the maya culture, clearly a high culture, thrived for about 3000 years. its "pre-classic" period is defined as 1500 b.c. to 250 a.d, the "classic" period as 250 to 900, the "post-classic" as 900 to 1521 - in that year the spanish concerors started to invade the maya realms, and after 20 years they were crashed. the mayas had no weapons to cope with the spanish guns and cannons!
the mayas settled in a large area: the yucatan peninsula of mexico, guatemala, belize, and the western parts of honduras and el salvador - see the map below. it was not a coherent empire, rather a set of quasi- kingdoms, each ruling the territory around their central city.
the maya culture excelled in many areas - architecture, art, mathematics, astronomy. they even developed a tricky writing system. what survived best are their temples, hundreds of them, plus countless sculptures there. one may say, well, pyramids were already built much earlier, by the egyptian empire ... true ... but the statues and figures are excellent by themselves, and the writing procedure of the mayas is truly stunning.
it combined symbols for syllables with symbols for words, and thereby spoken language was well epitomized. unfortunately the catholic church and spanish officers destroyed all texts they found - yet a few survived. after very long research, around 2000 experts could finally read maya documents. here is an example from one of the rescued documents, the madrid codex.
to explain this more carefully would be an essay by itself - thus the ruins of a maya city will be described - of tikal, the only visited one.