Who are the Maya?

Mayan Pyramid
Mayan Pyramid
Courtesy F-L-E-X via flickr.com
The Mayan are a people indigenous to Mesoamerica. Mesoamerica is the area that extends from Central Mexico south through Belize, Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras and into Nicaragua, from the Pacific Coast to the Gulf of Mexico.

The Maya culture is an ancient one. Around 3000 years ago, the Maya began to arise as a distinct group from the other civilizations of Mesoamerica. Groups like the Olmec, Zapotec, and Teotuhuacan civilization influenced the Maya, but it also developed its own unique culture.

At the civilization’s peak, about 1500 years ago, Mayan city-states spread across the length and breadth of Mesoamerica, replacing thick Central American jungles with farms, homes, ball courts, palaces, and colossal stone pyramids. The population of the region soared into the millions, trade routes stretched deep into Mexico and the Mayan people developed elaborate art, architecture, religion and complex systems of mathematics and astronomy. They recorded the achievements of their civilization and the stories and prophesies of their religion in the stone of their pyramids, in the clay of their pottery, in brightly painted walls, and in long-lost book like codices, leaving an outstanding legacy of lavish construction, beautiful art, and deep pursuit of the heavens.

But then, around a thousand years ago, it all ended. What could have brought down such a powerful and expansive civilization?

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What happened to the ancient Maya?