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Central America


ancient Central America, Maya civilization, Yucatán Peninsula, Spanish conquest, isthmus

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The region between Mexico and Colombia supported a large pre-Columbian population, the most important of whom were the Maya. The Maya civilization originated in the highlands of Guatemala before the 1st millennium bc and reached its greatest flowering between ad 300 and 900 in autonomous city-states in what are now northern Guatemala, Honduras, Belize, and Mexico’s Yucatán Peninsula. Maya unity was cultural rather than political, but the civilization’s influence was widespread. Maya artistic and scientific achievements surpassed those of contemporary Europeans. After 900, however, the Maya civilization declined, and its people came under the influence of Toltec people from Mexico.

Numerous peoples inhabited the remainder of the isthmus and traded with both South and North American tribes, making ancient Central America an archaeological bridge between the Americas. The population of the isthmus on the eve of the Spanish conquest may have been as large as six million, a figure not again achieved until the 20th century.

Article key phrases:

ancient Central America, Maya civilization, Yucatán Peninsula, Spanish conquest, isthmus, North American tribes, remainder, Belize, Mexico, Honduras, Colombia, eve, ad, population, century, South, region, figure, Americas

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