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By Sue Bradford Edwards

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A scribe might ink a book describing the passage of Venus through the sky. Most Maya never traveled far from their homes unless they were merchants. There were only two ways to travel throughout the Maya lands: by canoe or by foot. Parties of merchants carried goods on wooden back racks, wearing wide-brimmed hats to shade their faces from the sun. What they carried varied depending on whether they were heading away from their home city or back again. Each city produced its own food, cloth, and basic ceramics but traded for other goods, such as basalt grinding stones, obsidian blades, and salt.

Each would have passed his or her knowledge on to only a small number of apprentices. In this way, each group of scribes would develop a distinct style. Other Maya scholars believe the glyph a scribe decided to use at any given time was chosen using several criteria. These ranged from the artistic quality of the glyph to the practical matter of whether a particular glyph would fit in the space available. Like the scribes of medieval Europe who produced ornate manuscripts, Maya scholars used their artistic talents to generate elegant and pleasing combinations of glyphs.

Ball courts in the northern Maya cities included stone rings set high on the walls for scoring opportunities. From the ball courts to the immense pyramids and palaces, stone carvings of many kinds adorned Maya cities. These ranged from facades with elaborate decorative reliefs to staircases and masks on temple exteriors. The style of this artwork varied from city to city and across Maya time periods. Chichén Itzá is known for the immense, Classic-era serpents slithering across its buildings. Many of these carvings depict scenes from the lives of kings, including coronations and wartime victories.

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Ancient Maya by Sue Bradford Edwards

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