The human history of Honduras stretches back millennia. The earliest artifacts of Honduran culture have been dated to over 6,000 years ago.
By about 3,000 years ago, ancestors of the great Mayan culture of Honduras history had settled within the present-day country. At its peak, around 200 to 800 CE, the Mayan culture stretched from the Yucatan Peninsula in modern Mexico through what are now Belize, Guatemala, and Honduras.
The Mayan culture of Honduras history left its mark in the Copan ruins, archaeological remnants of a great city that exerted influence over large swaths of Central America. Today, Copan is one of the best-preserved Mayan cities and a popular destination for anyone on a vacation to Honduras.
For reasons lost to antiquity, the Mayan culture of Honduras history suffered sudden and tremendous decline at the end of the first millennium CE. Although descendants of the Mayans survive in Honduras to this day, the indigenous Honduras culture had completely collapsed by the time European explorers "discovered" Central America.
The north coast of present-day Honduras, near the modern city of Trujillo, was the site of the first mainland New World landfall by Christopher Columbus in August 1502. He named the land Honduras (Spanish for "depths"), after the deep waters off the coast.
The years of Spanish conquest devastated indigenous Honduran culture, as native Hondurans were indentured as slaves to work the rich gold and silver mines discovered in the 1530s. The indigenous peoples did not acquiesce willingly to their enslavement.
In the late 1530s Lempira, a young chief from the Honduran Lenca tribe, led an army of thousands against the Spanish occupiers. Lempira's brave resistance ended when he was tricked and murdered at peace talks, but his memory left its mark on Honduras history. Today, the national currency is named Lempira, as are many Honduran towns.
Honduras remained a part of the vast Spanish New World empire until the early 19th century, and most modern Hondurans can trace their ancestry to a combination of Spanish colonists, indigenous Americans, and African slaves brought to work colonial mines. The British also left their mark on the history of Honduras and Honduran culture, colonizing parts of the Mosquito coast and the Bay Islands.
English remains a widely spoken language on the Bay Islands. The modern history of Honduras began on September 15, 1821, when the country declared independence from Spain. Honduras briefly joined the Mexican Empire before leaving to form the short-lived Federal Republic of Central America, finally getting full independence in 1838.
The history of Honduras since independence has been marked by bitter struggles between liberals and conservatives, numerous military coups, rebellions, fixed elections, foreign invasions, and meddling by U.S. governments and companies.
The introduction of banana farming in the late 19th century had profound ramifications for Honduran culture. Banana companies, most prominently the United Fruit Company (now Chiquita) and the Standard Fruit Company (now Dole), became extremely powerful within Honduras.
Throughout the 20th century political, environmental, and labor scandals associated with the banana companies marred the history of Honduras. American writer O. Henry coined the term banana republic to describe Honduras.
The Banana industry helped support strong military rulers who supported their interests, like General Carias in the 1930s and 1940s and Colonel Lopez Arellano in the 1960s and 1970s. The powerful Banana companies also spawned a powerful labor movement in Honduras who have worked to improve conditions for fruit workers.
U.S. influence in Honduran affairs marked the 20th century history of Honduras, most prominently in the 1980s, when the Reagan administration helped prop up the democratic government as neighboring Central American countries succumbed to communist insurrection.
Honduras became a staging area for anti-Marxist counter-revolutionaries and became entangled in the biggest U.S. political scandal of the 1980s, as the Reagan administration trained and funded Nicaraguan and Salvadoran Contras in Honduras using money made from illegal arm sales to Iran.
Today, Honduras remains one of the poorest countries in Latin America. A tourism boom since the early 1990s, with visitors attracted by the natural beauty of rainforests and ocean diving spots, has helped revitalize the country. The devastation of Hurricane Mitch in 1998 set progress back, but Honduran culture remains proud and varied and the country's ecotourism continues to attract visitors.