Archaeological evidence indicates that the earliest known settlements in the Yucatán Peninsula were fishing villages on the eastern coast, suggesting a Maya presence in the area for many thousands of years. The earliest Yukateko historical records in the form of hieroglyphic texts date to the fourth century A . D ., with earlier texts found to the south. These Maya were probably Ch'ol speakers with a large-scale system of trading and warring city-states, ruled by priest/kings, at centers such as Tikal, Palenque, and Copán, which flourished and then declined during what has come to be known as the Classic period, from A . D . 250 to 900. The Yukateko were also present at Cobá, Ek'Balam, Edzná, Dzibilchaltún, and other centers, although the cataclysmic collapse of this system seems to have resulted in less depopulation in Yucatán than in other Maya centers. In fact, there is some evidence that when the sites in the Guatemala region were abandoned, through some combination of environmental abuse and internal discord, Yukateko people moved south to fill the void.
By A . D . 1000, the emerging central-Mexican Toltec apparently established dominance during what is called the Postclassic period at the previously Classic Maya site of Chichén Itzá, increasing their control of the Mesoamerican trade network. Following the demise of the Toltec, beginning about AD. 1250, the Yukateko lived in regional chiefdoms until their first contact with the Spanish off the eastern coast in 1511. In 1526 Francisco de Montejo ("El Adelantado") began a military campaign that culminated in the official Spanish aquisition of the Yucatán in 1545, although many groups remained isolated. Thousands of years of indigenous cultural development were superseded by a European colonial system of encomienda (Spanish ownership of land inhabited by the Maya) ; forced religious conversion by Spanish friars, often through torture and Inquisition-style campaigns; and centuries of enslavement to the Spanish speakers.
Yucatán's attempt to secede from Mexico in 1846 and the use of Maya conscripts in the Yucatán militia led to a release of Yukateko resentment in what has come to be called the Caste War. Two years after the beginning of this organized Maya revolt in 1847, all Spanish-speaking Yukateko were driven to take refuge in the state capitals of Mérida and Campeche, but the arrival of the spring rains caused the Maya to return to the cornfields and thus to lose their military advantage. Skirmishes and retribution against the Maya continued until about 1910. During the Mexican Revolution, the Maya made their most recent attempt to "throw off slavery," by joining in local fighting against dominant landlords. Today, the development of tourism on the peninsula has put the Maya in increasing contact with North Americans and Europeans. The Maya generally regard these light-skinned people with respect for their socioeconomic prominence but consider their morality questionable or unclear.