Maya Civilization Timeline
|Evolution of Maya culture
|Early Preclassic Maya
|Middle Preclassic Maya
|Late Preclassic Maya
||300 B.C. - A.D. 250
|Early Classic Maya
|Late Classic Maya
|Post Classic Maya
||A.D. 1821 to the present
- The first hunter-gatherers settle in the Maya
highlands and lowlands.
- 3114 or 3113
- The creation of the world takes place, according
to the Maya Long Count calendar.
- Maya civilization begins.
- The rise of the Olmec
civilization, from which many aspects of Maya culture are derived.
Village farming becomes established throughout Maya regions.
- Writing is developed in
- The earliest known solar calendars carved in stone are in
use among the Maya, although the solar calendar may have been known and
used by the Maya before this date.
- The Maya adopt the idea of a hierarchical society ruled by
nobles and kings.
- The city of
is founded and for centuries is the cultural, religious and trading centre
- The Maya city of Cerros is built, with a complex of temples and
ball courts. It is abandoned (for reasons unknown) a hundred years later
and its people return to fishing and farming.
- The decline of the Olmecs.
- The Maya highlands fall under the domination of Teotihuacan,
and the disintegration of Maya culture and language begins in some parts
of the highlands.
- The Maya city of
Tikal becomes the
first great Maya city, as citizens from Teotihuacan make their way to
Tikal, introducing new ideas involving weaponry, captives,
ritual practices and human sacrifice.
- An unknown event destroys the civilization at Teotihuacan,
along with the empire it supported. Tikal becomes the largest city-state
in Mesoamerica, with as many as
500,000 inhabitants within the city and its hinterland.
- The Emperor Pacal dies at the age
of 80 and is buried in the Temple of the Inscriptions at Palenque.
- Long-standing Maya alliances begin to break down. Trade
between Maya city-states declines, and inter-state conflict increases.
- Construction ceases in Tikal, marking the beginning of the
- Tikal is abandoned.
- The Classic Period of Maya history ends, with the collapse of
the southern lowland cities. Maya cities in the northern
Yucatán continue to thrive.
- Northern Maya cities begin to be abandoned.
- The city of
Itzá is abandoned by the Toltecs. A people known as the
Uicil-abnal, which later takes the name Itzá, settles in the
- The Itzá abandon Chichén Itzá for
- The Itzá begin building the city of Mayapán.
- Mayapán becomes the capital of Yucatán.
- There is a rebellion within Mayapán and the city
is abandoned by 1461. Shortly after this, Yucatán degenerates
from a single united kingdom into sixteen rival statelets, each anxious
to become the most powerful.
- A Spaniard named Gonzalo Guerrero is shipwrecked and washed
up on the eastern shore of Yucatán. He defects to the Maya,
tattooing his face, piercing his ears and marrying into a Maya noble
family. Guerrero later becomes an implacable foe of the Spaniards and
does much to help the Maya resist Spanish rule in Yucatán.
- The Spanish first arrive on the shores of Yucatán
under Hernandez de Cordoba, who later dies of wounds received in battle
against the Maya. The arrival of the Spanish ushers in Old World
diseases unknown among the Maya, including smallpox, influenza and
measles. Within a century, 90 per cent of Mesoamerica's native
populations will be killed off.
Cortés begins exploring Yucatán.
- Cortés meets the Itzá people, the last of the
Maya peoples to remain unconquered by the Spanish. The Spanish leave
the Itzá alone until the seventeenth century.
- The Spanish under Francisco de Montejo begin their conquest
of the northern Maya. The Maya fight back with surprising vigour,
keeping the Spanish at bay for several years.
- The Spanish are finally able to subdue the Maya and put an
end to Maya resistance. Revolt continues, however, to plague the
Spaniards off and on for the rest of the century.
- The Spanish establish a capital city at Mérida in
- The ruins of Tikal are discovered by chance by the Spanish
priest Father Avedaño and his companions, who had become lost
in the jungle.
- The Maya of the Chiapas highlands rise against the Mexican
government. They will continue to do so off and on until the 1990s.
- The Spanish Crown abolishes the system of encomienda,
which had given Spanish land barons the right to forced Maya labour, as
long as they agreed to convert the Maya to Christianity.
- Mexico becomes independent from Spain. In general, life
becomes more tolerable for the Maya than it had been under Spanish rule.
- An account of Antonío del Río's late
eighteenth-century explorations of Palenque is published in London. The
book raises a great deal of interest in further exploration of the
"lost" Maya civilization and settlements.
- American diplomat and lawyer John Lloyd Stephens and English
topographical artist Frederick Catherwood begin a series of
Maya regions, revealing the full splendour of classical Maya
civilization to the world for the first time.
- The Yucatán Maya rise up against the Mexican
government, rebelling against the miserable conditions and cruelty they
have suffered at the hands of the whites. The rebellion is so successful
that the Maya almost manage to take over the entire peninsula in what
has become known as the War of the Castes.
- A miraculous "talking cross" in a village in central Quintana
Roo predicts a holy war against the whites. Bolstered by arms received
from the British in Belize, the Maya form into quasi-military companies
inspired by messianic zeal. The fighting continues until 1901.
- The Yucatán Maya rebel again.
- Workmen digging a canal on the Caribbean coast of Guatemala
discover a jade plaque inscribed with a date of A.D. 320. The plaque
becomes one of the oldest known objects dated in the Maya fashion.
- A new tide of government intervention in Maya life begins as
governments attempt to force the Maya to become labourers on cash-crop
plantations. This destroys many aspects of Maya cultural traditions and
agricultural methods preserved over 4,000 years. Towns which had been
protected for the Maya soon become a haven for mixed-race
ladinos who prey economically on
the indigenous Maya and usurp all positions of social and
- Rampant government corruption leads to the Mexican
- American photographer Giles Healey is taken to the Maya city
of Bonampak by the native Lacandón who live nearby. Healey becomes
the first non-Maya ever to see Bonampak's stunning wall-paintings, which
reveal new details about Maya civilization.
- The Priest-king Pacal's tomb
at Palenque is discovered and excavated by Mexican archaeologist
Alberto Ruz, marking the first time a tomb has been found inside a
Maya pyramid. Prior to this, Maya
pyramids were believed to be temples with a purely religious or
- Maya hieroglyphic
signs are first catalogued. Uncontrolled looting of Maya tombs
and other sites begins around this time in the southern lowlands,
continuing until well into the 1970s.
- A Quiché Maya woman from Guatemala named
Menchu, who has lost most of her family to the death squads and is known
for speaking out against the extermination of the Maya, wins the Nobel
Date Created: June 7, 1995 | Last Updated: March 31, 2010