The Mayan Civilization Time Line

articles History & People Maya

Luis Dumois

Based on the ‘Mystery of the Maya’


1800-900Early Preclassic Maya
900-300Middle Preclassic Maya
300 B.C. –
A.D. 250
Late Preclassic Maya

Early Classic Maya
600-900Late Classic Maya
900-1500Post Classic Maya
1521-1821Colonial period
1821- todayIndependent Mexico

The first hunter-gatherers settle in the Maya highlands and lowlands.
3114-3113The creation of the world takes place, according to the Maya Long Count calendar.
2000The rise of the Olmec civilization, from which many aspects of Maya culture are derived. Village farming becomes established throughout Maya regions.
700Writing is developed in Mesoamérica.
400The earliest known solar calendars carved in stone are in use among the Maya.
300The Maya adopt the idea of a hierarchical society ruled by nobles and kings.
100The city of Teotihuacán is founded and for centuries is the cultural, religious and trading centre of Mesoamérica.

The decline of the Olmecs.
400The Maya highlands fall under the domination of Teotihuacán, and the disintegration of Maya culture and language begins in some parts of the highlands.
500Tikal becomes the first great Maya city, as citizens from Teotihuacán make their way there, introducing new ideas involving weaponry, captives, ritual practices and human sacrifice.
600An unknown event destroys the civilization at Teotihuacán, along with the empire it supported. Tikal becomes the largest city-state in Mesoamérica.
683The Emperor Pacal dies at the age of 80 and is buried in the Temple of the Inscriptions at Palenque.
751Long-standing Maya alliances begin to break down. Trade between Maya city-states declines, and inter-state conflict increases.
869Construction ceases in Tikal, marking the beginning of the city’s decline.
899Tikal is abandoned.
900The Classic Period of Maya history ends, with the collapse of the southern lowland cities. Maya cities in the northern Yucatán continue to thrive. Development of the Puuc style in Uxmal, Kabah and Labná.
1000Northern Maya cities begin to be abandoned.
1224The city of Chichén Itzá is abandoned by the Toltecs. The Itzá people settle in the deserted area.
1244The Itzá abandon Chichén Itzá for reasons unknown.
1263The Itzá begin building the city of Mayapán.
1283Mayapán becomes the capital of Yucatán, as the League of Mayapán rules the country.
1441There is a rebellion within Mayapán and the city is abandoned by 1461. After this, political union is lost in Yucatán. Sixteen rival groups compete among themselves to rule over the others.
1517The Spanish first arrive on the shores of Yucatán under Hernández de Córdoba, 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 Mesoamérica’s native populations will be killed off.
1519Hernán Cortés begins exploring Yucatán.
1524Cortés meets the Itzá people, the last of the Maya to remain unconquered by the Spanish.
1528The 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.
1541The 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.
1542The Spanish establish a capital city at Mérida in Yucatán.
1695The ruins of Tikal are discovered by chance by the Spanish priest Father Andrés de Avedaño and his companions, who had become lost in the Petén jungle.
1697The city of Tayasal, capital of the Itzá in the Petén, is taken by the Spanish. Thus the last Maya independent political entity is subdued to the Spanish Crown.
1712The Maya of the Chiapas highlands rise against the Mexican government. They will continue to do so off and on until today.
1724The Spanish Crown abolishes the system of encomienda, which had given Spanish land owners the right to forced Indian labour.
1761The Maya of Yucatán, led by Jacinto Canek, rise against the government.
1821Mexico becomes independent from Spain.
1839American diplomat and amateur archaeologist John Lloyd Stephens and English artist Frederick Catherwood begin a series of explorations into Maya regions, revealing the full splendour of classical Maya civilization to the world for the first time.
1847The 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.
1850A 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, when English in Belize betray the followers of the talking cross, the cruzobs, and retire their support.
1860The Yucatán Maya rebel again.
1864Workmen digging a canal on the Caribbean coast of Guatemala discover a jade plaque inscribed with a date of A.D. 320 ( in the Maya Long Count.) The so called Plaque of Leyden, thought to be manufactured in Tikal, becomes one of the oldest known objects dated with the Maya calendar system.
1880A 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 economic power.
1901The War of the Castes comes to an end, although there are armed cruzobs in the jungle until at least 1935.
1910The Mexican Revolution begins.
1952The 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 ceremonial purpose.
1962Maya 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.
1992A Quiché Maya woman from Guatemala named Rigoberta Menchú, 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 Peace Prize.
1994Chiapas Maya, Tzeltal and Tzotzil in their majority, rise against the Mexican government, taking the city of San Cristóbal de las Casas.


Published or Updated on: January 1, 1999 by Luis Dumois © 1999
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