Inomata, Takeski School of Anthropology, University of Tucson, Tucson, Arizona.
- Early Maya society and political organization
- Decline of Preclassic centers
- Recovery and the Classic period
- Classic Maya collapse
- Links to Primary Literature
- Additional Readings
The Maya civilization prospered in an area comprising the present-day locations of southern Mexico, Guatemala, Belize, Honduras, and El Salvador (Fig. 1). It encompassed a diversity of environmental zones, including the tropical lowlands of the Yucatán Peninsula and the highlands located to the south of it. The beginning of the Maya society was surprisingly late. Sedentary villages and ceramics did not appear in the Maya lowlands until the onset of the Middle Preclassic period (1000–400 BC), whereas many other groups in areas surrounding the Maya area had adopted a sedentary way of life centuries earlier. In particular, the so-called Olmec civilization on the southern Gulf of Mexico coast had developed the large center of San Lorenzo (in present-day Mexico), which is known for its colossal head sculptures that are thought to have depicted rulers. A central question concerning the origins of the Maya civilization has been whether it emerged under the influence of the Olmecs or whether it developed more independently.
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