The Maya is a Mesoamerican civilization, noted for the only known fully developed written language of the pre-Columbian Americas, as well as for its art, architecture, and mathematical and astronomical systems. Initially established during the Pre-Classic period (c. 2000 BCE to 250 CE), according to the Mesoamerican chronology, many Maya cities reached their highest state of development during the Classic period (c. 250 to 900 CE), and continued throughout the Post-Classic period until the arrival of the Spanish.
Discoveries of Maya occupation at Cuello, Belize have been carbon dated to around 2600 BCE. This level of occupation included monumental structures. The Maya calendar, which is based around the so-called Mesoamerican Long Count calendar, begins on a date equivalent to 11 August 3114 BCE.
The Maya civilization extended throughout the present-day southern Mexican states of Chiapas, Tabasco, and the Yucatán Peninsula states of Quintana Roo, Campeche and Yucatán. The Maya area also extended throughout the northern Central American region, including the present-day nations of Guatemala, Belize, northern El Salvador and western Honduras.
The Maya peoples never disappeared, neither at the time of the Classic period decline nor with the arrival of the Spanish conquistadores and the subsequent Spanish colonization of the Americas. Today, the Maya and their descendants form sizable populations throughout the Maya area and maintain a distinctive set of traditions and beliefs that are the result of the merger of pre-Columbian and post-Conquest ideas and cultures. Millions of people speak Mayan languages today.
Scholars disagree about the boundaries which differentiate the physical and cultural extent of the early Maya and neighboring Preclassic Mesoamerican civilizations, such as the Olmec culture of the Tabasco lowlands.