Numerous ruins indicate that for hundreds of years Belize was heavily populated by the Maya Indians, whose relatively advanced civilization reached its height between A.D. 250 and 900. Eventually the civilization declined leaving behind small groups whose offspring still exist in Belize contributing positively to the culturally diverse population
In 1502, Columbus sailed through parts of the Caribbean, but did not actually visit the area later known as British Honduras.
The first reference to European settlement in the colony was in 1638. These were later augmented by disbanded British soldiers and sailors after the capture of Jamaica from Spain in 1655. The settlement, whose main activity was logwood cutting (logwood was used in the past to produce dye), had a troubled history during the next 150 years. It was subjected to numerous attacks from neighbouring Spanish settlements (Spain claimed sovereignty over the entire New World except for regions in South America assigned to Portugal).
From an early date the settlers had governed themselves under a system of primitive democracy by Public Meeting. A set of regulations referred to as Burnaby's Code was effected in 1765 and this, with some modification, continued until 1840 when an Executive Council was created.
In 1853 the Public Meeting was replaced by a Legislative Assembly (partly elected, on a restrictive franchise), with the British Superintendent, an office created in 1786 at the settlers' request, as Chairman. When the settlement became a colony in 1871 the Superintendent was replaced by a Lieutenant Governor under the Governor of Jamaica.
Further constitutional advances came in 1954 with the introduction of Universal Adult Suffrage and an elected majority in the Legislature, the Ministerial System was adopted in 1961 leading up to Self Government in 1964. The country's name was changed on 1st June, 1973, from British Honduras to Belize.
Independence was achieved on September 21, 1981 and a new independence constitution introduced. Belize was then admitted as a member of the United Nations, the Non-Alligned Movement and the Commonwealth of Nations.