This introduction to the Special Section provides a summary of our current understanding of the first humans and the first Maya in these regions and presents seven articles that examine these critical periods from varied, intersecting perspectives. The Introduction begins with a brief history of early preceramic research (primarily in northern Belize) and provides a current chronology for the Paleoindian, Archaic, and Early Preclassic periods. The Paleoindian and Archaic (ca. 11,500–900 b.c.) periods are discussed in terms of the origins of the first peoples in these regions, lithic technology, subsistence, and early ritual. Next, a summary of archaeological evidence for the transition to the first villages (ca. 1200–800 b.c.) is provided, with examinations of a horticultural lifestyle, the earliest ceramics, increased socio-economic complexity, new ideology and ritual practices, and developing social inequality. Proto-Mayan and Mayan languages—their dating, origin, and early lexicon—are discussed in relation to the first Maya. Material culture and language are explored with regard to conceptions of Maya culture.