The Mayan civilization was not one unified empire, but rather a multitude of separate entities with a common cultural background.
Their language, which is actually supplanting Spanish to a great extent, is still spoken by about 300,000 persons, of whom two-thirds are pure Maya, the remainder being whites and of mixed blood.
The Mayan linguistic stock includes some twenty tribes, speaking closely related dialects, and (excepting the Huastec of northern Vera Cruz and south-east San Luis Potosi, Mexico) occupying contiguous territory in Tabasco, Chiapas, and the Yucatan peninsula, a large part of Guatemala, and smaller portion of Honduras and Salvador.
The ancient builders of the ruined cities of Palenque and Copan were of the same stock.
The most important tribes or nations, after the Maya proper, were the Quiche and Cakchiquel of Guatemala.
All the tribes of this stock were of high culture, the Mayan civilization being the most advanced and probably the most ancient, in aboriginal North America.
They still number altogether about two million souls.
Culturally the area is divided into three sections: the northern, central and southern regions.
The earliest evidence of the Maya civilization is found in the southern region.
At Izapa carvings depict gods that were the precursors of the Classic deities and at Kaminaljuyu glyphs on stelea foreshadow the Maya writing system. The central region includes the southern lowlands, from Tabasco in the Northwest to Belize and Guatemala's Motagua River region in the southeast.