Some of the Maya world’s most outstanding societies flourished in and around Chiapas during the Classic era (A.D. 200–900), including Palenque, Yaxchilán, Bonampak, and Toniná, plus Tikal and Piedras Negras in present-day Guatemala, and Calakmul in Campeche state.
The Classic period saw the emergence of a new and vigorous breed of rulers and dynasties, bent on deifying themselves and their ancestors, particularly through the construction of grand pyramids, temples, and monuments. All the arts and sciences of the Maya world, from architecture to astronomy, were likewise focused on this goal. In Chiapas, as elsewhere, painting, sculpture, and carving reached their climax during the Late Classic era; objects such as Lord Pakal’s sarcophagus lid from Palenque are now recognized as being among the finest pieces of world art.
And yet, by A.D. 925, nearly all of the city-states had collapsed and were left in a state of near-abandonment; the last known Long Count date was recorded in A.D. 909 in the Chiapanecan city-state of Toniná. The Classic Maya decline is one of the great enigmas of Mesoamerican archaeology. There are myriad theories—disease, invasion, peasant revolt—but many researchers now believe the collapse was caused by a combination of factors, including overpopulation, environmental degradation, and a series of devastating droughts.
With the abandonment of the cities and the dispersal of specialists (like astronomers, scribes, and religious figures), Maya cultural advances also stopped, and many were lost. Many religious customs and beliefs also were never seen again.
© Liza Prado and Gary Chandler from Moon Chiapas, 1st Edition