Initial European reports about the New World spoke of a veritable paradise, populated by healthy, long-lived people, who could cure illness with exotic medicinal plants. Moreover, except for the earliest accounts of the Spanish explorers, European reports were composed in the wake of the demographic collapse that virtually destroyed the foundations of Native American civilizations and cultures. The written languages of pre-Columbian American civilizations involved complex hieroglyphic-like symbols that were pictographic, ideographic, or phonetic in nature. The Aztec Empire was the last of a succession of indigenous civilizations that once flourished in Mesoamerica, the region that now comprises most of modern Mexico, Guatemala, Belize, Honduras, and El Salvador. Europeans may have caught glimpses of the Maya during the last voyage of Columbus in 1502, but they learned almost nothing about Mayan civilization until 1517 when a storm drove three Spanish ships towards the northeastern tip of the Yucatan peninsula.