The prevalent thought about the origin of Maya writing is that it grew out of an even more ancient writing system developed by the Olmecs as early as 1000 BCE, at a time period called the Preclassic by archaeologists. Only fragmentary evidence for this writing system existed until the announcement in 2006 of the existence of the Cascajal block, a small rectangular tablet inscribed with 62 symbols resembling symbols found in Olmec art but otherwise undecipherable.


Maya art took shape in the course of the Preclassic period (1500 B.C. to 250 A.D.), flowered during the Classic period (c. 200 to 900 AD), and went through a Postclassic phase until the upheavals of the sixteenth century destroyed courtly culture and put an end to a great artistic tradition. The Olmecs, Teotihuacan and the Toltecs have all influenced Maya art. Traditional art forms have mainly survived in weaving and the design of peasant houses.