THE HEIGHT OF the Classic Maya civilization and its demise in the tropical landscape of Central America occurred during the Early Middle Ages. The Classic period is defined as the time when the Maya erected carved monuments in the centre of cities with dates in the Maya long count between about 300 and 900 CE. The dates recorded the dynastic histories of kings and queens of city-states. Accompanying hieroglyphs on stone monuments describe events in the lives of the dynastic leaders about marriage and other alliances, warfare with other polities, and battles won. The hieroglyphic record is limited by its focus on major historical events of dynastic leaders while providing virtually no information on the lives of the bulk of the Maya population, which consisted of farmers, artisans, and other non-elites. Commercial transactions, so well documented among, for instance, ancient Mesopotamian civilizations, are not found in the Maya glyphs, although pictorial depictions on painted pottery vessels include scenes featuring dynastic leaders and visitors, including feasting events and offerings or tribute payment. Most information about the ancient Maya derives from survey and excavation of sites that lack written records. This evaluation of the Early Middle Ages in the Maya area focuses on the Late Classic period (600– 800 CE), the slow collapse of the southern lowland civilization that began about 750 and continued through the Terminal Classic period (800– 900 CE), and the role of trade, migration, warfare, climate change, population increase, and ecological balance in the rise and fall of the Maya civilization.
With the fall of Teotihuacan by 600, the Late Classic Maya flourished, with a focus on trade within the Maya area. This included long-distance trade from the highlands to the lowlands in obsidian, jadeite, pottery, and various perishable goods that have not preserved. The collapse of the lowland city-states between 750 and 900 and the movement of people to the coast and the northern Maya lowlands, occurred during the time of ascendancy of Chichen Itza in the northern lowlands and the Toltec state north of Mexico City with its capital at Tula.