noun

    data that can be measured, observed, examined, and analyzed to support a conclusion.

    jungle Noun

    tropical ecosystem filled with trees and underbrush.

    mason Noun

    person who works with bricks, stone, and mortar.

    mathematician Noun

    person who studies the theory and application of quantities, groupings, shapes, and their relationships.

    Maya Noun

    people and culture native to southeastern Mexico and Central America.

    scholar Noun

    educated person.

    urban area Noun

    developed, densely populated area where most inhabitants have nonagricultural jobs.

    Encyclopedic Entry: urban area