Pre-Columbian Honduras was populated by a complex mixture of indigenous peoples representing a wide variety of cultural backgrounds and linguistic groups the most advanced and notable of which were related to the Maya of the Yucatan and Guatemala. Mayan civilization had reached western Honduras in the fifth century A.D. Probably spreading from low land Mayan centers in Guatemala's Peten region. The Maya spread rapidly through the Rio Motagua Valley, centering their control on the major ceremonial center of Copan, near the present-day town of Santa Rosa de Copan. For three and a half centuries, the Maya developed the city, making it one of the principal centers of their culture. At one point, Copan was probably the leading center for both astronomical studies in which the Maya were quite advanced and art.
One of the longest Mayan hieroglyphic inscriptions ever discovered was found at Copan. The Maya also established extensive trade networks spanning as far as central Mexico.
Then, at the height of the Mayan civilization, Copan was apparently abandoned. The last dated hieroglyph in Copan is 800 A.D. Much of the population evidently remained in the area after that, but the educated class, the priests and rulers who built the temples, inscribed the glyphs, and developed the astronomy and mathematics, suddenly vanished. Copan fell into ruin, and the descendants of the Maya who remained had no memory of the meanings of the inscriptions or of the reasons for the sudden fall.
Local workers on Roatan Island will sometime unearth Maya relics and walk door to door (so to speak) selling them to the first bidder.