Maya Civilization, an ancient Native American culture that represented one of the most advanced civilizations in the Western Hemisphere before the arrival of Europeans (see Native Americans of Middle and South America). The people known as the Maya lived in the region that is now eastern and southern Mexico, Guatemala, Belize, El Salvador, and western Honduras. They thrived for more than 2,000 years. The Maya built massive stone pyramids, temples, and sculpture; developed a system of writing using hieroglyphs; and recorded their achievements in mathematics and astronomy. Archaeologists long believed that Maya culture reached its highest development from about AD 300 to 900, during what is known as the Classic period. Recent discoveries in northern Guatemala, however, have challenged that assumption. There, archaeologists have found highly developed cities, sophisticated art, and examples of Maya writing that date from as early as 600 years before the Classic period began.


After 900 the Maya mysteriously declined in the southern lowlands of Guatemala. They later revived in the north on the Yucatán Peninsula and continued to dominate the area until the Spanish conquest in the 16th century. Descendants of the Maya still form a large part of the population of the region. Although many have adopted Spanish ways, a significant number of modern Maya maintain traditional cultural practices.

Maya Civilization