Noble Prize

Contributions of the Maya People

Rigoberta Menchu


The Maya people developed and spread geographically through some 300,000 square km; they occupied parts of the South of Mexico, Belize, Guatemala, as well as Honduras and El Salvador; they developed a very rich civilization in the area of political organization, as well as in social and economic fields; they were great scientists in the fields of mathematics, astronomy, agriculture, architecture and engineering; they were great artists in the fields of sculpture, painting, weaving and carving.

The Mayas discovered the zero value in mathematics, at about the same time that it was discovered in India and later passed on to the Arabs. Their astronomic forecasts based on mathematical calculations and scientific observations were amazing, and still are. They prepared a calendar more accurate than the Gregorian, and in the field of medicine they performed intracranial surgical operations.

One of the Maya books, which escaped destruction by the conquistadores, known as The Codex of Dresden, contains the results of an investigation on eclipses as well a table of 69 dates, in which solar eclipse occur in a lapse of 33 years.

Today, it is important to emphasize the deep respect that the Maya civilization had towards life and nature in general. Who can predict what other great scientific conquests and developments these people could have achieved, if they had not been conquered by blood and fire, and subjected to an ethnocide that affected nearly 50 million people in the course of 500 years.

Excerpted from Rigoberta Menchu’s 1992 Noble Prize Acceptance Speech


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