Lesson 6.4: Social Studies Connection

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The Maya: Where Did They Go?

More than 1,000 years ago, the Maya lived in parts of what is now Central America and southern Mexico. They built huge pyramids and large temples. They studied astronomy and developed a calendar. Then, it seems, the Maya disappeared.

For a long time, scientists did not know what happened to the Maya. Now they think they may have found the answer in Dos Pilas, an ancient Maya city.

Winds from a hurricane uncovered a hidden staircase in Dos Pilas. Scientists studied carvings on the steps. The carvings are called hieroglyphs, a kind of picture writing.

An Ancient War

Scientists translated the hieroglyphs. The writing shows that the Maya disappeared after a fierce war.

The long war was between people from two Maya cities. The people of Tikal, in Guatemala, battled the people of Calakmul, in Mexico. The rulers of each city wanted control over the other.

Dos Pilas was located south of both Tikal and Calakmul. The brother of the ruler of Tikal ruled Dos Pilas. At one point in the war, Calakmul took control of Dos Pilas. The Calakmuls were kind to the ruler of Dos Pilas, so he joined them. Then he attacked his brother's people of Tikal. “This was not part of a struggle between two brothers, but part of a world war,” said historian Arthur A. Demarest.

The End of a Civilization

Dos Pilas defeated Tikal. Then the war between Tikal and Calakmul got even worse. After a while, Tikal “roared back and crushed Calakmul,” Demarest said. The fighting between the two cities continued for years. It made both cities very weak.

The war also made the Maya civilization weak, so it could not go on. Today, only ruins of ancient buildings are left to show that the Maya once ruled the large area.

Word Wise

Science of the universe beyond Earth: A telescope is an important tool for studying astronomy.

Having to do with things that happened long ago: Roman numerals that we use today were developed by the ancient Roman people.

Say word for word in another language: Can you translate this letter into Spanish?

The way of life of a kind of people: The Mayan people, along with other people of past civilizations, had their own ideas about art and science.

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A prefix is a word part that begins a word. The prefix astro- begins the word astronomy. The prefix trans- begins the word translate.

Use a dictionary.

  • Find three words that begin with astro-.
  • Find three words that begin with trans-.

Data Hunt

The Mayan number system used these three symbols:*
an egg-shaped symbol for 0
a dot for 1
a bar for 5

See how the Maya wrote the numbers 1 to 19 with dots and bars.

the Maya wrote the numbers 1 to 19 with dots and bars.

The Maya used place value to write numbers greater than 19. But their place value was different from ours. Their place value formed columns.

The Maya could show 34 with dots and bars like this.

They multiplied the top number, 1, by 20 to get a product.

Then they added the bottom number, 14, to the product.

Now, see how the Maya added numbers.

Show 34 + 55.

Work with a partner or with a group. Talk about:

  1. What column a shows.
  2. What column b shows.
  3. How a and b were put together to get column c.
  4. How column d shows the sum of 34 and 55.