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Very important culture of Mesoamerica, one of the major Classic civilizations, which occupied the peninsula of Yucatan and Belize, the lowland jungle south of it, and the highlands of Guatemala and western Honduras. The civilization developed from other pre-Classic cultures by about 200 BC and continued until being conquered by the Spaniards in 1541 AD. By c 200 BC, at sites like Tikal and Uaxactún, the first pyramids were being built. Population increase and the introduction of new ceramic and architectural forms are accompanied by an artistic transition from Olmec through Izapan to Mayan. The classic Maya civilization dates to c 292 AD, the earliest Long count date found on stele 29 at Tikal. The Early Classic period (200-600) was the golden age of the lowland culture and the great centers acted as foci for administration, religion, and the arts. Architecture, sculpture, and painting were highly developed; records were kept in hieroglyphic writing, and elaborate ceremonies were carried out in the temples on top of their pyramids. A class of astronomer-priests observed the sun, moon, and planets, and had evolved a calendrical system more accurate than the Julian calendar used in Christian Europe. In mathematics the priests used a vigesimal system with the concept of zero and with a positional notation. The Classic Maya culture is characterized by an immense investment of labor in construction of ceremonial architecture, the erection of stelae, and a growing differentiation between the elite and the peasant population. The Maya practiced swidden agriculture as well as intensive agriculture, terracing and raised fields, and arboriculture. Polychrome pottery is a hallmark of the Maya Lowland Classic culture. The Late Classic period (c 600-900 AD) shows development in sculpture and architecture - and regional styles can be recognized. Northern Yucatan began to come into its own at sites like Chichén Itzá and Uxmal, where fine buildings in the Punc style were erected during the 7th-9th centuries. The later part of this period witnessed the end of civilization in the lowlands; the great centers were abandoned during the 9th and early 10th centuries. The Post-Classic period, c 900 to the Spanish conquest, had strong Mexican influence, particularly at Chichén Itzá where buildings were constructed in the Toltec style of central Mexico, and the art shows representations of Toltec warriors overpowering Maya chiefs. During the collapse in the southern Lowlands, centers in the northern Lowlands began to grow, c 800-1000 AD. The South's decline may have played a role in the North's prosperity. Sometime around 1200, the Itzá were driven from their capital, and Mayapán became the leading city of Yucatan. In about 1440-1450, Mayapán was overthrown and there followed a time of disunity and warfare which lasted until the Spaniards conquered Yucatan in 1541. The Maya kingdoms of highland Guatemala were subdued in 1525, but in the lowlands the descendants of the exiled Itzá held out until 1697. The collapse of Maya culture (in c 900) is a puzzling phenomenon, but its relative suddenness still remains without satisfactory explanation. There are no Long Count dates after 900, after which time lowland populations dwindled by as much as 90 percent. The term Maya also refers to a culture area and is typically divided into the lowland and highland Maya. Descendants of the Maya still occupy the region.