Archaeologists divide Maya history into four time periods, the Pre-Classic, the Classic, and the Post-Classic. The Pre-Classic period begins about 700 BC, about the height of the Assyrian Empire in West Asia, or the Etruscans in Italy. At this time, the Maya were beginning to build stone temples like the ones the Olmec had built before them.
The Classic Maya period began about 250 BC. During the Classic period, the Maya (MY-ah) built many cities with stone buildings and many more stone temples. People carved inscriptions on these temples, saying who had built them and in what year. This is the first evidence of writing from North or South America, so it may be the Maya who invented writing in this area. Around 900 AD, though, the Maya people abandoned many of these cities and temples, and kept on with their traditions mainly in the northern part of their country, the northern Yucat¡n. This would be about the time of the Abbasid Empire in West Asia.
In this Post-Classic period, after about 900 AD, people mostly stopped carving inscriptions. They kept on building some temples and other stone buildings, but they don't seem to have been doing as well as they were in the Classic period. In the Post-Classic period, the Maya were more open to learning from their neighbors, especially the Aztec people to their north, in Mexico. In the end, however, the arrival of Spanish invaders in 1519 AD brought smallpox and measles to the Maya, and most people died of these diseases. The few who survived could not defend their country against the Spanish invaders, and so Central America was taken over by the Spanish king.
To find out more about South American history before 1500, check out these books from Amazon.com or from your library:
Ancient Rome (Eyewitness Books), by Simon James (2004). For kids.
Handbook of Mediterranean Roman Pottery, by John W. Hayes (1997). Hayes has been the leading expert on Roman pottery for the last several decades.
Roman Pottery, by Kevin Greene (1992). Greene is another pottery expert, particularly interested in what pottery can tell us about the Roman Economy.