It is generally believed that what we recognize as the ancient Maya culture began around 300 AD as an offshoot of the Olmec civilization. The central Mexican city of Teotihucan traded with the Maya and its influence can clearly be seen in some Maya sites, such as Tikal. In fact, the collapse of Teotihucan in the sixth century had a notable effect on the Maya, causing a virtual standstill of new construction for several decades.
Between 600 AD and 800 AD, the Classic Maya flourished in the southern lowlands. Then, for what may prove to be a multitude of reasons, the great Maya centers of the southern lowlands fell into ruin – abandoned and left to be reclaimed by the surrounding rainforest. Many theories have been proposed to explain this "collapse" including: over-population, extensive warfare, revolt of the farmer/laborer class, or any number of devastating natural disasters. Whatever the reason, its effect was contained to the central region and the northern lowlands continued to prosper during what is called the Late Classic period. During this time there was an infusion of the Mexican/Toltec culture that is evident in sites such as Chichén Itza and Uxmal.
By the time of the Conquest, the Maya civilization was in its Post Classic phase and had reverted to an essentially Maya culture in scattered city-states. It was this lack of cohesion that would thwart the Spaniard's attempts to conquer the Maya.

Although the Maya have endured repression and persecution in one form or another for the past 500 years, more than 6 million descendants still maintain a culture that is distinctly Maya in areas of Mexico, Guatemala, Belize and Honduras.

THE ANCIENT MAYA
MAYA AREA MESOAMERICA
PRE-CLASSIC PERIOD
2500-1200 BC Cenote Maní Tlatilco
1200-300 BC Loltun
Nakbé
San Lorenzo
La Venta
300BC-250 AD El Mirador Cuicuilco
CLASSIC PERIOD
250-600 AD Uaxactun
Kohunlich
Dzibanché
Teotihuacan
Monte Alban
600-800 AD Yaxchilan
Tikal
Palenque
Copan
Coba
Tajin
Cholula
800-1000 AD Tonnina
Uxmal
Xoxhixalco
Cacaxtla
POST-CLASSIC PERIOD
1000-1250 AD Chichén Itza Tula
Mitla
1250-1519 AD Mayapan
Tulum
Tayasal
Tenochititlan

READ MORE ABOUT IT
A Forest of Kings : The Untold Story of the Ancient Maya
by Linda Schele, David Freidel (Contributor)
$14.36, Paperback, January 1992
Scribes, Warriors and Kings: The City of Copan and the Ancient Maya
by William L. Fash
Paperback, May 1993, 0500277087
The Lords of Tikal: Rulers of an Ancient Maya City
by Peter Harrison, Colin Renfrew, Jeremy A. Sabloff
$42.00, Hardcover, July 1, 1999
Maya
by Peter Schmidt (Editor), Enrique Nalda (Editor), Mercedes De LA Garza, Orefici
$59.50, Hardcove, November 1998
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