The Maya are one of the Mesoamerican cultures of this New World. They are descendants of the Olmecs, inhabiting Southern Mexico, the Yucatan Peninsula, and Central America. At their peak around 500-1000 C.E., Mayan society was one of the most advanced the earth had known, developing a complex culture, with a precise knowledge of astronomy, mathematics, and an intricate written language.
Uxmal was a regional capital during the Mayan Late Classic period. It is located about an hour's drive south from the colonial city of Merida, within Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula. At its peak around 800-900 C.E., it's estimated that over 20,000 people lived in and around this metropolis.
As with the surrounding Puuc cities, the city of Labna was constructed between the 8th and 10th centuries. Labna's most defining feature is its famous arch. Its intricate façade with recurring geometric motifs make it a strong example of Puuc architecture.
Kabah, meaning "Strong Hand" in Mayan, is the legendary birthplace of Uxmal's Dwarf Magician. The site was inhabited from about 350 B.C.E., but most of the architecture was built around 700-1100 C.E. While not as large as Uxmal, Kabah was once a thriving metropolis. It is thought that in early times it was an adversary of Uxmal, but that they eventually became allied.
While Muyil is a less excavated site, it is significant for being one of the earliest and longest inhabited Mayan sites on the Yucatan. Pottery shards and other artifacts have been found dating back from as early as 350 B.C.E. to as late as 1200-1500 C.E.
Chichen Itza was first settled around 435 C.E., however, in later centuries it became subject to waves of attacks from semi-nomadic tribes from northern Mexico. This and a period of prolonged drought gradually weakened Mayan society. In the 900s, the Toltec Itza tribe conquered the city, radically changing its culture. The Mayan renaissance that followed brought with it a new militaristic ethic.
By around 900 C.E., the Classical Mayan cities were in decline. Tulum peaked around 1200-1400 C.E. in the post-classic period, as an example of the smaller city-states that still remained at this point in Mayan history. It was a major trading hub, situated as a cliff top seaport, overlooking the turquoise waters of the Caribbean. A
The causes for the Maya's decline are numerous, but one of the central causes is that the demands they placed upon their environment grew beyond the capacity of the land. At it's peak, there were about 15 million people occupying the Mayan world. Over-population of Mayan metropolises are suspected to have gone beyond levels that the Mayan political and social networks were able to support, resulting in social unrest and revolution. Frequent skirmishes by warring clans, such as the Toltec invasion of Chichen Itza, are suspected to have forced the Mayan populace to flee their cities.
Personally I believe that this date has been misinterpreted by those in the new-age spiritual movement, informed by Christian mythology, projecting their own beliefs of the end times onto Mayan culture. The Mayan's recorded time in cycles, and on 2012 one 5,000 cycle is said to finish and another will begin. No ancient Mayan artifacts refer to this as the apocolypse. There is only one damaged Mayan inscription referencing this date. It is located at the Tortuguero momument, and speaks of the descent of an unknown god.
Books & links about the Maya