The accomplishments of the Maya were most pronounced during the Classic Period (900BC to 300 BC). At this time, there were amazing advancements in the fields of astronomy, calendrics, and architecture. Historians believe that the Maya expanded in these three areas because they are all associated with religion.
Without doubt, the greatest achievement in Maya calendrics was the Long Count. This is considered to be the most accurate calender ever devised in the ancient world. The Long Count allowed the Maya to keep track of long periods of time. The basic unit was a kin or a day. They did not keep track of hours, minutes, or seconds. The Maya believed that a year was 365.2420 days, which is the same as our present day estimate.
Mayan astronomers possessed astonishing skills. They could meticulously plot the paths of the Sun, the Moon, and Venus. They knew that Venus revolved around the planet Earth every 584 days. Also, they are believed to have tracked the course of Mars, Jupiter, and Mercury. Most scientists and historians are also amazed that the Maya could predict solar eclipses. Major achievements of this level would not have been possible without an advanced system of mathematics. It is not known if the concept of zero originated with the Olmecs or the Maya. However, the Greeks and the Romans had no knowledge of the concept, and it was not introduced in Europe until the Middle Ages. Of all of the ancient people, only the Babylonians and the Hindus understood the concept of zero.
Maya architecture achieved greatness during the Classical Period. Although Maya cities were not laid out according to plans they all included certain characteristics. Each had terraced pyramids, temples, shrines, palaces, drainage systems, sweat baths, open courtyards, residences, administrative buildings, ball courts, and sometimes astronomical observatories. Mayan architects used a variety of techniques. They enhanced important temples and palaces by elevating them on pyramids, platforms, and acropolises. Also, they extensively used facades to exaggerate the height and beauty of buildings.
The Classic Period also saw some great advances in art. Maya artists primarily focused on religious themes. Sculptors produced amazing images of mythological creatures, human figures, and deities. Most sculptors worked with limestone, wood, clay, trachyte, stucco, and sandstone. However, sculptors also worked with mosaics, featherwork, bone, shell, and jade. The Classic Maya also made great strides in the development of ceramics. Tzakol and Tepeu ceramics are considered to be the most beautiful of all of the ceramics from the ancient world. These ceramics were largely used as bowls, plates, and jars. They came in red, yellow, black, brown, and orange. Grotesque monsters, nobles, priests, and human sacrifice were favorite ceramic themes.