The Maya are people of southern Mexico and northern Central America (Guatemala, Belize, western Honduras, and El Salvador) with some 3,000 years of history. The Maya were part of the Mesoamerican Pre-Columbian cultures. Contrary to popular myth, the Maya people never "disappeared." Millions still live in the region, and many of them still speak one of the Maya family of languages.
Archaeological evidence shows the Maya started to build ceremonial architecture at approximately 1000 BCE. There is some disagreement about the borders and difference between the early Maya and their neighboring Pre-Classic Mesoamerican civilization, the Olmec culture. The Olmec and early Maya seem to have influenced each other.
The earliest monuments consist of simple burial mounds, the precursors to pyramids erected in later times.
Eventually, the Olmec culture faded after spreading its influence into the Yucatan peninsula, present-day Guatemala, and other regions.
The Maya developed the famed cities of Tikal, Palenque, Copán and Kalakmul, as well as Dos Pilas, Uaxactun, Altun Ha, Bonampak and many other sites in the area (see list of sites, below). They developed an agriculturally intensive, city-centered empire consisting of numerous independent city-states. The most notable monuments are the pyramids they built in their religious centers and the accompanying palaces of their rulers. Other important archaeological remains include the carved stone slabs usually called stelae (the Maya called them Tetun, or "Tree-stones"), which depict rulers along with hieroglyphic texts describing their genealogy, war victories, and other accomplishments.
The Maya participated in long distance trade in Mesoamerica and possibly further lands. Important trade goods included cacao, salt, and obsidian.