The Maya are a native Mesoamerican civilization. Prior to the arrival of European explorers and conquerors, the Mayan civilization extended from southern Mexico across Central America, with heavy concentration in the Yucatán Peninsula.
The area of the Maya first became inhabited around the tenth century BCE. Despite the fact that the Mayan long-count calendar (which is responsible for the 2012 speculation) begins in 3114 BCE, the development of clearly Mayan culture seems to begin at about 1800 BCE. During the Classic Period, from 250–900 CE, the Mayan population grew quickly and urbanized, organizing themselves into city-states not unlike those of ancient Greece.
Towards the end of the Classic period, the Maya suffered a decline. The possible reasons for this collapse include overpopulation, revolt, war, disease and drought, and are not widely agreed upon. Afterwards, the cities began to build again, and several on the Yucatan Peninsula united under single rule for a time.
The first contact between the Spanish and the Maya occured in 1511, and within 40 years the Spanish had conquered the Mayan territory, as they had done with the Aztecs. Christianity has since become the dominant religion in the area, but many surviving Maya continue to value some of the traditional beliefs of the Mayan culture.
Of all of the cultures native to the Americas prior to European contact, the Maya are the only one with a fully-developed written language. The Maya had a great deal of interaction with other Mesoamerican civilizations, and as a result, their myths have much in common with the mythology of the Aztecs and other Mesoamerican religions.