Evidence of human occupation of the area now known as Myanmar goes back at least to 5000 BC. At around the third century BC, the Mon arrived and settled the Sittoung Valley on their way to establishing some of the earliest kingdoms in Thailand. The Bamar arrived from the China-Tibet border area in the ninth century AD and quickly established themselves as the dominant power in the region.
The Bamar established the first Burmese empire, founded in 1057 by Anawrahta. Later the same century, the "Golden Age" of Bagan begins the great era of pagoda building. In 1287 the Mongols invade Bagan, leading to the fall of the first Burmese empire. The second Burmese empire doesn't rise until the early sixteenth century, shortly after the Portuguese established a trade station at Martaban.
The British establish trade with Burma around 1635, along with the French and Dutch. In the first half of the nineteenth century, a series of wars with the British results in Britain controlling most of the Burmese coast. In 1886, Britain completes their occupation of all the Burmese territory. During World War II, the Japanese occupy Burma. After the war, in 1948, Burma regains independence.
A brief democratic period is ended by a military coup in 1962, establishing a socialist system. In September of 1988, mass student demonstrations lead to another coup and establishment of the State Law and Order Restoration Council (SLORC), which has ruled Myanmar since. In 1989, the SLORC government introduced sweeping changes to replace colonial place names with words closer to the actual local usage. Thus, "Rangoon" became "Yangon" and the "Irrawaddy" River became the "Ayeyarwady." Throughout most of this on-line guide, we've used the new place names for most references.