The Maya are the indigenous people who live in southernmost Mexico, Guatemala, and Belize, with a few in El Salvador and Honduras. They are descendants of ancient hunter gatherers who migrated over the land bridge from Asia to the Americas during the last ice age.
Those ancestors wandered in the New World for over 10,000 years before (according to the Maya creation myth) they took the first steps to establish the advanced Maya civilization that endures to this day.
The Maya built their civilization by breaking all the rules. Imagine India without the Ganges or China without rice. Imagine agriculture without topsoil or ground water. Imagine building a great civilization in a place with no useful animal, mineral or vegetable resources. The Maya civilization was the longest of long shots right from the beginning.
Maya scribes used a complete complex writing system (1 of only 5 created in the history of the world), capable of recording any thought the human mind could conceive. After 200 hundred years of the most amazing code-breaking effort of all time, we can now read about 80% of the Maya glyphs, but an understanding of the concepts they were meant to convey remains elusive.
The Maya mathematic system was the best in the ancient world. It remains one of only four ever to develop the concept of zero. The counting system was based on 20 and used just 3 symbols to do what our system requires 10 digits to accomplish. Numbers were written from bottom to top. A small bag of sticks, cacao beans and sea shells could serve as a calculator.
Maya astronomers developed an (unknown) technique to accurately spot cycles in motion of the stars. Their calculation of the solar cycle was so accurate that the calendar they based on it is 1/10,000th of a day more accurate than ours. In the highlands of Guatemala Maya day-keepers still count the days in the ancient way. Their calendar has not lost a single day in 2500 years.
Their lunar calculations are off by only 33 seconds after 1500 years. The complex orbit of Venus was predicted within 1 day in 6000 years. Their predictions of the orbit of Mars are equally accurate. Their table predicting solar and lunar eclipses can still be used today.
They wrote about "a dark rift in the center of the world that is the home of all evil and the doorway to the underworld" 3000 years before modern astronomers discovered the black hole in the center of the Milky Way.
While the best minds in Europe thought the world was 5000 years old, the Maya were writing accurate descriptions of celestial events that happened nearly 500 million years in the past. They did this 1000 years before the first computer.
They wrote about cycles in the heavens that are longer than the known age of the universe. We don't know how accurate they were.
Maya timekeepers developed a fractal or quantum view of time that united the cycles of the heavens with the cycles of man, agriculture, and nature.
In the Maya view the universe is held up by an enormous tree which grows on a turtle's back, surrounded by water. Maya priests saw the universe divided into 23 levels. 13 levels in the heavens, 9 in the underworld, with the 23rd being the surface of the earth, inhabited by humans, who alone had memory, who were obliged to bear the burden of time, and whose actions kept the universe in balance.
Ancient Maya toolmakers produced the sharpest known cutting edges, just a single molecule think. Some eye surgeons still use similar tools today.
The Maya cooked the sap of the Castillo Elastica tree mixed with the sap of the morning glory vine to produce the equivalent of "vulcanized" rubber 3000 years before the patent was issued in 1839 to Charles Goodyear.
The Maya brought the world blue denim and chocolate.
The Maya, then and now, have a unique view of the world around them.