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?

    • Answer

      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?

    • Answer

      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?

    • Answer

      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?

    • Answer

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

ancient
Adjective

very old.

Noun

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

archaeologist
Noun

person who studies artifacts and lifestyles of ancient cultures.

architect
Noun

person who designs buildings or other large structures.

Noun

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

city
Noun

large settlement with a high population density.

Noun

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

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.

Noun

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

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