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The Mayan Ruins of Guatemala, Belize, Honduras and Mexico

"The Maya, sons of the days, are made up of time", Eduardo Galleano the renowned writer recently wrote. He was referring to two things: their brilliant traditional calendars, products of astronomical knowledge until recently unrivaled by any other culture. And the Mayan ability to endure. The Mayan ruins of Central America are from cities that fell into decline long before Columbus. But many of the traditions reflected in the architecture and art from these sites live on in the modern Mayan culture.

The ancient Mayan world centered on the Yucatan Peninsula, spilling over to the lowland rainforests of Mexico to the east and Belize in the west, finally climbing up to the Guatemalan highlands through to the Pacific coast of Guatemala. The eastern edges of Honduras and El Salvador were also part of the Mayan world as were parts of Belize. Today, most Mayan people now live in three areas: the Yucatan Peninsula and Chiapas state in Mexico, and the Guatemalan highlands. Today's Maya number between four and six million divided into many different ethnic groups who speak around 30 different languages.

In fact, most traditional Maya do not speak Spanish. The indigenous thatched roof housing is pretty much the same. The old crops (corn, beans, chile, tomatoes and squash) are still being grown using many of the agricultural techniques, including the slash and burn cultivation. The forms of village social organization seem to have survived intact. Mayan medicine is age old, and western medical science is studying many of its techniques, especially the herbal remedies, and finding many useful things.