Maya Timeline

Posted · 14 Comments


Background Information

Mesoamerica is a classification that is not defined by geography or languages, rather by the presence of cultural traits. These traits included forms of game with a rubber ball in a rectangular court, codices; books made of sheets of bark paper or deerskin and a common diet of maize, beans and squash.

The ancient Maya lived in a region that today includes Guatemala, Belize, the Yucatán peninsula (Mexico) and the western portions of Honduras and El Salvador.  The homeland is bounded by the Caribbean Sea, the Gulf of Mexico and the Pacific Ocean. The area was geographically diverse and included the rich southern Pacific coastal plains, the high fertile basins of the volcanic highlands of southern Guatemala and central Chiapas and the lowland rainforest region of northern Guatemala, Belize and Yucatán. The lowland area is where we see the beginnings of Maya civilisation.

The central area of the lowlands was a closed basin, with swamps and shallow lakes.  The water supply was seasonal, which necessitated the construction of bajos in order to have water throughout the year.  Yucatán had thinner soils and more limited surface water and so required different adaptations, with a greater emphasis on coastal trade and various types of water catchment systems, such as chultuns – large subterranean chambers with constricted orifices and cenotes – natural limestone sinks dropping to an exposed water table.

Maya cities generally contained a ceremonial centre where great pyramids, temples, palaces and ballcourts were built. Many centres had causeways (roadways) and also stelae; standing stones that contained both portraits of rulers and writings about them.


Temple 1 at Tikal, Guatemala

The Maya pyramids were stepped and had a central staircase and a small structure on top. The Maya rulers often built their pyramids on top of one another, so if a ruler wanted to celebrate an important event or if a new ruler came to power a building would be constructed over the old one. You can imagine how exciting this is for archaeologists, as we are literally digging through time!

Maya Chronology:

Preclassic: 2000 BC to AD 250

Classic:  AD 250 to 900

Postclassic: AD 900 to 1521

Colonial period: AD 1521 onwards

Show pupils a map of the Maya area, using the above or the online source below and discuss the areas in which they live.

Electronic Atlas of the Ancient Maya created by Maya archaeologists


Learn about Iximche – A Postclassic Maya Site

14 Responses to "Maya Timeline"
  1. Amanda Gray says:

    Hi Diane
    We are really enjoying using your very informative resources; they are perfect for our teaching of the Maya civilisation.
    We are interested to know why the dates and names of the latter Maya Periods on the website page for the Maya timeline are different to the dates on the Teacher notes? Have we missed something?
    Thank you in advance
    Kind regards

    • School: Richmond Avenue Primary School
    • Diane Davies says:

      Hi Amanda, I am glad that our resources are of use to you. Both dates are correct – as there was contact with the Maya over various periods – 1521 is where we see the first contact and then 1542 is where there is a pronounced involvement. If you want to choose just one date then 1542 is fine.

    • Danielle says:


      I just wondered whether the resources for the chronology lesson are available please?

      • Sarah Sutcliffe says:

        Hi Diane,

        I’m just having a look at your Mayan Lesson Resources. What an interesting wealth of information that you have here, and clearly you are an expert on the topic, so I’ve come to the right place to investigate the topic for my Year 6 children. I have attempted to download the Chronology Lesson Plan but it says that the file is now in your bin (digitally speaking I would imagine!). Is there an updated link to it? Thanks.

        In anticipation,

        • School: Cranbrook Primary
        • Diane Davies says:

          Dear Sarah,

          Thank you so much for taking the time to let me know about this error – I have updated it and you should be able to download the lesson plan. Also, if you do have any problems downloading the plans – if it asks for permission – this is only because you are using your school’s email address, and your school has a strong firewall. So all you need to do is use your personal email address instead. I am glad you are enjoying the resources – i am writing more as we speak!
          Take care

        • Ashly Mendes says:

          Dear Sir/Madam,
          I just want to say thank you for the help Iam 11 yrs.old I got a 100%thanks to you keep up the good work and put the correct imformation also it is very important to say the true story of the maya civilization.

          • School: St
        • Vanessa McEvoy says:

          Where can I find the findings cards resources for the chronology lesson?
          Thank you

          • School: Medstead Primary School
        • sarah says:

          Dr Diane Davies! You have come to my school once and I really enjoyed the different activities and new Information that you gave me!
          You are so good.

          • Susan says:

            This is so amazing, thank you so much

            • Natalie says:

              Would it be possible to get a copy of the resources used for the chronology lesson?

                • Diane Davies says:

                  Dear Natalie,

                  I am afraid the resources for the chronology lesson haven’t been completed yet. A teacher has been working on this during the holiday break. Once I receive it, I will upload it.

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