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Timeline and Partial King List

Guide to the Maya Civilization


Maya stele inscriptions helped build timelines and king lists.

Inscriptions on Maya civilization steles, like this one at Ceibal, have provided us information on timelines and king lists.



Mesoamerican archaeology is broken up into general sections. The "Maya" are in general thought to have maintained a cultural continuity between about 500 BC and AD 900, with the "Classic Maya" beween AD 250-900.

  • Archaic before 2500 BC
    Hunting and gathering lifestyle prevails.
  • Early Formative 2500-1000 BC
    First beans and maize agriculture, people live in isolated farmsteads and hamlets
  • Middle Formative 1000-400 BC
    First monumental architecture, first villages; people switch to full-time agriculture, Olmec contacts, and, at Nakbe, the first evidence of social ranking, beginning about 600-400 BC
    Important sites: Nakbe, Chalchuapa, Kaminaljuyu
  • Late Formative 400 BC-AD 250
    First massive palaces are built at urban Nakbe and El Mirador, first writing, constructed road systems and water control, organized trade and widespread warfare
    Important sites: El Mirador, Nakbe, Cerros, Komchen, Tikal, Kaminaljuyu
  • Classic AD 250-900
    Widespread literacy including calendars and lists of royal lineages at Copán and Tikal, first dynastic kingdoms, changing political alliances, large palaces and mortuary pyramids constructed, intensification of agriculture. Populations peak at about 100 per square kilometers. Paramount kings and polities installed at Tikal, Calakmul, Caracol, and Dos Pilos
    Important sites: Copán, Palenque, Tikal, Calakmul, Caracol, Dos Pilas, Uxmal, Coba, Dzibilchaltun, Kabah, Labna, Sayil
  • Postclassic AD 900-1500
    Some centers abandoned, written records stop. Puuc hill country flourishes and small rural towns prosper near rivers and lakes until the Spanish arrive in 1517
    Important sites: Chichén Itzá, Mayapan, Iximche, Utatlan)

Known Kings and Leaders

Each independent Maya city had its own set of institutionalized rulers, beginning in the Classic period (AD 250-900). Documentary evidence for the kings and queens has been found on stele and temple wall inscriptions and a few sarcophagi.

During the Classic period, kings were generally in charge of a particular city and its supporting region. The area controlled by a specific king might be hundreds or even thousands of square kilometers. The ruler's court included palaces, temples and ball courts, and great plazas, open areas where festivals and other public events were held. Kings were hereditary positions, and, at least after they were dead, the kings were sometimes considered gods.

As an example, below are linked what is known of the dynastic records of Palenque and Copán.

Rulers of Palenque

Rulers of Copán

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