The chronology of Pre-Columbian Mesoamerica is usually divided into the following eras:
c. 20,000 BC - 8,000 BC
A period of hunter gatherers.
c. 8,000 BC - 20th century BC
The development of agriculture in the region. Permanent villages established. Late in this era, use of pottery and loom weaving becomes common.
c. 20th century BC - 2nd century AD
The start of nation-states. The first large scale ceremonial architecture, development of cities. The development and flourishing of the Olmec civilization at such sites as La Venta. Early Zapotec and Maya civilization. Important early Maya cities include El Mirador and Cival.
c. mid 2nd century - early 10th century
Teotihuacan grows to a metropolis and its empire dominates Mesoamerica. The greatest era of the cities of the Maya southern lowlands, such as Tikal, Palenque, and Copán.
The Classic Era ended earlier in Central Mexico, with the fall of Teotihuacan around the 7th century, than it did in the Maya area, which continued for centuries more. The late period of continued Maya development is sometimes known as the Florescent Era.
In the early 20th century, the term Old Empire was sometimes given to this era of Maya civilization in an analogy to Ancient Egypt; the term is now considered inaccurate and has long been out of use by serious writers on the subject.
10th century - 16th century.
Collapse of many of the great nations and cities of the Classic Era, although some continue, such as in Oaxaca, Cholula, and the Maya of Yucatán, such as at Chichen Itza and Uxmal. This is sometimes seen as a period of increased chaos and warfare. The Toltec for a time dominate central Mexico in the 11th - 13th century, then collapse. The northern Maya are for a time united under Mayapan. The Aztec Empire rises in the early 15th century and seems on the path to asserting a dominance over the whole region not since Teotihuacan, when Mesoamerica is discovered by Spain and conquered by the Conquistadores.
The late florescence of the northern Maya was sometimes called the New Empire in the early 20th century, but this term is no longer considered appropriate and is no longer used.
Arguably, the Post-Classic continued until the conquest of the last independent native state of Mesoamerica, Tayasal, in 1697; see also: Spanish conquest of Yucatán