Decline of the Maya

Maya civilization began to decay after AD 900, perhaps owing to stresses in the social structure, overpopulation, and deforestation. A number of important cities emerged in the late Classic period, mostly on the periphery of the classic Mayan region, in present-day Chiapas or Yucatán. The peoples of these cities, much influenced by invaders from central Mexico, built striking stone architectural monuments, but their scientific and artistic achievements were less remarkable than the earlier advances of the Classic period. Their economies remained underdeveloped, however. In the meantime, internal civil war and intervention from central Mexico sapped Maya strength and vitality. By the time of the Spanish conquest, Maya civilization was thoroughly in decline, yet they resisted subjugation longer than either the Aztec of Mexico or the Inca of Peru. Returning to northern Guatemala, where they established the city of Tayasal as a place of refuge, some Maya maintained their autonomy until 1697. Not far away, the Lacand6n Maya defied pacification throughout the Hispanic period, resisting from remote jungle and mountain refuges along the Usumacinta River. Disease and the social disruption brought with the Spanish conquest annihilated a large part of the native population during the 16th century. Although estimates of the pre-Colombian population of Central America vary widely, it is generally agreed that the region's population did not again reach its pre-Colombian level until the 20th century.