Guatemala: Mayan heritage, archeology, and crafts

Once home to the Mayan civilization, Guatemala — which means “places of many trees” in Nahuatl — is today the third-largest country in Central America. Close to 50 percent of the Guatemalan population is considered descendants of the Mayas, and that is reflected in their vibrant and thriving culture, as well as the traditional dress many woman and children wear. The first concrete traces of the Mayan civilization date back to the Preclassic period around 1,800 BC in the Mirador Basin in Petén, in northern Guatemala. Mayans built awe-inspiring temples, pyramids, and cities and developed the only fully known writing system of the pre-Columbian Americas, the Maya hieroglyphic script.

Because of its Mayan heritage, Guatemala houses a large number of archeological sites, including the Tikal Temple, an ancient city in Guatemala’s rainforest that was once one of the most powerful kingdoms of the ancient Maya, and was declared a World Heritage Site in 1979.  Monte Alto is another site notable for the more than 40 major structures and other interesting sculptures it houses. El Mirador and Cancuén are also noteworthy sites, for having the largest pyramid (La Danta) and palaces in the Mayan world, respectively.

Weaving, baskets, pottery, wood carvings, and many other handmade crafts are very popular in Guatemalan culture. They are also known for their colorful textiles, many of which are woven using the ancient art of backstrap-loom weaving. The art of weaving is a tradition that has been passed down from generation to generation for centuries. It can be observed in the traditional dress most indigenous people still wear today.

Did you know…? Guatemala is the main coffee provider for Starbucks. Spanish is the official language in Guatemala, but there are about 21 Mayan dialects still spoken. The Mayans came up with the mathematical concept of zero.

This is the thirteenth in a series of articles spotlighting different countries in honor of Hispanic Heritage Month. To see a complete list of previous entries, click here.