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Mesoamerica is a historical and important
region In geography, regions are areas that are broadly divided by physical characteristics (physical geography), human impact characteristics (human geography), and the interaction of humanity and the environment (environmental geography). Geographic re ...

region
and
cultural area In anthropology Anthropology is the of ity, concerned with , , , and , in both the present and past, including . studies patterns of behaviour, while studies cultural meaning, including norms and values. studies how language in ...
in southern
North America North America is a continent A continent is any of several large landmasses. Generally identified by convention (norm), convention rather than any strict criteria, up to seven geographical regions are commonly regarded as continen ...

North America
and most of
Central America Central America ( es, América Central, , ''Centroamérica'' ) is a region of the Americas The Americas (also collectively called America) is a landmass comprising the totality of North North is one of the four compass points or ...

Central America
. It extends from approximately central
Mexico Mexico, officially the United Mexican States, is a List of sovereign states, country in the southern portion of North America. It is borders of Mexico, bordered to the north by the United States; to the south and west by the Pacific Ocean; to ...

Mexico
through
Belize Belize () is a Caribbean The Caribbean (, ; es, Caribe; french: Caraïbes; ht, Karayib; also gcf, label=Antillean Creole, Kawayib; nl, Caraïben; Papiamento: ) is a region of the Americas that comprises the Caribbean Sea, its surroundi ...

Belize
,
Guatemala Guatemala ( ; ), officially the Republic of Guatemala ( es, República de Guatemala, links=no), is a country in Central America Central America ( es, América Central, , ''Centroamérica'' ) is a region of the Americas The Am ...

Guatemala
,
El Salvador , national_anthem = '' Himno Nacional de El Salvador''( en, "National Anthem of El Salvador") , image_map = El Salvador (orthographic projection).svg , image_map2 = , capital = San Salvador , coordinates = , largest_city = San Salvador ...

El Salvador
,
Honduras Honduras, officially the Republic of Honduras, is a country in Central America Central America ( es, América Central, , ''Centroamérica'' ) is a region of the Americas. It is bordered by Mexico to the north, Colombia to the south, the ...

Honduras
,
Nicaragua Nicaragua (; ), officially the Republic of Nicaragua (), is the largest country A country is a distinct territorial body or political entity A polity is an identifiable political entity—any group of people who have a collective iden ...

Nicaragua
, and northern
Costa Rica Costa Rica (, ; ; literally "Rich Coast"), officially the Republic of Costa Rica ( es, República de Costa Rica), is a country in Central America Central America ( es, América Central, , ''Centroamérica'' ) is a region of the Amer ...

Costa Rica
. Within this region pre-Columbian societies flourished for more than 1,000 years before the
Spanish colonization of the Americas The Spanish colonization of the Americas began under the Crown of Castile The Crown of Castile was a medieval polity in the Iberian Peninsula that formed in 1230 as a result of the third and definitive union of the crowns and, some decad ...

Spanish colonization of the Americas
. Mesoamerica was the site of two of the most profound historical transformations in world history: primary urban generation, and the formation of
New World The "New World" is a term for the majority of Earth Earth is the third planet from the Sun and the only astronomical object known to harbour and support life. 29.2% of Earth's surface is land consisting of continents and islands. The re ...
cultures out of the long encounters among Indigenous, European, African and Asian cultures. In the 16th century, Eurasian diseases such as
smallpox Smallpox was an infectious disease An infection is the invasion of an organism's body Tissue (biology), tissues by Pathogen, disease-causing agents, their multiplication, and the reaction of host (biology), host tissues to the infectious ...

smallpox
and
measles Measles is a highly contagious infectious disease An infection is the invasion of an organism's body Tissue (biology), tissues by Pathogen, disease-causing agents, their multiplication, and the reaction of host (biology), host tissues to ...
, which were endemic among the colonists but new to North America, caused the deaths of upwards of 90% of the indigenous people, resulting in great losses to their societies and cultures. Mesoamerica is one of the five areas in the world where ancient
civilization  A civilization (or civilisation) is a complex society A complex society is a concept that is shared by a range of disciplines including anthropology, archaeology, history and sociology to describe a stage of social formation. The concep ...

civilization
arose independently (see
cradle of civilization A cradle of civilization is any location where civilization A civilization (or civilisation) is any complex society that is characterized by urban development, social stratification, a form of government, and symbol A symbol is a ...
), and the second in the Americas. Norte Chico (Caral-Supe) in present-day
Peru , , image_flag = Flag_of_Peru.svg , image_coat = Escudo_nacional_del_Perú.svg , other_symbol = Great Seal of the State , other_symbol_type = National seal , national_motto ...

Peru
, arose as an independent civilization in the northern coastal region. As a cultural area, Mesoamerica is defined by a mosaic of cultural traits developed and shared by its indigenous cultures. Beginning as early as 7000 BCE, the domestication of
cacao
cacao
,
maize Maize ( ; ''Zea mays'' subsp. ''mays'', from es, maíz after tnq, mahiz), also known as corn (North American North America is a continent in the Northern Hemisphere and almost entirely within the Western Hemisphere. It can also be ...

maize
,
beans A bean is the seed of one of several genus, genera of the flowering plant family (biology), family Fabaceae, which are used as vegetables for human or animal food. They can be cooked in many different ways, including boiling, frying, and ba ...
,
tomato The tomato is the edible berry A berry is a small, pulpy, and often edible fruit In botany, a fruit is the seed-bearing structure in flowering plants (also known as angiosperms) formed from the ovary after flowering. Fruits are ...

tomato
,
avocado The avocado (''Persea americana''), a likely originating from southcentral , is as a member of the family . The fruit of the plant, also called an avocado (or avocado pear or alligator pear), is a large containing a single large seed. Avo ...

avocado
,
vanilla Vanilla is a spice A spice is a seed A seed is an embryonic ''Embryonic'' is the twelfth studio album by experimental rock band the Flaming Lips released on October 13, 2009, on Warner Bros. Records, Warner Bros. The band's first d ...

vanilla
,
squash Squash may refer to: Sports * Squash (sport), the high-speed racquet sport also known as squash racquets * Squash (professional wrestling), an extremely one-sided match in professional wrestling * Squash tennis, a game similar to squash racquets ...
and
chili
chili
, as well as the
turkey Turkey ( tr, Türkiye ), officially the Republic of Turkey, is a country located mainly on Anatolia Anatolia,, tr, Anadolu Yarımadası), and the Anatolian plateau. also known as Asia Minor, is a large peninsula in Western Asia and ...

turkey
and
dog The dog or domestic dog (''Canis familiaris'' or ''Canis lupus familiaris'') is a Domestication, domesticated descendant of the wolf which is characterized by an upturning tail. The dog Origin of the domestic dog, derived from an Pleistocene ...

dog
, resulted in a transition from
paleo-Indian Paleo-Indians, Paleoindians or Paleo-Americans, were the first peoples Indigenous peoples, also referred to as First people, Aboriginal people, Native people, or autochthonous people, are culturally distinct ethnic groups who are native to a ...
hunter-gatherer tribal groupings to the organization of sedentary agricultural villages. In the subsequent Formative period, agriculture and cultural traits such as a complex mythological and religious tradition, a
vigesimal A vigesimal () or base-20 (base-score) numeral system is based on 20 (number), twenty (in the same way in which the decimal, decimal numeral system is based on 10 (number), ten). ''wikt:vigesimal#English, Vigesimal'' is derived from the Latin adje ...
numeric system, a complex calendric system, a tradition of ball playing, and a distinct
architectural style An architectural style is a set of characteristics and features that make a building or other structure notable or historically identifiable. It is a sub-class of Style (visual arts), style in the visual arts generally, and most styles in archite ...
, were diffused through the area. Also in this period, villages began to become socially stratified and develop into
chiefdom A chiefdom is a form of hierarchical political organization in non-industrial societies usually based on kinship In anthropology, kinship is the web of social relationships that form an important part of the lives of all humans in all soci ...
s. Large ceremonial centers were built, interconnected by a network of trade routes for the exchange of luxury goods, such as
obsidian Obsidian (; ) is a naturally occurring volcanic glass formed when lava extrusive rock, extruded from a volcano cools rapidly with minimal crystal growth. It is an igneous rock. Obsidian is produced from felsic lava, rich in the lighter elements ...
,
jade Jade is a mineral, much used in some cultures as jewellery and for ornaments, mostly known for its green varieties, though it appears naturally in other colors as well, notably yellow and white. Jade can refer to either of two different silicat ...

jade
, cacao,
cinnabar Cinnabar () or cinnabarite (), likely deriving from the grc, κιννάβαρι (), is the bright scarlet to brick-red form of mercury(II) sulfide (HgS). It is the most common source ore for refining elemental mercury, and is the historic sou ...

cinnabar
, ''
Spondylus ''Spondylus'' is a genus Genus (plural genera) is a taxonomic rank Taxonomy (general) is the practice and science of classification of things or concepts, including the principles that underlie such classification. The term may also refer to ...

Spondylus
'' shells,
hematite Hematite (), also spelled as haematite, is a common iron oxide Iron oxides are chemical compounds composed of iron and oxygen Oxygen is the chemical element with the chemical symbol, symbol O and atomic number 8. It is a member o ...

hematite
, and ceramics. While Mesoamerican civilization knew of the
wheel File:Roue primitive.png, An early wheel made of a solid piece of wood A wheel is a circular component that is intended to rotate on an axle An axle or axletree is a central shaft for a rotating wheel or gear. On wheeled vehicles, the ...

wheel
and basic
metallurgy Metallurgy is a domain of Materials science, materials science and engineering that studies the physical and chemical behavior of metallic Chemical element, elements, their Inter-metallic alloy, inter-metallic compounds, and their mixtures, which ...
, neither of these technologies became culturally important. Among the earliest complex civilizations was the
Olmec The Olmecs () were the earliest known major Mesoamerica Mesoamerica is a historical region and cultural area in North America North America is a continent entirely within the Northern Hemisphere and almost all within the Western ...
culture, which inhabited the
Gulf Coast of Mexico The Gulf Coast of Mexico or East Coast of Mexico stretches along the Gulf of Mexico The Gulf of Mexico ( es, Golfo de México) is an ocean basin and a marginal sea of the Atlantic Ocean, largely surrounded by the North America North ...
and extended inland and southwards across the
Isthmus of Tehuantepec File:1852 Andrews Map of Florida, Cuba and the Gulf of Mexico - Geographicus - StraitsofFlorida-andrews-1852.jpg, 300px, Map of the Straits of Florida and Gulf of Mexico. To accompany a report from the United States Department of the Treasury, U. ...

Isthmus of Tehuantepec
. Frequent contact and cultural interchange between the early Olmec and other cultures in Chiapas, Oaxaca and Guatemala laid the basis for the Mesoamerican cultural area. All this was facilitated by considerable regional communications in ancient Mesoamerica, especially along the Pacific coast. During this formative period distinct religious and symbolic traditions spread, as well as the development of artistic and architectural complexes. In the subsequent Preclassic period, complex urban polities began to develop among the
Maya Maya may refer to: Civilizations * Maya peoples The Maya peoples () are an ethnolinguistic group of indigenous peoples Indigenous peoples, also referred to as First people, Aboriginal people, Native people, or autochthonous people, are cu ...
, with the rise of centers such as
Aguada fénix
Aguada fénix
and
Calakmul Calakmul (; also Kalakmul and other less frequent variants) is a Maya archaeological site in the Mexican state The United Mexican States ( es, Estados Unidos Mexicanos) is a federal republic composed of 32 Federal Entities: 31 states a ...

Calakmul
in Mexico;
El Mirador El Mirador (which translates as "the lookout", "the viewpoint", or "the belvedere") is a large pre-Columbian Maya settlement, located in the north of the modern department of El Petén, Guatemala Guatemala ( ; ), officially the Repu ...

El Mirador
, and
Tikal Tikal () (''Tik’al'' in modern Mayan orthography) is the ruin of an ancient city, which was likely to have been called Yax Mutal, found in a rainforest in Guatemala Guatemala ( ; ), officially the Republic of Guatemala ( es, República ...

Tikal
in Guatemala, and the
Zapotec Zapotec () or zapoteca may refer to: Cultures and languages * Zapotec civilization, a historical indigenous pre-Columbian civilization and archaeological culture of central Mexico * Zapotec languages, a group of closely related indigenous Mesoamer ...
at
Monte Albán
Monte Albán
. During this period, the first true
Mesoamerican writing systems Mesoamerica Mesoamerica is a historical region and cultural area in North America North America is a continent entirely within the Northern Hemisphere and almost all within the Western Hemisphere. It can also be described as the no ...
were developed in the Epi-Olmec and the Zapotec cultures. The Mesoamerican writing tradition reached its height in the Classic Maya hieroglyphic script. Mesoamerica is one of only three regions of the world where writing is known to have independently developed (the others being ancient
Sumer Sumer ()The name is from Akkadian language, Akkadian '; Sumerian language, Sumerian ''kig̃ir'', written and ,approximately "land of the civilized kings" or "native land". means "native, local", iĝir NATIVE (7x: Old Babylonian)from ''The ...

Sumer
and China). In Central Mexico, the city of
Teotihuacan Teotihuacan (: ''Teotihuacán'') (; ) is an ancient n city located in a sub-valley of the , which is located in the , northeast of modern-day . Teotihuacan is known today as the site of many of the most architecturally significant built ...

Teotihuacan
ascended at the height of the Classic period; it formed a military and commercial empire whose political influence stretched south into the Maya area and northward. Upon the collapse of Teotihuacán around 600 AD, competition between several important political centers in central Mexico, such as
Xochicalco Xochicalco () is a pre-Columbian archaeological site in Miacatlán Municipality in the western part of the Mexican state The United Mexican States ( es, Estados Unidos Mexicanos) is a federal republic composed of 32 Federal Entities: 31 ...

Xochicalco
and Cholula, ensued. At this time during the Epi-Classic period, the
Nahua people The Nahuas () are a group of the , , , , and . They comprise the largest indigenous group in Mexico and second largest in El Salvador. The were of Nahua ethnicity, and the s are often thought to have been as well, though in the pre-Columbian pe ...
s began moving south into Mesoamerica from the North, and became politically and culturally dominant in central Mexico, as they displaced speakers of
Oto-Manguean languages The Oto-Manguean or Otomanguean languages are a large family comprising several subfamilies of indigenous languages of the Americas. All of the Oto-Manguean languages that are now spoken are indigenous to Mexico, but the Manguean languages, Mang ...
. During the early post-Classic period, Central Mexico was dominated by the
Toltec The Toltec culture () is a pre-Columbian Mesoamerica Mesoamerica is a historical and important region In geography, regions are areas that are broadly divided by physical characteristics ( physical geography), human impact characteristics ...
culture, and Oaxaca by the
Mixtec The Mixtecs (), or Mixtecos, are indigenous Mesoamerica Mesoamerica is a historical and important region In geography, regions are areas that are broadly divided by physical characteristics ( physical geography), human impact characteris ...
. The lowland Maya area had important centers at
Chichén Itzá
Chichén Itzá
and Mayapán. Towards the end of the post-Classic period, the
Aztec The Aztecs () were a Mesoamerican culture that flourished in central Mexico in the post-classic period from 1300 to 1521. The Aztec peoples included different Indigenous peoples of Mexico, ethnic groups of central Mexico, particularly those g ...

Aztec
s of Central Mexico built a
tributary A tributary, or affluent, is a stream or river that flows into a larger stream or main stem (or parent) river or a lake. A tributary does not flow directly into a sea or ocean. Tributaries and the main stem river drain the surrounding drainage ba ...
empire covering most of central Mesoamerica. The distinct Mesoamerican cultural tradition ended with the
Spanish conquest The Spanish Empire ( es, Imperio Español; la, Imperium Hispanicum), historically known as the Hispanic Monarchy ( es, Monarquía Hispánica) and as the Catholic Monarchy ( es, Monarquía Católica), was a colonial empire A colonial empire is a ...
in the 16th century. Over the next centuries, Mesoamerican indigenous cultures were gradually subjected to Spanish colonial rule. Aspects of the Mesoamerican cultural heritage still survive among the indigenous peoples who inhabit Mesoamerica. Many continue to speak their ancestral languages, and maintain many practices harking back to their Mesoamerican roots.


Etymology and definition

The term ''Mesoamerica'' literally means "middle America" in Greek. Middle America often refers to a larger area in the Americas, but it has also previously been used more narrowly to refer to Mesoamerica. An example is the title of the 16 volumes of ''The Handbook of Middle American Indians''. "Mesoamerica" is broadly defined as the area that is home to the Mesoamerican civilization, which comprises a group of peoples with close cultural and historical ties. The exact geographic extent of Mesoamerica has varied through time, as the civilization extended North and South from its heartland in southern Mexico. The term was first used by the
German German(s) may refer to: Common uses * of or related to Germany * Germans, Germanic ethnic group, citizens of Germany or people of German ancestry * For citizens of Germany, see also German nationality law * German language The German la ...

German
ethnologist Ethnology (from the grc-gre, ἔθνος, meaning 'nation') is an academic field that compares and analyzes the characteristics of different peoples A people is a plurality of person A person (plural people or persons) is a being that ...
Paul Kirchhoff, who noted that similarities existed among the various
pre-Columbian cultures This list of pre-Columbian cultures includes those civilizations and cultures of the Americas which flourished prior to the European colonization of the Americas. Cultural characteristics Many pre-Columbian civilizations established permanent or ...
within the region that included southern
Mexico Mexico, officially the United Mexican States, is a List of sovereign states, country in the southern portion of North America. It is borders of Mexico, bordered to the north by the United States; to the south and west by the Pacific Ocean; to ...

Mexico
,
Guatemala Guatemala ( ; ), officially the Republic of Guatemala ( es, República de Guatemala, links=no), is a country in Central America Central America ( es, América Central, , ''Centroamérica'' ) is a region of the Americas The Am ...

Guatemala
,
Belize Belize () is a Caribbean The Caribbean (, ; es, Caribe; french: Caraïbes; ht, Karayib; also gcf, label=Antillean Creole, Kawayib; nl, Caraïben; Papiamento: ) is a region of the Americas that comprises the Caribbean Sea, its surroundi ...

Belize
,
El Salvador , national_anthem = '' Himno Nacional de El Salvador''( en, "National Anthem of El Salvador") , image_map = El Salvador (orthographic projection).svg , image_map2 = , capital = San Salvador , coordinates = , largest_city = San Salvador ...

El Salvador
, western
Honduras Honduras, officially the Republic of Honduras, is a country in Central America Central America ( es, América Central, , ''Centroamérica'' ) is a region of the Americas. It is bordered by Mexico to the north, Colombia to the south, the ...

Honduras
, and the
Pacific The Pacific Ocean is the largest and deepest of Earth Earth is the third planet from the Sun and the only astronomical object known to harbour and support life. 29.2% of Earth's surface is land consisting of continents and islands. ...

Pacific
lowlands of
Nicaragua Nicaragua (; ), officially the Republic of Nicaragua (), is the largest country A country is a distinct territorial body or political entity A polity is an identifiable political entity—any group of people who have a collective iden ...

Nicaragua
and northwestern
Costa Rica Costa Rica (, ; ; literally "Rich Coast"), officially the Republic of Costa Rica ( es, República de Costa Rica), is a country in Central America Central America ( es, América Central, , ''Centroamérica'' ) is a region of the Amer ...

Costa Rica
. In the tradition of
cultural history Cultural history combines the approaches of anthropology Anthropology is the of ity, concerned with , , , and , in both the present and past, including . studies patterns of behaviour, while studies cultural meaning, including norms and va ...
, the prevalent
archaeological theory Archaeological theory refers to the various intellectual frameworks through which archaeologists interpret archaeological data. Archaeological theory functions as the application of philosophy of science Philosophy of science is a branch of ph ...
of the early to middle 20th century, Kirchhoff defined this zone as a cultural area based on a suite of interrelated cultural similarities brought about by millennia of inter- and intra-regional interaction (i.e.,
diffusion Diffusion is the net movement of anything (for example, atoms, ions, molecules, energy) generally from a region of higher concentration In chemistry Chemistry is the study of the properties and behavior of . It is a that covers ...
). Mesoamerica is recognized as a near-prototypical cultural area. This term is now fully integrated in the standard terminology of pre-Columbian
anthropological Anthropology is the scientific study of human Humans (''Homo sapiens'') are the most populous and widespread species of primates, characterized by bipedality, opposable thumbs, hairlessness, and intelligence allowing the use of culture, l ...
studies. Conversely, the sister terms
Aridoamerica Aridoamerica denotes an ecological region spanning Mexico Mexico ( es, México ; Nahuan languages: ), officially the United Mexican States (; EUM ), is a List of sovereign states, country in the southern portion of North America. It is b ...
and
Oasisamerica Oasisamerica is a term that was coined by Paul Kirchhoff (who also coined that of Mesoamerica) and published in a 1954 article, and is used by some scholars, primarily Mexican anthropologists, for the broad cultural area defining pre-Columbian ...

Oasisamerica
, which refer to northern Mexico and the western
United States The United States of America (U.S.A. or USA), commonly known as the United States (U.S. or US) or America, is a country Continental United States, primarily located in North America. It consists of 50 U.S. state, states, a Washington, D.C., ...

United States
, respectively, have not entered into widespread usage. Some of the significant cultural traits defining the Mesoamerican cultural tradition are: * ''Horticulture and plant use'':
sedentism In cultural anthropology, sedentism (sometimes called sedentariness; compare sedentarism) is the practice of living in one place for a long time. , the majority of people belong to sedentary cultures. In evolutionary anthropology and archaeolog ...
based on
maize Maize ( ; ''Zea mays'' subsp. ''mays'', from es, maíz after tnq, mahiz), also known as corn (North American North America is a continent in the Northern Hemisphere and almost entirely within the Western Hemisphere. It can also be ...

maize
agriculture Agriculture is the science, art and practice of cultivating plants and livestock. Agriculture was the key development in the rise of sedentary Image:Family watching television 1958.jpg, Exercise trends, Increases in sedentary behaviors su ...

agriculture
;
floating gardens ''Chinampa'' ( nah, chināmitl ) is a technique used in Agriculture in Mesoamerica, Mesoamerican agriculture which relied on small, rectangle, rectangular areas of fertility (soil), fertile arable land to grow agriculture, crops on the wikt:shall ...
; use of bark paper and
agave ''Agave'' (, , ) is a genus Genus /ˈdʒiː.nəs/ (plural genera /ˈdʒen.ər.ə/) is a taxonomic rank In biological classification In biology, taxonomy () is the scientific study of naming, defining (Circumscription (taxonomy), ...

agave
(see also
magueyMaguey may refer to various American plants: * Genus ''Agave ''Agave'' (, , ) is a genus Genus /ˈdʒiː.nəs/ (plural genera /ˈdʒen.ər.ə/) is a taxonomic rank used in the biological classification of extant taxon, living and fossil organ ...

maguey
) for ritual purposes, as a medium for writing, and the use of agave for cooking and clothing; cultivation of cacao; grinding of corn softened with ashes or
lime Lime refers to: * Lime (fruit), a green citrus fruit * Lime (material), inorganic materials containing calcium, usually calcium oxide or calcium hydroxide * Lime (color), a color between yellow and green Lime may also refer to: Botany * Austra ...
; harpoon-shaped
digging stick In archaeology and anthropology, a digging stick, or sometimes yam stick, is a wooden implement used primarily by List of subsistence techniques, subsistence-based cultures to dig out underground food such as roots and tubers or burrowing animals a ...
* ''Clothing and personal articles'': lip plugs, mirrors of polished stone, turbans, sandals with heels, textiles adorned with
rabbit hair Rabbit hair (also called rabbit fur, cony, coney, comb or lapin) is the fur Fur is a thick growth of hair Hair is a protein filament that grows from follicles found in the dermis. Hair is one of the defining characteristics of mam ...
* ''Architecture'': construction of stepped pyramids;
stucco Stucco or render is a construction Construction is a general term meaning the and to form , , or ,"Construction" def. 1.a. 1.b. and 1.c. ''Oxford English Dictionary'' Second Edition on CD-ROM (v. 4.0) Oxford University Press 2009 and c ...
floors; ball courts with stone rings (see the use of
natural rubber Rubber, also called India rubber, latex, Amazonian rubber, ''caucho'', or ''caoutchouc'', as initially produced, consists of polymer A polymer (; Greek ''poly- Poly, from the Greek :wikt:πολύς, πολύς meaning "many" or "much" ...

natural rubber
and the practice of the ritual
Mesoamerican ballgame The Mesoamerican ballgame ( nah, ōllamalīztli, , myn, pitz) was a sport with ritual associations played since at least 1650 BC by the pre-Columbian people of Mesoamerica, Ancient Mesoamerica. The sport had different versions in different pl ...
) * ''Record keeping'': use of two different
calendars A calendar is a system of organizing days. This is done by giving names to periods of time Time is the indefinite continued sequence, progress of existence and event (philosophy), events that occur in an apparently irreversible process, ...
(a 260-day ritual calendar and a 365-day calendar based on the
solar year A tropical year (also known as a solar year or tropical period) is the time Time is the continued sequence of existence and event (philosophy), events that occurs in an apparently irreversible process, irreversible succession from the past ...
); use of locally developed
pictographic A pictogram, also called a pictogramme, pictograph, or simply picto, and in computer usage an icon An icon (from the Greek#REDIRECT Greek Greek may refer to: Greece Anything of, from, or related to Greece Greece ( el, Ελλάδα, ...

pictographic
and
hieroglyph A hieroglyph (Greek#REDIRECT Greek Greek may refer to: Greece Anything of, from, or related to Greece Greece ( el, Ελλάδα, , ), officially the Hellenic Republic, is a country located in Southeast Europe. Its population is approximat ...
ic (logo-syllabic)
writing systems A writing system is a method of visually representing verbal communication Communication (from Latin ''communicare'', meaning "to share" or "to be in relation with") is "an apparent answer to the painful divisions between self and other, p ...
; numbers (see also
vigesimal A vigesimal () or base-20 (base-score) numeral system is based on 20 (number), twenty (in the same way in which the decimal, decimal numeral system is based on 10 (number), ten). ''wikt:vigesimal#English, Vigesimal'' is derived from the Latin adje ...
(base 20) number system); "century" of fifty-two years; eighteen-month calendar; screen-fold books * ''Commerce'': specialized markets, "department store" markets subdivided according to specialty * ''Weapons and warfare'': wooden swords with stone chips set into the edges (see
macuahuitl A macuahuitl () is a weapon, a wooden club (weapon), club with several embedded obsidian blades. The name is derived from the Nahuatl language and means "hand-wood". Its sides are embedded with prismatic blades traditionally Obsidian use in Mes ...

macuahuitl
), military orders (eagle knights and jaguar knights), clay pellets for blowguns, cotton-pad armor, traveling merchants who act as spies, wars for the purpose of securing sacrificial victims * ''Ritual and myth'': practice of various forms of ritual
sacrifice Sacrifice is the offering of material possessions or the lives of animals or humans to a deity A deity or god is a supernatural being considered divinity, divine or sacred. The ''Oxford Dictionary of English'' defines deity as a God (male ...

sacrifice
, including
human sacrifice #REDIRECT Human sacrifice Human sacrifice is the act of killing one or more humans as part of a ritual A ritual is a sequence of activities involving gestures, words, actions, or objects, performed in a sequestered place and according to a set ...
and quail sacrifice; paper and rubber as sacrificial offerings; pantheon of gods or spirits; acrobatic flier dance (see the
Danza de los Voladores The ''Danza de los Voladores'' (; "Dance of the Flyers"), or ''Palo Volador'' (; "flying pole"), is an ancient Mesoamerica Mesoamerica is a historical region and cultural area in North America North America is a continent entir ...
and the Totonac flier dance; 13 as a ritual number; ritual period of 20 x 13 = 260 days; mythic concept of one or more afterworlds and the difficult journey in reaching them; good and bad omen days; a religious complex based on a combination of
shamanism Shamanism is a religious practice that involves a practitioner (shaman) interacting with what they believe to be a spirit world through Altered state of consciousness, altered states of consciousness, such as trance. The goal of this is usually ...

shamanism
and natural deities, and a shared system of symbols * ''Language'': a
linguistic area A sprachbund (, lit. "language federation"), also known as a linguistic area, area of linguistic convergence, diffusion area or language crossroads, is a group of language A language is a structured system of communication used by humans, inc ...
defined by a number of grammatical traits that have spread through the area by diffusion


Geography

Located on the Middle American
isthmus An isthmus ( or ; plural: isthmuses or isthmi; from grc, ἰσθμός, isthmós, neck) is a narrow piece of land connecting two larger areas across an expanse of water by which they are otherwise separated. A tombolo is an isthmus that consist ...

isthmus
joining North and
South America South America is a continent A continent is any of several large landmasses. Generally identified by convention (norm), convention rather than any strict criteria, up to seven geographical regions are commonly regarded as continent ...

South America
between ''ca.'' 10° and 22° northern
latitude In geography Geography (from Greek: , ''geographia'', literally "earth description") is a field of science devoted to the study of the lands, features, inhabitants, and phenomena of the Earth and planets. The first person to use the ...

latitude
, Mesoamerica possesses a complex combination of ecological systems, topographic zones, and environmental contexts. These different
niches
niches
are classified into two broad categories: the lowlands (those areas between
sea level Mean sea level (MSL) (often shortened to sea level) is an average In colloquial, ordinary language, an average is a single number taken as representative of a list of numbers, usually the sum of the numbers divided by how many numbers are in th ...

sea level
and 1000 meters) and the ''altiplanos'', or highlands (situated between 1,000 and 2,000 meters above sea level). In the low-lying regions,
sub-tropical The subtropical zones or subtropics are geographical zone, geographic and Köppen climate classification, climate zones located to the north and south of the tropics, tropical zone. Geographically part of the north and south temperate zones, th ...
and
tropical climate Tropical climate is one of the five major climate groups in the Köppen climate classification The Köppen climate classification is one of the most widely used climate classification Climate classification is a way of categorizing the worl ...
s are most common, as is true for most of the coastline along the
Pacific The Pacific Ocean is the largest and deepest of Earth Earth is the third planet from the Sun and the only astronomical object known to harbour and support life. 29.2% of Earth's surface is land consisting of continents and islands. ...

Pacific
and
Gulf of Mexico The Gulf of Mexico ( es, Golfo de México) is an ocean basin 400px, Diagrammatic cross-section of an ocean basin, showing the various geographic features In hydrology Hydrology (from Greek: wikt:ὕδωρ, ὕδωρ, "hýdōr" meaning ...

Gulf of Mexico
and the
Caribbean Sea The Caribbean Sea ( es, Mar Caribe; french: Mer des Caraïbes; ht, Lamè Karayib; jam, Kiaribiyan Sii; nl, Caraïbische Zee; pap, Laman Karibe) is an Americas, American Mediterranean sea (oceanography), mediterranean sea of the Atlantic Ocean ...
. The highlands show much more climatic diversity, ranging from dry tropical to cold mountainous climates; the dominant climate is
temperate In geography Geography (from Greek Greek may refer to: Greece Anything of, from, or related to Greece Greece ( el, Ελλάδα, , ), officially the Hellenic Republic, is a country located in Southeast Europe. Its populati ...
with warm temperatures and moderate rainfall. The rainfall varies from the dry
Oaxaca Oaxaca ( , also , , from nci, Huāxyacac ), officially the Free and Sovereign State of Oaxaca ( es, Estado Libre y Soberano de Oaxaca), is one of the 32 states that compose the political divisions of Mexico, Federative Entities of Mexico. It is ...

Oaxaca
and north
Yucatán Yucatán (, also , , ; yua, Yúukatan ), officially the Free and Sovereign State of Yucatán,; yua, link=no, Xóot' Noj Lu'umil Yúukatan. is one of the 32 states which comprise the Federal Entities of Mexico Mexico, officially the Un ...
to the humid southern Pacific and Caribbean lowlands.


Cultural sub-areas

Several distinct sub-regions within Mesoamerica are defined by a convergence of geographic and cultural attributes. These sub-regions are more conceptual than culturally meaningful, and the demarcation of their limits is not rigid. The Maya area, for example, can be divided into two general groups: the lowlands and highlands. The lowlands are further divided into the southern and northern Maya lowlands. The southern Maya lowlands are generally regarded as encompassing northern
Guatemala Guatemala ( ; ), officially the Republic of Guatemala ( es, República de Guatemala, links=no), is a country in Central America Central America ( es, América Central, , ''Centroamérica'' ) is a region of the Americas The Am ...

Guatemala
, southern
Campeche Campeche (), officially the Free and Sovereign State of Campeche ( es, Estado Libre y Soberano de Campeche), is one of the 31 states which make up the 32 Federal Entities of Mexico Mexico, officially the United Mexican States, is a countr ...

Campeche
and
Quintana Roo Quintana Roo ( , ), officially the Free and Sovereign State of Quintana Roo ( es, Estado Libre y Soberano de Quintana Roo), is one of the 31 states which, with Mexico City Mexico City ( es, link=no, Ciudad de México, ; abbreviated as CDMX; n ...

Quintana Roo
in
Mexico Mexico, officially the United Mexican States, is a List of sovereign states, country in the southern portion of North America. It is borders of Mexico, bordered to the north by the United States; to the south and west by the Pacific Ocean; to ...

Mexico
, and
Belize Belize () is a Caribbean The Caribbean (, ; es, Caribe; french: Caraïbes; ht, Karayib; also gcf, label=Antillean Creole, Kawayib; nl, Caraïben; Papiamento: ) is a region of the Americas that comprises the Caribbean Sea, its surroundi ...

Belize
. The northern lowlands cover the remainder of the northern portion of the
Yucatán Peninsula The Yucatán Peninsula (, also , ; es, Península de Yucatán ) is a large peninsula A peninsula ( la, paeninsula from 'almost' and 'island') is a landform A landform is a natural or artificial feature of the solid surface of the Earth ...

Yucatán Peninsula
. Other areas include Central Mexico, West Mexico, the Gulf Coast Lowlands,
Oaxaca Oaxaca ( , also , , from nci, Huāxyacac ), officially the Free and Sovereign State of Oaxaca ( es, Estado Libre y Soberano de Oaxaca), is one of the 32 states that compose the political divisions of Mexico, Federative Entities of Mexico. It is ...

Oaxaca
, the Southern Pacific Lowlands, and Southeast Mesoamerica (including northern
Honduras Honduras, officially the Republic of Honduras, is a country in Central America Central America ( es, América Central, , ''Centroamérica'' ) is a region of the Americas. It is bordered by Mexico to the north, Colombia to the south, the ...

Honduras
).


Topography

There is extensive topographic variation in Mesoamerica, ranging from the high peaks circumscribing the
Valley of Mexico The Valley of Mexico ( es, Valle de México) is a highlands plateau in central Mexico Mexico ( es, México ; Nahuan languages: ), officially the United Mexican States (; EUM ), is a List of sovereign states, country in the southern po ...
and within the central Sierra Madre mountains to the low flatlands of the northern Yucatán Peninsula. The tallest mountain in Mesoamerica is
Pico de Orizaba Pico de Orizaba, also known as "" (from Nahuatl Nahuatl (; )The Classical Nahuatl word (noun stem ''nāhua'', + absolutive ''-tl'' ) is thought to mean "a good, clear sound" This language name has several spellings, among them náhuatl (the ...

Pico de Orizaba
, a
dormant volcano A volcano is a rupture in the crust of a planetary-mass object A planet is an astronomical body orbit In physics, an orbit is the gravitationally curved trajectory of an physical body, object, such as the trajectory of a planet a ...
located on the border of
Puebla Puebla ( en, Colony, settlement), officially Free and Sovereign State of Puebla ( es, Estado Libre y Soberano de Puebla), is one of the 32 states which comprise the Federal Entities of Mexico Mexico ( es, México ; Nahuan languages: ), ...

Puebla
and
Veracruz Veracruz (), formally Veracruz de Ignacio de la Llave (), officially the Free and Sovereign State of Veracruz de Ignacio de la Llave ( es, Estado Libre y Soberano de Veracruz de Ignacio de la Llave), is one of the 31 states which, along with Me ...

Veracruz
. Its peak elevation is 5,636 m (18,490 ft). The Sierra Madre mountains, which consist of several smaller ranges, run from northern Mesoamerica south through
Costa Rica Costa Rica (, ; ; literally "Rich Coast"), officially the Republic of Costa Rica ( es, República de Costa Rica), is a country in Central America Central America ( es, América Central, , ''Centroamérica'' ) is a region of the Amer ...

Costa Rica
. The chain is historically
volcanic A volcano is a rupture in the crust of a planetary-mass object A planet is an astronomical body orbit In physics, an orbit is the gravitationally curved trajectory of an physical body, object, such as the trajectory of a planet ar ...

volcanic
. In central and southern Mexico, a portion of the Sierra Madre chain is known as the Eje Volcánico Transversal, or the Trans-Mexican volcanic belt. There are 83 inactive and active volcanoes within the Sierra Madre range, including 11 in Mexico, 37 in Guatemala, 23 in El Salvador, 25 in Nicaragua, and 3 in northwestern Costa Rica. According to the Michigan Technological University, 16 of these are still active. The tallest active volcano is
Popocatépetl Popocatépetl (; Nahuatl Nahuatl (; ),The Classical Nahuatl word (noun stem ''nāhua'', + absolutive ''-tl'' ) is thought to mean "a good, clear sound" This language name has several spellings, among them náhuatl (the standard spelling in ...

Popocatépetl
at 5,452 m (17,887 ft). This volcano, which retains its
Nahuatl Nahuatl (; ),The Classical Nahuatl word (noun stem ''nāhua'', + absolutive ''-tl'' ) is thought to mean "a good, clear sound" This language name has several spellings, among them náhuatl (the standard spelling in the Spanish language),() Nao ...

Nahuatl
name, is located 70 km (43 mi) southeast of
Mexico City Mexico City ( es, link=no, Ciudad de México, ; abbreviated as CDMX; nah, Āltepētl Mēxihco) is the capital city, capital and largest city of Mexico, as well as the List of North American cities by population, most populous city in North Americ ...

Mexico City
. Other volcanoes of note include Tacana on the Mexico–Guatemala border,
Tajumulco Tajumulco is a Municipalities of Guatemala, municipality in the San Marcos Department, San Marcos department of Guatemala. History Colonial era In 1690, Tejutla, San Marcos, Tejutla had a large area and included the modern municipalities of Co ...
and Santamaría in Guatemala,
Izalco Izalco (in Nawat Nawat (academically Pipil, also known as Nicarao) is a Nahuan language native to Central America Central America ( es, América Central, , ''Centroamérica'' ) is a region of the Americas. It is bordered by Mexico to th ...
in El Salvador,
Arenal
Arenal
in Costa Rica, and Concepción and
Maderas
Maderas
on
Ometepe Ometepe is an island upright=1.15, Great_Britain.html"_;"title="Ireland_(left)_and_Great_Britain">Ireland_(left)_and_Great_Britain_(right),_are_large_islands_of_north-west_Europe image:Small_Island_in_Lower_Saranac_Lake.jpg.html" ;"title="Gr ...

Ometepe
, which is an island formed by both volcanoes rising out of Lake Cocibolca in Nicaragua. One important topographic feature is the
Isthmus of Tehuantepec File:1852 Andrews Map of Florida, Cuba and the Gulf of Mexico - Geographicus - StraitsofFlorida-andrews-1852.jpg, 300px, Map of the Straits of Florida and Gulf of Mexico. To accompany a report from the United States Department of the Treasury, U. ...

Isthmus of Tehuantepec
, a low plateau that breaks up the Sierra Madre chain between the
Sierra Madre del Sur The Sierra Madre del Sur is a mountain range in southern Mexico Mexico ( es, México ; Nahuan languages: ), officially the United Mexican States (; EUM ), is a List of sovereign states, country in the southern portion of North America. It ...
to the north and the
Sierra Madre de Chiapas The Sierra Madre de Chiapas is a major mountain range A mountain range is a series of mountains ranged in a line and connected by high ground. A mountain system or mountain belt is a group of mountain ranges with similarity in form, structur ...
to the south. At its highest point, the
Isthmus An isthmus ( or ; plural: isthmuses or isthmi; from grc, ἰσθμός, isthmós, neck) is a narrow piece of land connecting two larger areas across an expanse of water by which they are otherwise separated. A tombolo is an isthmus that consist ...

Isthmus
is 224 m (735 ft) above mean sea level. This area also represents the shortest distance between the
Gulf of Mexico The Gulf of Mexico ( es, Golfo de México) is an ocean basin 400px, Diagrammatic cross-section of an ocean basin, showing the various geographic features In hydrology Hydrology (from Greek: wikt:ὕδωρ, ὕδωρ, "hýdōr" meaning ...

Gulf of Mexico
and the
Pacific Ocean The Pacific Ocean is the largest and deepest of Earth Earth is the third planet from the Sun and the only astronomical object known to harbour and support life. 29.2% of Earth's surface is land consisting of continents and islands. ...

Pacific Ocean
in Mexico. The distance between the two coasts is roughly 200 km (120 mi). The northern side of the Isthmus is swampy and covered in dense jungle—but the Isthmus of Tehuantepec, as the lowest and most level point within the Sierra Madre mountain chain, was nonetheless a main transportation, communication, and economic route within Mesoamerica.


Bodies of water

Outside of the northern Maya lowlands,
river A river is a natural flowing watercourse, usually freshwater, flowing towards an ocean, sea, lake or another river. In some cases, a river flows into the ground and becomes dry at the end of its course without reaching another body of wate ...

river
s are common throughout Mesoamerica. Some of the more important ones served as loci of human occupation in the area. The longest river in Mesoamerica is the
Usumacinta
Usumacinta
, which forms in Guatemala at the convergence of the
Salinas Salinas may refer to: People *Salinas (surname) Places Americas Latin America * Salinas (ancient lake), in the Salar de Uyuni, Bolivia * Salinas, Minas Gerais, a municipality in the state of Minas Gerais, Brazil * Playa Grande, Costa Rica ...
or Chixoy and La
Pasion River Pasion (also Pasio; grc, Πασίων; before 430 – 370 BC) was a slave in Ancient Athens in the early 4th century BC, who rose to become a successful banker and Athenian citizen. Life Pasion was born some time before 430 BC. It is unkn ...
and runs north for 970 km (600 mi)—480 km (300 mi) of which are navigable—eventually draining into the
Gulf of Mexico The Gulf of Mexico ( es, Golfo de México) is an ocean basin 400px, Diagrammatic cross-section of an ocean basin, showing the various geographic features In hydrology Hydrology (from Greek: wikt:ὕδωρ, ὕδωρ, "hýdōr" meaning ...

Gulf of Mexico
. Other rivers of note include the Rio Grande de Santiago, the
Grijalva River Grijalva River, formerly known as ''Tabasco River'', ( es, Río Grijalva, known locally also as Río Grande de Chiapas, Río Grande and Mezcalapa River) is a long river A river is a natural flowing watercourse, usually freshwater, flow ...
, the
Motagua River The Motagua River () is a river in Guatemala. It rises in the western highlands of Guatemala where it is also called Río Grande, and runs in an easterly direction to the Gulf of Honduras. The final few kilometres of the river form part of the ...
, the
Ulúa River The Ulúa River ( es, Río Ulúa, ) is a river in western Honduras Honduras, officially the Republic of Honduras, is a country in Central America. The republic A republic ( la, res publica, links=yes, meaning "public affair") is a Li ...
, and the Hondo River. The northern Maya lowlands, especially the northern portion of the Yucatán peninsula, are notable for their nearly complete lack of rivers (largely due to the absolute lack of topographic variation). Additionally, no lakes exist in the northern peninsula. The main source of water in this area is
aquifer An aquifer is an underground layer of water Water (chemical formula H2O) is an , transparent, tasteless, odorless, and , which is the main constituent of 's and the s of all known living organisms (in which it acts as a ). It is vital ...

aquifer
s that are accessed through natural surface openings called
cenote A cenote ( or ; ) is a natural pit, or sinkhole A sinkhole is a depression or hole in the ground caused by some form of collapse of the surface layer. The term is sometimes used to refer to doline, enclosed depressions that are locally ...

cenote
s. With an area of 8,264 km2 (3,191 sq mi),
Lake Nicaragua Lake Nicaragua or Cocibolca or Granada ( es, Lago de Nicaragua, , or ) is a freshwater Fresh water (or freshwater) is any naturally occurring water Water is an Inorganic compound, inorganic, Transparency and translucency, transpare ...

Lake Nicaragua
is the largest lake in Mesoamerica.
Lake Chapala Lake Chapala ( es, Lago de Chapala, ) is Mexico Mexico ( es, México ; Nahuan languages: ), officially the United Mexican States (; EUM ), is a List of sovereign states, country in the southern portion of North America. It is borders of ...

Lake Chapala
is Mexico's largest freshwater lake, but
Lake Texcoco Lake Texcoco ( es, Lago de Texcoco) was a natural lake A lake is an area filled with water, localized in a basin, surrounded by land Land is the solid surface of Earth that is not permanently submerged in water. Most but not all l ...
is perhaps most well known as the location upon which
Tenochtitlan Tenochtitlan ( nah, Tenōchtitlan ; es, Tenochtitlán), also known as Mexico-Tenochtitlan ( nah, Mēxihco Tenōchtitlan ; es, México-Tenochtitlán), was a large Mexica ''altepetl'' in what is now the historic center of Mexico City. The exact ...

Tenochtitlan
, capital of the
Aztec The Aztecs () were a Mesoamerican culture that flourished in central Mexico in the post-classic period from 1300 to 1521. The Aztec peoples included different Indigenous peoples of Mexico, ethnic groups of central Mexico, particularly those g ...

Aztec
Empire, was founded. Lake Petén Itzá, in northern Guatemala, is notable as where the last independent Maya city, Tayasal (or Noh Petén), held out against the Spanish until 1697. Other large lakes include
Lake Atitlán
Lake Atitlán
, Lake Izabal, Lake Güija,
Lemoa Lemoa ( es, Lemona) is a town and municipality A municipality is usually a single administrative division Administrative division, administrative unitArticle 3(1). , country subdivision, administrative region, subnational entity, first- ...

Lemoa
, and
Lake Managua Lake Managua ( es, Lago de Managua, ), also known as Lake Xolotlán (), is a lake A lake is an area filled with water, localized in a basin, surrounded by land, apart from any river A river is a natural flowing watercourse, usually fr ...

Lake Managua
.


Biodiversity

Almost all
ecosystem An ecosystem (or ecological system) consists of all the organisms and the physical environment with which they interact. These biotic and abiotic components are linked together through nutrient cycles and energy flows. Energy enters the syst ...

ecosystem
s are present in Mesoamerica; the more well known are the
Mesoamerican Barrier Reef System The Mesoamerican Barrier Reef System (MBRS), also popularly known as the Great Mayan Reef or Great Maya Reef, is a marine region that stretches over along the coasts of four countries – Mexico Mexico ( es, México ; Nahuan languages: ), ...
, the second largest in the world, and
La Mosquitia
La Mosquitia
(consisting of the Rio Platano Biosphere Reserve, Tawahka Asangni, Patuca National Park, and Bosawas Biosphere Reserve) a rainforest second in size in the Americas only to the Amazon Rainforest, Amazonas. The highlands present Tropical and subtropical coniferous forests, mixed and Pinophyta, coniferous forest. The biodiversity is among the richest in the world, though the number of species in the red list of the IUCN grows every year.


Chronology and culture

The history of human occupation in Mesoamerica is divided into stages or periods. These are known, with slight variation depending on region, as the Paleo-Indian, the Mesoamerican chronology#Archaic Era, Archaic, the Mesoamerican chronology#Preclassic Era, Preclassic (or Formative), the Classic Period, Classic, and the Postclassic period, Postclassic. The last three periods, representing the core of Mesoamerican cultural fluorescence, are further divided into two or three sub-phases. Most of the time following the arrival of the Spanish in the 16th century is classified as the Colonial period. The differentiation of early periods (i.e., up through the end of the Mesoamerican chronology#Preclassic Era, Late Preclassic) generally reflects Sociocultural evolution, different configurations of socio-cultural organization that are characterized by Urgesellschaft, increasing socio-political complexity, the adoption of new and different List of subsistence techniques, subsistence strategies, and changes in economic organization (including increased interregional interaction). The Classic Period, Classic period through the Postclassic period, Postclassic are differentiated by the cyclical crystallization and fragmentation of the various political entities throughout Mesoamerica.


Paleo-Indian

The Mesoamerican Paleo-Indian period precedes the advent of agriculture and is characterized by a nomadic hunter-gatherer, hunting and gathering subsistence strategy. Big-game hunting, similar to that seen in contemporaneous
North America North America is a continent A continent is any of several large landmasses. Generally identified by convention (norm), convention rather than any strict criteria, up to seven geographical regions are commonly regarded as continen ...

North America
, was a large component of the subsistence strategy of the Mesoamerican Paleo-Indian. These sites had obsidian blades and Clovis point, Clovis-style fluted projectile points.


Archaic

The Archaic period (8000–2000 BCE) is characterized by the rise of Agriculture in Mesoamerica, incipient agriculture in Mesoamerica. The initial phases of the Archaic involved the cultivation of wild plants, transitioning into informal domestication and culminating with
sedentism In cultural anthropology, sedentism (sometimes called sedentariness; compare sedentarism) is the practice of living in one place for a long time. , the majority of people belong to sedentary cultures. In evolutionary anthropology and archaeolog ...
and agricultural production by the close of the period. Transformations of natural environments have been a common feature at least since the mid Holocene. Archaic sites include ''Sipacate'' in Escuintla, Guatemala, where maize pollen analysis, pollen samples date to c. 3500 BCE.


Preclassic/Formative

The first complex civilization to develop in Mesoamerica was that of the
Olmec The Olmecs () were the earliest known major Mesoamerica Mesoamerica is a historical region and cultural area in North America North America is a continent entirely within the Northern Hemisphere and almost all within the Western ...
, who inhabited the gulf coast region of
Veracruz Veracruz (), formally Veracruz de Ignacio de la Llave (), officially the Free and Sovereign State of Veracruz de Ignacio de la Llave ( es, Estado Libre y Soberano de Veracruz de Ignacio de la Llave), is one of the 31 states which, along with Me ...

Veracruz
throughout the Preclassic period. The main sites of the Olmec include San Lorenzo Tenochtitlán, La Venta, and Tres Zapotes. Specific dates vary, but these sites were occupied from roughly 1200 to 400 BCE. Remains of other early cultures interacting with the Olmec have been found at Takalik Abaj, Izapa, and Teopantecuanitlan, and as far south as in
Honduras Honduras, officially the Republic of Honduras, is a country in Central America Central America ( es, América Central, , ''Centroamérica'' ) is a region of the Americas. It is bordered by Mexico to the north, Colombia to the south, the ...

Honduras
. Research in the Pacific Lowlands of Chiapas and Guatemala suggest that Izapa and the Monte Alto culture, Monte Alto Culture may have preceded the Olmec. Radiocarbon dating, Radiocarbon samples associated with various sculptures found at the Late Preclassic site of Izapa suggest a date of between 1800 and 1500 BCE. During the Middle and Late Preclassic period, the Maya civilization developed in the southern Maya highlands and lowlands, and at a few sites in the northern Maya lowlands. The earliest Maya sites coalesced after 1000 BCE, and include Nakbe,
El Mirador El Mirador (which translates as "the lookout", "the viewpoint", or "the belvedere") is a large pre-Columbian Maya settlement, located in the north of the modern department of El Petén, Guatemala Guatemala ( ; ), officially the Repu ...

El Mirador
, and Cerros. Middle to Late Preclassic Maya sites include Kaminaljuyú, Cival, Edzná, Cobá, Lamanai, Komchen, Dzibilchaltun, and San Bartolo (Maya site), San Bartolo, among others. The Preclassic in the central Mexican highlands is represented by such sites as Tlapacoya (Mesoamerican site), Tlapacoya, Tlatilco, and Cuicuilco. These sites were eventually superseded by Teotihuacán, an important Classic-era site that eventually dominated economic and interaction spheres throughout Mesoamerica. The settlement of Teotihuacan is dated to the later portion of the Late Preclassic, or roughly 50 CE. In the Valley of Oaxaca, San José Mogote represents one of the oldest permanent agricultural villages in the area, and one of the first to use pottery. During the Early and Middle Preclassic, the site developed some of the earliest examples of defensive palisades, ceremonial structures, the use of adobe, and Zapotec writing, hieroglyphic writing. Also of importance, the site was one of the first to demonstrate ascribed status, inherited status, signifying a radical shift in socio-cultural and political structure. San José Mogote was eventual overtaken by
Monte Albán
Monte Albán
, the subsequent capital of the Zapotec civilization, Zapotec empire, during the Late Preclassic. The Preclassic in western Mexico, in the states of Nayarit, Jalisco, Colima, and Michoacán also known as the Occidente, is poorly understood. This period is best represented by the thousands of figurines recovered by looters and ascribed to the "Western Mexico shaft tomb tradition, shaft tomb tradition".


Preclassic gallery

File:Acróbata de Tlatilco.JPG, Sculpture of "The Acrobat" from Tlatilco File:Pirámide de Cuicuilco al Sur del Distrito Federal.jpg, Cuicuilco 800–600 BCE File:Nakbe str.JPG, Nakbé, Mid Preclassic (600 BCE) Palace remains, The Mirador Basin File:San Jose Mogote Pyramid.jpg, The partly excavated main structure of San José Mogote 1500–500 BCE File:Montealban el observatorio.JPG, , Building J in the foreground. 200 BCE – 200 CE


Classic


Early Classic

The Classic period is marked by the rise and dominance of several polities. The traditional distinction between the Early and Late Classic are marked by their changing fortune and their ability to maintain regional primacy. Of paramount importance are Teotihuacán in central Mexico and
Tikal Tikal () (''Tik’al'' in modern Mayan orthography) is the ruin of an ancient city, which was likely to have been called Yax Mutal, found in a rainforest in Guatemala Guatemala ( ; ), officially the Republic of Guatemala ( es, República ...

Tikal
in Guatemala; the Early Classic's temporal limits generally correlate to the main periods of these sites. Monte Albán in Oaxaca is another Classic-period polity that expanded and flourished during this period, but the Zapotec capital exerted less interregional influence than the other two sites. During the Early Classic, Teotihuacan participated in and perhaps dominated a far-reaching macro-regional interaction network. Architectural and artifact styles (talud-tablero, tripod slab-footed ceramic vessels) epitomized at Teotihuacan were mimicked and adopted at many distant settlements. Obsidian use in Mesoamerica#Sources, Pachuca obsidian, whose trade and distribution is argued to have been economically controlled by Teotihuacan, is found throughout Mesoamerica. Tikal came to dominate much of the southern Maya lowlands politically, economically, and militarily during the Early Classic. An exchange network centered at Tikal distributed a variety of goods and commodities throughout southeast Mesoamerica, such as obsidian imported from central Mexico (e.g., Pachuca) and highland Guatemala (e.g., Obsidian use in Mesoamerica#Sources, El Chayal, which was predominantly used by the Maya during the Early Classic), and Jade use in Mesoamerica, jade from the Motagua River, Motagua valley in Guatemala. Tikal was often in conflict with other polities in the Petén Basin, as well as with others outside of it, including Uaxactun, Caracol, Belize, Caracol, Dos Pilas, Naranjo, and
Calakmul Calakmul (; also Kalakmul and other less frequent variants) is a Maya archaeological site in the Mexican state The United Mexican States ( es, Estados Unidos Mexicanos) is a federal republic composed of 32 Federal Entities: 31 states a ...

Calakmul
. Towards the end of the Early Classic, this conflict lead to Tikal's military defeat at the hands of Caracol in 562, and a period commonly known as the Tikal#Tikal hiatus, Tikal Hiatus.


=Early Classic gallery

= File:Teotihuacán - Chalchiuhtlicue.jpg, Great Goddess of Teotihuacan 200–500 CE File:Teuchitlan scale model 1.jpg, A reconstruction of Guachimontones, flourished from 200 to 400 CE File:Dzibanche, Building 1, Temple of the Owl (14364450242).jpg, Temple of the Owl, Dzibanche 200–600 CE File:Acanceh1.jpg, Acanceh, 200–300 CE File:Kohunlich Mask cropped.jpg, Mask located on the "Temple of the Masks" Kohunlich c. 500 CE


Late Classic

The Late Classic period (beginning c. 600 CE until 909 CE) is characterized as a period of interregional competition and factionalization among the numerous regional polities in the Maya area. This largely resulted from the decrease in Tikal's socio-political and economic power at the beginning of the period. It was therefore during this time that other sites rose to regional prominence and were able to exert greater interregional influence, including Caracol, Copán, Palenque, and Calakmul (which was allied with Caracol and may have assisted in the defeat of Tikal), and Dos Pilas Aguateca and Cancuén in the Petexbatún region of Guatemala. Around 710, Tikal arose again and started to build strong alliances and defeat its worst enemies. In the Maya area, the Late Classic ended with the so-called "Maya collapse", a transitional period coupling the general depopulation of the southern lowlands and development and florescence of centers in the northern lowlands.


=Late Classic gallery

= File:PalacefromTempleCrossPalenque.JPG, Main palace of Palenque, 7th century AD File:Palenque - Maske des Pakal.jpg, K'inich Janaab Pakal I of Palenque 603–683 AD File:Copan St H.jpg, Copan Stela H commissioned by Uaxaclajuun Ubʼaah Kʼawiil 695–738 AD File:Jaina Figurine 1 (T Aleto).jpg, Jaina Island type figure (Maya) 650–800 AD File:VestidosDeSacerdotes(Hombre-Ave).jpg, Cacaxtla, Mural depicting the Bird Man 650–900 AD


Terminal Classic

Generally applied to the Maya area, the Terminal Classic roughly spans the time between C. 800/850 and c. 1000 AD. Overall, it generally correlates with the rise to prominence of Puuc settlements in the northern Maya lowlands, so named after the hills where they are mainly found. Puuc settlements are specifically associated with a unique architectural style (the "Puuc architectural style") that represents a technological departure from previous construction techniques. Major Puuc sites include Uxmal, Sayil, Labna, Kabah (Maya site), Kabah, and Oxkintok. While generally concentrated within the area in and around the Puuc hills, the style has been documented as far away as at Chichen Itza to the east and Edzna to the south. Chichén Itzá was originally thought to have been a Postclassic site in the northern Maya lowlands. Research over the past few decades has established that it was first settled during the Early/Late Classic transition but rose to prominence during the Terminal Classic and Early Postclassic. During its apogee, this widely known site economically and politically dominated the northern lowlands. Its participation in the circum-peninsular exchange route, possible through its port site of Isla Cerritos, allowed Chichén Itzá to remain highly connected to areas such as central Mexico and
Central America Central America ( es, América Central, , ''Centroamérica'' ) is a region of the Americas The Americas (also collectively called America) is a landmass comprising the totality of North North is one of the four compass points or ...

Central America
. The apparent "Mexicanization" of architecture at Chichén Itzá led past researchers to believe that Chichén Itzá existed under the control of a Toltec empire. Chronological data refutes this early interpretation, and it is now known that Chichén Itzá predated the Toltec; Mexican architectural styles are now used as an indicator of strong economic and ideological ties between the two regions.


=Terminal Classic gallery

= File:Great Ball Court Chichen Itza 03 2011 1423.jpg, Chichen Itza, Temple of the Jaguars 900–1000 AD File:Uxmal - Palacio 16.jpg, Governor's Palace rear view and details, 10th century CE, Uxmal File:Temple of the Masks, Kabah (8264867094).jpg, Codz Poop, 7th–10th centuries CE Kabah (Maya site), Kabah File:Sayil Ruta Puuc 1.JPG, Sayil, three-story palace, 600–900 CE File:Chichén Itzá - 29.jpg, Chichen Itza, "Temple of Three Dintels" 600–1000 CE


Postclassic

The Postclassic (beginning 900–1000 CE, depending on area) is, like the Late Classic, characterized by the cyclical crystallization and fragmentation of various polities. The main Maya centers were located in the northern lowlands. Following Chichén Itzá, whose political structure collapsed during the Early Postclassic, Mayapán rose to prominence during the Middle Postclassic and dominated the north for c. 200 years. After Mayapán's fragmentation, political structure in the northern lowlands revolved around large towns or city-states, such as Oxkutzcab and Ti'ho, Ti’ho (Mérida, Yucatán), that competed with one another. Toniná, in the Chiapas highlands, and Kaminaljuyú in the central Guatemala highlands, were important southern highland Maya centers. The latter site, Kaminaljuyú, is one of the longest occupied sites in Mesoamerica and was continuously inhabited from c. 800 BCE to around 1200 CE. Other important highland Maya groups include the K'iche' people, K'iche' of Utatlán, the Mam people, Mam in Zaculeu, the Poqomam language, Poqomam in Mixco Viejo, and the Kaqchikel people, Kaqchikel at Iximche in the Guatemalan highlands. The Pipil people, Pipil resided in
El Salvador , national_anthem = '' Himno Nacional de El Salvador''( en, "National Anthem of El Salvador") , image_map = El Salvador (orthographic projection).svg , image_map2 = , capital = San Salvador , coordinates = , largest_city = San Salvador ...

El Salvador
, while the Ch'orti' people, Ch'orti' were in eastern Guatemala and northwestern
Honduras Honduras, officially the Republic of Honduras, is a country in Central America Central America ( es, América Central, , ''Centroamérica'' ) is a region of the Americas. It is bordered by Mexico to the north, Colombia to the south, the ...

Honduras
. In central Mexico, the early portion of the Postclassic correlates with the rise of the
Toltec The Toltec culture () is a pre-Columbian Mesoamerica Mesoamerica is a historical and important region In geography, regions are areas that are broadly divided by physical characteristics ( physical geography), human impact characteristics ...
and an empire based at their capital, Tula, Hidalgo, Tula (also known as Tollan). Cholula, initially an important Early Classic center contemporaneous with Teotihuacan, maintained its political structure (it did not collapse) and continued to function as a regionally important center during the Postclassic. The latter portion of the Postclassic is generally associated with the rise of the Mexica and the Aztec Empire. One of the more commonly known cultural groups in Mesoamerica, the Aztec politically dominated nearly all of central Mexico, the Gulf Coast, Mexico's southern Pacific Coast (Chiapas and into Guatemala), Oaxaca, and Guerrero. The Tarascan state, Tarascans (also known as the Purépecha people, P'urhépecha) were located in Michoacán and Guerrero. With their capital at Tzintzuntzan (Mesoamerican site), Tzintzuntzan, the Tarascan state was one of the few to actively and continuously resist Aztec domination during the Late Postclassic. Other important Postclassic cultures in Mesoamerica include the Totonac along the eastern coast (in the modern-day states of
Veracruz Veracruz (), formally Veracruz de Ignacio de la Llave (), officially the Free and Sovereign State of Veracruz de Ignacio de la Llave ( es, Estado Libre y Soberano de Veracruz de Ignacio de la Llave), is one of the 31 states which, along with Me ...

Veracruz
,
Puebla Puebla ( en, Colony, settlement), officially Free and Sovereign State of Puebla ( es, Estado Libre y Soberano de Puebla), is one of the 32 states which comprise the Federal Entities of Mexico Mexico ( es, México ; Nahuan languages: ), ...

Puebla
, and Hidalgo (Mexico), Hidalgo). The Huastec people, Huastec resided north of the Totonac, mainly in the modern-day states of Tamaulipas and northern Veracruz. The
Mixtec The Mixtecs (), or Mixtecos, are indigenous Mesoamerica Mesoamerica is a historical and important region In geography, regions are areas that are broadly divided by physical characteristics ( physical geography), human impact characteris ...
and Zapotec cultures, centered at Mitla and Zaachila respectively, inhabited Oaxaca. The Postclassic ends with the Spanish conquest of Mexico, arrival of the Spanish and their subsequent conquest of the Aztec between 1519 and 1521. Many other cultural groups did not acquiesce until later. For example, Maya groups in the Petén area, including the Itza people, Itza at Tayasal and the Kowoj at Zacpeten, remained independent until 1697. Some Mesoamerican cultures never achieved dominant status or left impressive archaeological remains but are nevertheless noteworthy. These include the Otomi people, Otomi, Mixe–Zoquean languages, Mixe–Zoque groups (which may or may not have been related to the Olmecs), the northern Uto-Aztecan languages, Uto-Aztecan groups, often referred to as the Chichimeca, that include the Cora people, Cora and Huichol people, Huichol, the Chontales, the Huaves, and the Pipil, Xincan and Lencan peoples of Central America.


Postclassic gallery

File:Zona Arqueológica Mitla 10.JPG, Palace of Mitla, Oaxaca 12th century File:TlatelolcoSite01.JPG, The Calendar temple of Tlatelolco (archaeological site), Tlatelolco, 1200 CE File:Codex Zouche-Nuttall, page 20.jpg, Detail of page 20 from the Codex Zouche-Nuttall, 14–15th century File:Escudo De Yanhuitlán.jpg, Pectoral mixtec, Shield of Yanhuitlan. File:Musee National Anthropologie-Calendrier Maya.jpg, Aztec sun stone, early 16th century


Chronology in chart form


General characteristics


Subsistence

By roughly 6000 BCE, hunter-gatherers living in the highland (geography), highlands and lowlands of Mesoamerica began to develop agricultural practices with early cultivation of squash and chilli. The earliest example of
maize Maize ( ; ''Zea mays'' subsp. ''mays'', from es, maíz after tnq, mahiz), also known as corn (North American North America is a continent in the Northern Hemisphere and almost entirely within the Western Hemisphere. It can also be ...

maize
dates to c. 4000 BCE and comes from Guilá Naquitz, a cave in Oaxaca. Earlier maize samples have been documented at the Los Ladrones cave site in Panama, c. 5500 BCE. Slightly thereafter, semi-agrarian community, agrarian communities began to cultivate other crops throughout Mesoamerica. Maize was the most common domesticate, but the common bean, tepary bean, scarlet runner bean, jicama,
tomato The tomato is the edible berry A berry is a small, pulpy, and often edible fruit In botany, a fruit is the seed-bearing structure in flowering plants (also known as angiosperms) formed from the ovary after flowering. Fruits are ...

tomato
and squash all became common cultivates by 3500 BCE. At the same time, these communities exploited cotton, yucca, and
agave ''Agave'' (, , ) is a genus Genus /ˈdʒiː.nəs/ (plural genera /ˈdʒen.ər.ə/) is a taxonomic rank In biological classification In biology, taxonomy () is the scientific study of naming, defining (Circumscription (taxonomy), ...

agave
for fibers and textile materials. By 2000 BCE, corn was the staple crop in the region, and remained so through modern times. The Ramón or Brosimum alicastrum, Breadnut tree (''Brosimum alicastrum'') was an occasional substitute for maize in producing flour. Fruit was also important in the daily diet of Mesoamerican cultures. Some of the main ones consumed include
avocado The avocado (''Persea americana''), a likely originating from southcentral , is as a member of the family . The fruit of the plant, also called an avocado (or avocado pear or alligator pear), is a large containing a single large seed. Avo ...

avocado
, papaya, guava, mamey (disambiguation), mamey, Sapote, zapote, and annona. Mesoamerica lacked animals suitable for domestication, most notably domesticated large ungulates. The lack of draft animals for transportation is one notable difference between Mesoamerica and the cultures of the South American Andes. Other animals, including the duck, dogs, and wild turkey, turkey, were domestication, domesticated. Turkey was the first to be domesticated locally, around 3500 BCE. Dog meat, Dogs were the primary source of animal protein in ancient Mesoamerica, and dog bones are common in midden deposits throughout the region. Societies of this region did hunt certain wild species for food. These animals included deer, rabbit, birds, and various types of insects. They also hunted for luxury items, such as feline fur and bird plumage. Mesoamerican cultures that lived in the lowlands and coastal plains settled down in agrarian communities somewhat later than did highland cultures due to the fact that there was a greater abundance of fruits and animals in these areas, which made a hunter-gatherer lifestyle more attractive. Fishing also was a major provider of food to lowland and coastal Mesoamericans creating a further disincentive to settle down in permanent communities.


Political organization

Ceremonial centers were the nuclei of Mesoamerican settlements. The temples provided spatial orientation, which was imparted to the surrounding town. The cities with their commercial and religious centers were always political entities, somewhat similar to the European city-state, and each person could identify with the city where they lived. Ceremonial centers were always built to be visible. Pyramids were meant to stand out from the rest of the city, to represent the gods and their powers. Another characteristic feature of the ceremonial centers is historic layers. All the ceremonial edifices were built in various phases, one on top of the other, to the point that what we now see is usually the last stage of construction. Ultimately, the ceremonial centers were the architectural translation of the identity of each city, as represented by the veneration of their gods and masters. Stelae were common public monuments throughout Mesoamerica, and served to commemorate notable successes, events and dates associated with the rulers and nobility of the various sites.


Economy

Given that Mesoamerica was broken into numerous and diverse ecological niches, none of the societies that inhabited the area were self-sufficient, although very long-distance trade was common only for very rare goods, or luxury materials. For this reason, from the last centuries of the Archaic period in the Americas, Archaic period (8000 BC– 1000 BC) onward, regions compensated for the environmental inadequacies by specializing in the extraction of certain abundant natural resources and then trading them for necessary unavailable resources through established commercial trade networks. The following is a list of some of the specialized resources traded from the various Mesoamerican sub-regions and environmental contexts: * Pacific lowlands: cotton and cochineal * Maya lowlands and the Gulf Coast: cacao,
vanilla Vanilla is a spice A spice is a seed A seed is an embryonic ''Embryonic'' is the twelfth studio album by experimental rock band the Flaming Lips released on October 13, 2009, on Warner Bros. Records, Warner Bros. The band's first d ...

vanilla
, jaguar skins, birds and bird feathers (especially quetzal and macaw) * Central Mexico: Obsidian (Pachuca) * Guatemalan highlands: Obsidian (Obsidian use in Mesoamerica#Sources, San Martin Jilotepeque, Obsidian use in Mesoamerica#Sources, El Chayal, and Obsidian use in Mesoamerica#Sources, Ixtepeque), pyrite, and
jade Jade is a mineral, much used in some cultures as jewellery and for ornaments, mostly known for its green varieties, though it appears naturally in other colors as well, notably yellow and white. Jade can refer to either of two different silicat ...

jade
from the
Motagua River The Motagua River () is a river in Guatemala. It rises in the western highlands of Guatemala where it is also called Río Grande, and runs in an easterly direction to the Gulf of Honduras. The final few kilometres of the river form part of the ...
valley * Coastal areas: salt, dry fish, Animal shell, shell, and dyes


Common characteristics of Mesoamerican culture


Architecture

Mesoamerican architecture is the collective name given to urban, ceremonial and public structures built by List of pre-Columbian cultures, pre-Columbian civilizations in Mesoamerica. Although very different in styles, all kinds of mesoamerican architecture show some kind of interrelation, due to very significant cultural exchanges occurred during thousands of years. Among the most well-known structures in Mesoamerica, the flat-top Mesoamerican pyramids, pyramids are a landmark feature of the most developed urban centers. Two characteristics are most notable in Mesoamerican architecture. Firstly, the intimate connection between geography, astronomy and architecture: very often, urban centers or even single buildings are aligned to cardinal directions and/or along particular constellations. Secondly, iconography was considered integral part of architecture, with buildings often being adorned with images of religious and cultural significance.


Calendrical systems

Agriculturally based people historically divide the year into four seasons. These included the two solstices and the two equinoxes, which could be thought of as the four "directional pillars" that support the year. These four times of the year were, and still are, important as they indicate seasonal changes that directly impact the lives of Mesoamerican agriculturalists. The Maya closely observed and duly recorded the seasonal markers. They prepared almanacs recording past and recent solar and lunar eclipses, the phases of the moon, the periods of Venus and Mars, the movements of various other planets, and conjunctions of celestial bodies. These almanacs also made future predictions concerning celestial events. These tables are remarkably accurate, given the technology available, and indicate a significant level of knowledge among Maya astronomers. Among the many types of calendars the Maya maintained, the most important include a 260-day cycle, a 360-day cycle or 'year', a 365-day cycle or year, a lunar cycle, and a Venus cycle, which tracked the Synodic period, synodic period of Venus. Maya of the European contact period said that knowing the past aided in both understanding the present and predicting the future (Diego de Landa). The 260-day cycle was a calendar to govern agriculture, observe religious holidays, mark the movements of celestial bodies and memorialize public officials. The 260-day cycle was also used for divination, and (like the Catholic calendar of saints) to name newborns. The names given to the days, months, and years in the Mesoamerican calendar came, for the most part, from animals, flowers, heavenly bodies, and cultural concepts that held symbolic significance in Mesoamerican culture. This calendar was used throughout the history of Mesoamerican by nearly every culture. Even today, several Maya groups in Guatemala, including the K'iche' people, K'iche', Q'eqchi' people, Q'eqchi', Kaqchikel people, Kaqchikel, and the Mixe people of Oaxaca continue using modernized forms of the Mesoamerican calendar.


Writing systems

The Mesoamerican scripts deciphered to date are logosyllabary, logosyllabic combining the use of logograms with a syllabary, and they are often called
hieroglyph A hieroglyph (Greek#REDIRECT Greek Greek may refer to: Greece Anything of, from, or related to Greece Greece ( el, Ελλάδα, , ), officially the Hellenic Republic, is a country located in Southeast Europe. Its population is approximat ...
ic scripts. Five or six different scripts have been documented in Mesoamerica, but archaeological dating methods, and a certain degree of self-interest, create difficulties in establishing priority and thus the forebear from which the others developed. The best documented and deciphered Mesoamerican writing system, and therefore the most widely known, is the classic Maya script. Others include the Olmec hieroglyphs, Olmec, Zapotec, and Epi-Olmec script, Epi-Olmec/Isthmian writing systems. An extensive Mesoamerican literature has been conserved partly in indigenous scripts and partly in the postinvasion transcriptions into Latin script. The other glyph (archaeology), glyphic writing systems of Mesoamerica, and their interpretation, have been subject to much debate. One important ongoing discussion regards whether non-Maya Mesoamerican texts can be considered examples of true writing or whether non-Maya Mesoamerican texts are best understood as pictographic conventions that express ideas, specifically religious ones, but don't represent the phonetics of spoken language. Mesoamerican writing is found in several mediums, including large stone monuments such as stelae, carved directly onto architecture, carved or painted over stucco (e.g., murals), and on pottery. No Precolumbian Mesoamerican society is known to have had widespread literacy, and literacy was probably restricted to particular social classes, including scribes, painters, merchants, and the nobility. The Mesoamerican book was typically written with brush and colored inks on a paper prepared from the inner bark of the ficus amacus. The book consisted of a long strip of the prepared bark, which was folded like a screenfold to define individual pages. The pages were often covered and protected by elaborately carved book boards. Some books were composed of square pages while others were composed of rectangular pages. Following the Spanish conquests in the sixteenth century, Spanish friars taught indigenous scribes to write their languages in alphabetic texts. Many oral histories of the prehispanic period were subsequently recorded in alphabetic texts. The indigenous in central and southern Mexico continued to produce written texts in the colonial period, many with pictorial elements. An important scholarly reference work is the ''Handbook of Middle American Indians, Guide to Ethnohistorical Sources''. Mesoamerican codices survive from the Aztec codices, Aztec, Maya codices, Maya, Mixtec codices, Mixtec, and
Zapotec Zapotec () or zapoteca may refer to: Cultures and languages * Zapotec civilization, a historical indigenous pre-Columbian civilization and archaeological culture of central Mexico * Zapotec languages, a group of closely related indigenous Mesoamer ...
regions.


Arithmetic

Mesoamerican arithmetic treated numbers as having both literal and symbolic value, the result of the Dualistic cosmology, dualistic nature that characterized Mesoamerican ideology. As mentioned, the Mesoamerican numbering system was vigesimal (i.e., based on the number 20). In representing numbers, a series of bars and dots were employed. Dots had a value of one, and bars had a value of five. This type of arithmetic was combined with a symbolic numerology: '2' was related to origins, as all origins can be thought of as doubling; '3' was related to household fire; '4' was linked to the four corners of the universe; '5' expressed instability; '9' pertained to the underworld and the night; '13' was the number for light, '20' for abundance, and '400' for infinity. The 0 (number), concept of zero was also used, and its representation at the Late Preclassic occupation of Tres Zapotes is one of the earliest uses of zero in human history.


Food, medicine, and science

Maize played an important role in Mesoamerican feasts due to its symbolic meaning and abundance. Gods were praised and named after. Companion planting was practiced in various forms by the indigenous peoples of the Americas. They domesticated Cucurbita pepo, squash 8,000 to 10,000 years ago, then
maize Maize ( ; ''Zea mays'' subsp. ''mays'', from es, maíz after tnq, mahiz), also known as corn (North American North America is a continent in the Northern Hemisphere and almost entirely within the Western Hemisphere. It can also be ...

maize
, then Phaseolus vulgaris, common beans, forming the Three Sisters (agriculture), Three Sisters agricultural technique. The cornstalk served as a Trellis (architecture), trellis for the beans to climb, and the beans Nitrogen fixation, fixed nitrogen, benefitting the maize. Fray Bernardino de Sahagún collected extensive information on plants, animals, soil types, among other matters from native informants in Book 11, The Earthly Things, of the twelve-volume ''General History of the Things of New Spain,'' known as the Florentine Codex, compiled in the third quarter of the sixteenth century. Bernardino de Sahagún reported the ritualistic use of Psilocybe mushrooms known to the Aztecs as ''Psilocybin mushroom, teōnanācatl'' (agglutinative form of ''teōtl'' (god, sacred) and ''nanācatl'' (mushroom) in Nahuatl language, Náhuatl). An earlier work, the Badianus Manuscript or Libellus de Medicinalibus Indorum Herbis is another Aztec codex with written text and illustrations collected from the indigenous viewpoint. The Aztec use of entheogens, ancient Aztecs used a variety of entheogens within their society. Evidence shows that wild animals were captured and traded for symbolic and ritual purposes.


Mythology and worldview

Shared traits in Mesoamerican mythology are characterized by their common basis as a religion that—though in many Mesoamerican groups developed into complex polytheistic religious systems—retained some shamanistic elements. The great breadth of the Mesoamerican Pantheon (gods), pantheon of deities is due to the incorporation of ideological and religious elements from the first primitive religion of Fire, Earth, Water and Nature. Astral divinities (the sun, stars, constellations, and Venus) were adopted and represented in anthropomorphic, zoomorphic, and anthropozoomorphic sculptures, and in day-to-day objects. The qualities of these gods and their attributes changed with the passage of time and with cultural influences from other Mesoamerican groups. The gods are at once three: creator, preserver, and destroyer, and at the same time just one. An important characteristic of Mesoamerican religion was the dualism among the divine entities. The gods represented the confrontation between opposite poles: the positive, exemplified by light, the masculine, force, war, the sun, etc.; and the negative, exemplified by darkness, the feminine, repose, peace, the moon, etc. The typical Mesoamerican cosmology sees the world as separated into a day world watched by the sun and a night world watched by the moon. More importantly, the three superposed levels of the world are united by a Ceiba tree (''Yaxche in Mayan). The geographic vision is also tied to the cardinal points. Certain geographical features are linked to different parts of this cosmovision. Thus mountains and tall trees connect the middle and upper worlds; caves connect the middle and nether worlds.


Sacrifice

Generally, sacrifice can be divided into two types: Bloodletting rituals in Maya culture, autosacrifice and
human sacrifice #REDIRECT Human sacrifice Human sacrifice is the act of killing one or more humans as part of a ritual A ritual is a sequence of activities involving gestures, words, actions, or objects, performed in a sequestered place and according to a set ...
. The different forms of sacrifice are reflected in the imagery used to evoke ideological structure and sociocultural organization in Mesoamerica. In the Maya area, for example, stele depict bloodletting rituals performed by ruling elites, eagles and jaguars devouring human hearts, jade circles or necklaces that represented hearts, and plants and flowers that symbolized both nature and the blood that provided life. Imagery also showed pleas for rain or pleas for blood, with the same intention to replenish the divine energy. Ritual sacrifice was done in efforts to appease the gods, and was done with the purpose of protection of the population.


= Autosacrifice

= Autosacrifice, also called bloodletting, is the ritualized practice of drawing blood from oneself. It is commonly seen or represented through iconography as performed by ruling elites in highly ritualized ceremonies, but it was easily practiced in mundane sociocultural contexts (i.e., non-elites could perform autosacrifice). The act was typically performed with obsidian prismatic blades or Stingray injury#Biological structure of the barb, stingray spines, and blood was drawn from piercing or cutting the tongue, earlobes, and/or genitals (among other locations). Another form of autosacrifice was conducted by pulling a rope with attached thorns through the tongue or earlobes. The blood produced was then collected on amate held in a bowl. Autosacrifice was not limited to male rulers, as their female counterparts often performed these ritualized activities. They are typically shown performing the rope and thorns technique. A recently discovered queen's tomb in the Classic Maya site of El Perú (Maya site), Waka (also known as El Perú) had a ceremonial stingray spine placed in her genital area, suggesting that women also performed bloodletting in their genitalia.


= Human sacrifice

= Sacrifice had great importance in the social and religious aspects of Mesoamerican culture. First, it showed death transformed into the divine. Death is the consequence of a human sacrifice, but it is not the end; it is but the continuation of the cosmic cycle. Death creates life—divine energy is liberated through death and returns to the gods, who are then able to create more life. Secondly, it justifies war, since the most valuable sacrifices are obtained through conflict. The death of the warrior is the greatest sacrifice and gives the gods the energy to go about their daily activities, such as the bringing of rain. Warfare and capturing prisoners became a method of social advancement and a religious cause. Finally, it justifies the control of power by the two ruling classes, the priests and the warriors. The priests controlled the religious ideology, and the warriors supplied the sacrifices. Historically it was also in discussion that those sacrificed were chosen by the gods, this idea of being "chosen" was decided by the gods. This was then displayed by acts, such as being struck by lightning. If someone was struck by lightning and a sacrifice was needed they would often be chosen by their population, as they believed they were chosen by the gods.


Ballgame

The Mesoamerican ballgame was a sport with ritual associations played for over 3000 years by nearly all pre-Columbian peoples of Mesoamerica. The sport had different versions in different places during the millennia, and a modern version of the game, ulama (game), ulama, is still played in a few places. Over 1300 Mesoamerican ballcourt, ballcourts have been found throughout Mesoamerica. They vary considerably in size, but they all feature long narrow alleys with side-walls to bounce the balls against. The rules of the ballgame are not known, but it was probably similar to volleyball, where the object is to keep the ball in play. In the most well-known version of the game, the players struck the ball with their hips, though some versions used forearms or employed rackets, bats, or handstones. The ball was made of solid rubber, and weighed up to 4 kg or more, with sizes that differed greatly over time or according to the version played. While the game was played casually for simple recreation, including by children and perhaps even women, the game also had important ritual aspects, and major formal ballgames were held as ritual events, often featuring human sacrifice.


Astronomy

Mesoamerican astronomy included a broad understanding of the cycles of planets and other celestial bodies. Special importance was given to the sun, moon, and Venus as the morning and evening star. Observatories were built at some sites, including the round observatory at Seibal, Ceibal and the "Observatorio" at
Xochicalco Xochicalco () is a pre-Columbian archaeological site in Miacatlán Municipality in the western part of the Mexican state The United Mexican States ( es, Estados Unidos Mexicanos) is a federal republic composed of 32 Federal Entities: 31 ...

Xochicalco
. Often, the architectural organization of Mesoamerican sites was based on precise calculations derived from astronomical observations. Well-known examples of these include the El Castillo, Chichen Itza, El Castillo pyramid at Chichen Itza and the Observatorio at
Xochicalco Xochicalco () is a pre-Columbian archaeological site in Miacatlán Municipality in the western part of the Mexican state The United Mexican States ( es, Estados Unidos Mexicanos) is a federal republic composed of 32 Federal Entities: 31 ...

Xochicalco
. A unique and common architectural complex found among many Mesoamerican sites are E-Groups, which are aligned so as to serve as astronomical observatories. The name of this complex is based on Uaxactun's "Group E", the first known observatory in the Maya area. Perhaps the earliest observatory documented in Mesoamerica is that of the Monte Alto culture. This complex consisted of three plain stelae and a temple oriented with respect to the Pleiades.


Symbolism of space and time

It has been argued that among Mesoamerican societies the concepts of space and time are associated with the four cardinal points, cardinal compass points and linked together by the calendar. Dates or events were always tied to a compass direction, and the calendar specified the symbolic geographical characteristic peculiar to that period. Resulting from the significance held by the cardinal directions, many Mesoamerican architectural features, if not entire settlements, were planned and oriented with respect to directionality. In Maya cosmology, each cardinal point was assigned a specific color and a specific jaguar deity (Maya mythology#Bacabs, Bacab). They are as follows: * Hacha-kyum, Hobnil, Bacab of the East, associated with the color red and the ''Kan'' years * List of Maya gods and supernatural beings#C, Can Tzicnal, Bacab of the North, assigned the color white and the ''Muluc'' years * List of Maya gods and supernatural beings#Z, Zac Cimi, Bacab of the West, associated with the color black and the ''Ix'' years * Hacha-kyum, Hozanek, Bacab of the South, associated with the color yellow and the ''Cauac'' years. Later cultures such as the Kaqchikel people, Kaqchikel and K'iche' people, K'iche' maintain the association of cardinal directions with each color, but utilized different names. Among the Aztec, the name of each day was associated with a cardinal point (thus conferring symbolic significance), and each cardinal direction was associated with a group of symbols. Below are the symbols and concepts associated with each direction: * East: American crocodile, croco Morelet's crocodile, dile, the Serpent (symbolism), serpent, water, cane, and movement. The East was linked to the world priests and associated with vegetative fertility, or, in other words, tropical exuberance. * North: wind, death, the dog, the jaguar, and flint (or chert). The north contrasts with the east in that it is conceptualized as dry, cold, and oppressive. It is considered the nocturnal part of the universe and includes the dwellings of the dead. The dog (xoloitzcuintle) has a very specific meaning, as it accompanies the deceased during the trip to the lands of the dead and helps them cross the river of death that leads into nothingness. (''See also'' Dogs in Mesoamerican folklore and myth). * West: the house, the deer, the New World monkey, monkey, the eagle, and rain. The west was associated with the cycles of vegetation, specifically the temperate high plains that experience light rains and the change of seasons. * South: rabbit, the lizard, dried herbs, the New World vulture, buzzard, and flowers. It is related on the one hand to the luminous Sun and the noon heat, and on the other with rain filled with alcoholic drink. The rabbit, the principal symbol of the west, was associated with farmers and with pulque.


Political and religious art

Mesoamerican artistic expression was conditioned by ideology and generally focused on themes of religion and/or sociopolitical Power (sociology), power. This is largely based on the fact that most works that survived the Spanish conquest were public monuments. These monuments were typically erected by rulers who sought to visually legitimize their sociocultural and political position; by doing so, they intertwined their lineage, personal attributes and achievements, and legacy with religious concepts. As such, these monuments were specifically designed for public display and took many forms, including stele, sculpture, architectural reliefs, and other types of architectural elements (e.g., roofcombs). Other themes expressed include tracking time, glorifying the city, and veneration of the gods—all of which were tied to explicitly aggrandizing the abilities and the reign of the ruler who commissioned the artwork. The majority of artwork created during this historical time was in relation to these topics, religion and politics. Rulers were drawn and sculpted. Historical tales and events were then translated into pieces of art, and art was used to relay religious and political messages.


Music

Archaeological studies have never discovered any written music from the Pre-Columbian era, pre-Columbian era, but musical instruments were found, as well as carvings and depictions, that clearly show how music played a central role in the Maya civilization, Mayan religious and societal structures, for example, as accompaniment to celebrations and funerals. Some Mesoamerican civilizations, such as the Maya, commonly played various instruments such as drums, flutes and whistles. Although most of the original Mayan music disappeared following the Spanish colonization of the Americas, Spanish colonization, some of it mixed with the incoming Spanish music and exists to date.


See also

*Americas (terminology) *Americas *
Central America Central America ( es, América Central, , ''Centroamérica'' ) is a region of the Americas The Americas (also collectively called America) is a landmass comprising the totality of North North is one of the four compass points or ...

Central America
*Hispanic America *Hispanic and Latino Americans *Indigenous peoples of Mexico *Indigenous peoples of the Americas *Latin America *Mesoamerican region *Middle America (Americas) *Painting in the Americas before European colonization


References


Bibliography

* * * * * * * * * * * * * Charles Gibson (historian), Gibson, Charles. ''The Aztecs Under Spanish Rule''. Stanford: Stanford University Press 1964. * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * Robert Wauchope (archaeologist), Wauchope, Robert, general editor. ''Handbook of Middle American Indians''. Austin: University of Texas Press 1964–1976. * * *


External links


Maya Culture

Mesoweb.com: a comprehensive site for Mesoamerican civilizations

Museum of the Templo Mayor
(Mexico)
National Museum of Anthropology and History
(Mexico)

concerning war in Mesoamerica
WAYEB: European Association of Mayanists


Open access international scientific journal devoted to the archaeological study of the American and Iberian peoples. It contains research articles on Mesoamerica. *
Vistas: Visual Culture in Spanish America, 1520–1820
' * {{Authority control Mesoamerica, Classic period in the Americas History of indigenous peoples of North America History of Belize History of El Salvador History of Guatemala History of Honduras History of Mexico History of Nicaragua Indigenous peoples of Central America Indigenous peoples in Mexico Pre-Columbian cultural areas Historical regions Regions of North America