South of the border down Mexico way, reaching down as far as Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador. This amazing civilisation started with the Zapotecs and included the Olmecs and Mixtecs before ending with the Toltecs.

Their city, Teotihuacan, preceded Mayan culture and is full of mysteries from an earlier civilisation. It seems to have suffered fire at some point, but parts of it were in use up to Aztec times. With its pyramid of the sun built over a chambered cave, this may even have been PACARI, 'The Place Of Emergence', where the Incan Gods hid during a terrible disaster.

Teotihuacan was the size of Rome, and the Maya could have achieved Roman Empire status if it hadn't been for their aversion to getting their feathered costumes ruined by salt water. Plus all that messing about with sails and rigging just to end up somewhere with lousy cold weather.

From 250 to 900 A.D. life was all plain sailing without putting out to sea. They didn't have horses so they didn't need carts. Instead they had a river and canal system for shifting heavy goods. And shift they did, especially when it came to moving blocks for their stepped buildings of clean-cut grandeur. Some of their cities have never been bettered, and after so many years of neglect much is still standing in Copan, Chichen-Itza, Kabah, Palenque, Uxmal, Tikal and Mayapan.

Mayan culture was amazing and their skills manifold. Especially in the artistic department. They invented a very colourful style of picture-writing with glyphs, and made codex books the size of screens. Unfortunately their books were unspeakably fragile and only four precious volumes have survived the ravages of time for us to consult. (No wonder the Maya are so enigmatic - imagine if mankind was wiped out and all a visiting alien had to go on was a couple of Harry Potter books, half a telephone directory and a Superman comic.)

Together with their statues and carvings, it is impossible not to marvel at the talent of the Maya. Okay, so they liked a bit of blood sacrifice on an organised scale. But is that worse than organised crime or terrorists?

Their holy book was called the POPOL-VUH. This is nothing to do with the views of the Pope, as when the inquisitorial Spaniards arrived in 1511 to inflict treachery, unremitting torture and suffering, they were 611 years too late. The Mayan Empire had already dissipated and it was the poor old Aztecs who got the full brunt of the aggravation.

Thankfully we can report that the Maya are not utterly extinct, as descendents of the classical Mayan civilisation are still to be found in isolated pockets, practising modernised versions of the old beliefs.