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Mesoamerica is a
historical region Historical regions (or historical areas) are geographical regions which at some point in time had a culture, cultural, ethnic group, ethnic, linguistics, linguistic or politics, political basis, regardless of latterday borders. They are used as de ...
and
cultural area In anthropology and geography, a cultural region, cultural sphere, cultural area or culture area refers to a geography with one relatively homogeneous human activity or complex of activities (culture). Such activities are often associated ...
in southern
North America North America is a continent in the Northern Hemisphere and almost entirely within the Western Hemisphere. It is bordered to the north by the Arctic Ocean, to the east by the Atlantic Ocean, to the southeast by South America and the Car ...
and most of
Central America Central America ( es, América Central or ) is a subregion of the Americas. Its boundaries are defined as bordering the United States to the north, Colombia to the south, the Caribbean Sea to the east, and the Pacific Ocean to the west. Cen ...
. It extends from approximately central
Mexico Mexico (Spanish language, Spanish: México), 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 so ...
through
Belize Belize (; bzj, Bileez) is a Caribbean and Central American country on the northeastern coast of Central America. It is bordered by Mexico to the north, the Caribbean Sea to the east, and Guatemala to the west and south. It also shares a wate ...
,
Guatemala Guatemala ( ; ), officially the Republic of Guatemala ( es, República de Guatemala, links=no), is a country in Central America. It is bordered to the north and west by Mexico Mexico (Spanish language, Spanish: México), officially th ...
,
El Salvador El Salvador (; , meaning "The Saviour"), officially the Republic of El Salvador ( es, República de El Salvador), is a country in Central America. It is bordered on the northeast by Honduras Honduras, officially the Republic of Honduras ...
,
Honduras Honduras, officially the Republic of Honduras, is a country in Central America. The republic of Honduras is bordered to the west by Guatemala, to the southwest by El Salvador, to the southeast by Nicaragua, to the south by the Pacific Ocean ...
,
Nicaragua Nicaragua (; ), officially the Republic of Nicaragua (), is the largest Sovereign state, country in Central America, bordered by Honduras to the north, the Caribbean Sea, Caribbean to the east, Costa Rica to the south, and the Pacific Ocean to ...
, and northern
Costa Rica Costa Rica (, ; ; literally "Rich Coast"), officially the Republic of Costa Rica ( es, República de Costa Rica), is a country in the Central American region of North America, bordered by Nicaragua to the north, the Caribbean Sea to the no ...
. Within this region pre-Columbian societies flourished for more than 3,000 years before the
Spanish colonization of the Americas Spain began colonization of the Americas, colonizing the Americas under the Crown of Castile and was spearheaded by the Spanish . The Americas were invaded and incorporated into the Spanish Empire, with the exception of Colonial Brazil, Braz ...
. 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 term ''New World'' is often used to mean the majority of Earth's Western Hemisphere, specifically the Americas."America." ''The Oxford Companion to the English Language'' (). McArthur, Tom, ed., 1992. New York: Oxford University Press, p. 3 ...
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 caused by variola virus (often called smallpox virus) which belongs to the genus Orthopoxvirus. The Ali Maow Maalin#Maalin's case, last naturally occurring case was diagnosed in October 1977, and the World ...
and
measles Measles is a highly contagious infectious disease caused by Measles morbillivirus, measles virus. Symptoms usually develop 10–12 days after exposure to an infected person and last 7–10 days. Initial symptoms typically include fever, often ...
, 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 any complex society characterized by the development of a state, social stratification, urbanization Urbanization (or urbanisation) refers to the population shift from Rural area, rural to urban are ...
arose independently (see
cradle of civilization A cradle of civilization is a location and a culture where civilization was created by mankind independent of other civilizations in other locations. The formation of urban settlements (cities) is the primary characteristic of a society that ...
), 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 = Seal (emblem), National seal , national_motto = "Fi ...
, 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,
maize Maize ( ; ''Zea mays'' subsp. ''mays'', from es, maíz after tnq, mahiz), also known as corn (North American English, North American and Australian English), is a cereal grain first domesticated by indigenous peoples of Mexico, indigenous ...
,
beans A bean is the seed of several plants in the family Fabaceae, which are used as vegetables for human or animal food. They can be cooked in many different ways, including boiling, frying, and baking, and are used in many traditional dishes thr ...
,
tomato The tomato is the edible Berry (botany), berry of the plant ''Solanum lycopersicum'', commonly known as the tomato plant. The species originated in western South America, Mexico, and Central America. The Mexican Nahuatl word gave rise to th ...
,
avocado The avocado (''Persea americana'') is a medium-sized, evergreen tree in the laurel family (Lauraceae). It is native to Americas, the Americas and was first domesticated by Mesoamerica, Mesoamerican tribes more than 5,000 years ago. Pre-Columb ...
,
vanilla Vanilla is a spice derived from orchids of the genus ''Vanilla (genus), Vanilla'', primarily obtained from pods of the Mexican species, flat-leaved vanilla (''Vanilla planifolia, V. planifolia''). Pollination is required to make the p ...
, squash and chili, as well as the
turkey Turkey ( tr, Türkiye ), officially the Republic of Türkiye ( tr, Türkiye Cumhuriyeti, links=no ), is a transcontinental country located mainly on the Anatolia, Anatolian Peninsula in Western Asia, with a East Thrace, small portion on th ...
and
dog The dog (''Canis familiaris'' or ''Canis lupus familiaris'') is a domesticated descendant of the wolf. Also called the domestic dog, it is Domestication of the dog, derived from the extinct Pleistocene wolf, and the modern wolf is the dog's n ...
, resulted in a transition from paleo-Indian 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 ad ...
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 in the visual arts generally, and most styles in architecture relate closel ...
, 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 soc ...
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 s ...
,
jade Jade is a mineral used as jewellery or for ornament (art), ornaments. It is typically green, although may be yellow or white. Jade can refer to either of two different silicate minerals: nephrite (a silicate of calcium and magnesium in the amp ...
, cacao,
cinnabar Cinnabar (), or cinnabarite (), from the grc, κιννάβαρι (), is the bright scarlet to brick-red form of Mercury sulfide, mercury(II) sulfide (HgS). It is the most common source ore for refining mercury (element), elemental mercury and ...
, ''
Spondylus ''Spondylus'' is a genus of bivalve molluscs, the only genus in the family (biology), family Spondylidae.MolluscaBase (2019). MolluscaBase. Spondylus Linnaeus, 1758. Accessed through: World Register of Marine Species at: http://www.marinespecies ...
'' shells,
hematite Hematite (), American and British English spelling differences#ae and oe, also spelled as haematite, is a common iron oxide compound with the formula, Iron(III) oxide, Fe2O3 and is widely found in Rock (geology), rocks and soils. Hematite crysta ...
, and ceramics. While Mesoamerican civilization knew of the
wheel A wheel is a circular component that is intended to rotate on an axle Bearing (mechanical), bearing. The wheel is one of the key components of the wheel and axle which is one of the Simple machine, six simple machines. Wheels, in conjunction wi ...
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 became technologically relevant. Among the earliest complex civilizations was the
Olmec The Olmecs () were the earliest known major Mesoamerican civilization. Following a progressive development in Soconusco, Veracruz, Soconusco, they occupied the tropical lowlands of the modern-day Mexican states of Veracruz and Tabasco. It has b ...
culture, which inhabited the
Gulf Coast of Mexico The Gulf Coast of Mexico or East Coast of Mexico stretches along the Gulf of Mexico from the border between Mexico and the United States at Matamoros, Tamaulipas all the way to the tip of the Yucatán Peninsula at Cancún. It includes the coastal ...
and extended inland and southwards across the
Isthmus of Tehuantepec The Isthmus of Tehuantepec () is an isthmus in Mexico. It represents the shortest distance between the Gulf of Mexico and the Pacific Ocean. Before the opening of the Panama Canal, it was a major overland transport route known simply as the Te ...
. 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 Regional communications in ancient Mesoamerica are believed to have been extensive. There were various trade routes attested since prehistoric times. In this article, especially the routes starting in the Mexican Plateau, Mexico Central Plateau, an ...
, 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, of southern Mexico and northern Central America ** Maya civilization, the historical civilization of the Maya peoples ** Maya language (disambiguation), Maya language, the languages of the Maya peop ...
, with the rise of centers such as Aguada fénix and
Calakmul Calakmul (; also Kalakmul and other less frequent variants) is a Maya Maya may refer to: Civilizations * Maya peoples, of southern Mexico and northern Central America ** Maya civilization, the historical civilization of the Maya peoples ** Ma ...
in Mexico;
El Mirador El Mirador (which translates as "the lookout", "the viewpoint", or "the belvedere") is a large pre-Columbian In the history of the Americas, the pre-Columbian era spans from the Migration to the New World, original settlement of North and So ...
, 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. It is one of the largest archeological sites and urban centers of the pre-Co ...
in Guatemala, and the Zapotec at Monte Albán. During this period, the first true
Mesoamerican writing systems Mesoamerica, along with Cuneiform, Mesopotamia and Oracle bone script, China, is one of three known places in the world where writing is thought to have Invention of writing, developed independently. Mesoamerican scripts deciphered to date are a ...
were developed in the Epi-Olmec and the Zapotec cultures. The Mesoamerican writing tradition reached its height in the Classic Maya logosyllabic script. Mesoamerica is one of only six regions of the world where writing is known to have independently developed (the others being ancient
Egypt Egypt ( ar, مصر , ), officially the Arab Republic of Egypt, is a List of transcontinental countries, transcontinental country spanning the North Africa, northeast corner of Africa and Western Asia, southwest corner of Asia via a land bridg ...
,
Peru , image_flag = Flag of Peru.svg , image_coat = Escudo nacional del Perú.svg , other_symbol = Great Seal of the State , other_symbol_type = Seal (emblem), National seal , national_motto = "Fi ...
,
India India, officially the Republic of India (Hindi: ), is a country in South Asia. It is the List of countries and dependencies by area, seventh-largest country by area, the List of countries and dependencies by population, second-most populous ...
,
Sumer Sumer () is the earliest known civilization in the historical region of southern Mesopotamia (south-central Iraq), emerging during the Chalcolithic and Early Bronze Age, early Bronze Ages between the sixth and fifth millennium BC. It is one of ...
, and
China China, officially the People's Republic of China (PRC), is a country in East Asia. It is the world's List of countries and dependencies by population, most populous country, with a Population of China, population exceeding 1.4 billion, slig ...
). In Central Mexico, the city of
Teotihuacan Teotihuacan (Spanish language, Spanish: ''Teotihuacán'') (; ) is an ancient Mesoamerican city located in a sub-valley of the Valley of Mexico, which is located in the State of Mexico, northeast of modern-day Mexico City. Teotihuacan is ...
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 and Cholula, ensued. At this time during the Epi-Classic period, the Nahua peoples 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 () was a Pre-Columbian era, pre-Columbian Mesoamerican culture that ruled a state centered in Tula (Mesoamerican site), Tula, Hidalgo (state), Hidalgo, Mexico, during the Epiclassic and the early Post-Classic period of Mesoam ...
culture, and Oaxaca by the
Mixtec The Mixtecs (), or Mixtecos, are indigenous Mesoamerican peoples of Mexico inhabiting the region known as La Mixteca of Oaxaca and Puebla as well as La Montaña Region and Costa Chica of Guerrero, Costa Chica Regions of the state of Guerrer ...
. The lowland Maya area had important centers at 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 people included different Indigenous peoples of Mexico, ethnic groups of central Mexico, particularly those g ...
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 b ...
empire covering most of central Mesoamerica. The distinct Mesoamerican cultural tradition ended with the
Spanish conquest The Spanish Empire ( es, link=no, Imperio español), also known as the Hispanic Monarchy ( es, link=no, Monarquía Hispánica) or the Catholic Monarchy ( es, link=no, Monarquía Católica) was a colonial empire governed by Spain and its History ...
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
ethnologist Ethnology (from the grc-gre, ἔθνος, meaning 'nation') is an academic field that compares and analyzes the characteristics of different peoples and the relationships between them (compare cultural anthropology, cultural, social anthropolo ...
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 o ...
within the region that included southern
Mexico Mexico (Spanish language, Spanish: México), 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 so ...
,
Guatemala Guatemala ( ; ), officially the Republic of Guatemala ( es, República de Guatemala, links=no), is a country in Central America. It is bordered to the north and west by Mexico Mexico (Spanish language, Spanish: México), officially th ...
,
Belize Belize (; bzj, Bileez) is a Caribbean and Central American country on the northeastern coast of Central America. It is bordered by Mexico to the north, the Caribbean Sea to the east, and Guatemala to the west and south. It also shares a wate ...
,
El Salvador El Salvador (; , meaning "The Saviour"), officially the Republic of El Salvador ( es, República de El Salvador), is a country in Central America. It is bordered on the northeast by Honduras Honduras, officially the Republic of Honduras ...
, western
Honduras Honduras, officially the Republic of Honduras, is a country in Central America. The republic of Honduras is bordered to the west by Guatemala, to the southwest by El Salvador, to the southeast by Nicaragua, to the south by the Pacific Ocean ...
, and the
Pacific The Pacific Ocean is the largest and deepest of Earth's five oceanic divisions. It extends from the Arctic Ocean in the north to the Southern Ocean (or, depending on definition, to Antarctica) in the south, and is bounded by the continen ...
lowlands of
Nicaragua Nicaragua (; ), officially the Republic of Nicaragua (), is the largest Sovereign state, country in Central America, bordered by Honduras to the north, the Caribbean Sea, Caribbean to the east, Costa Rica to the south, and the Pacific Ocean to ...
and northwestern
Costa Rica Costa Rica (, ; ; literally "Rich Coast"), officially the Republic of Costa Rica ( es, República de Costa Rica), is a country in the Central American region of North America, bordered by Nicaragua to the north, the Caribbean Sea to the no ...
. In the tradition of
cultural history Cultural history combines the approaches of anthropology and history to examine popular culture, popular cultural traditions and cultural interpretations of historical experience. It examines the records and narrative descriptions of past matter, ...
, the prevalent archaeological theory 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 to a region of lower concentration. Diffusion is driven by a gradient in Gibbs free energy or chemical p ...
). 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 Science, scientific study of Human, humanity, concerned with human behavior, human biology, cultures, society, societies, and linguistics, in both the present and past, including Homo, past human species. Social anthropolog ...
studies. Conversely, the sister terms
Aridoamerica Aridoamerica denotes an ecological region spanning Northern Mexico Northern Mexico ( es, el Norte de México ), commonly referred as , is an informal term for the northern cultural and geographical area in Mexico. Depending on the source, i ...
and
Oasisamerica Oasisamerica is a term that was coined by Paul Kirchhoff (who also coined " Mesoamerica") and published in a 1954 article, and is used by some scholars, primarily Mexican anthropologists, for the broad cultural area defining pre-Columbian ...
, 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., ...
, 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 large majority of people belong to sedentary cultures. In Sociocultural evolution, evolutio ...
based on
maize Maize ( ; ''Zea mays'' subsp. ''mays'', from es, maíz after tnq, mahiz), also known as corn (North American English, North American and Australian English), is a cereal grain first domesticated by indigenous peoples of Mexico, indigenous ...
agriculture Agriculture or farming is the practice of cultivating Plant, plants and livestock. Agriculture was the key development in the rise of Sedentism, sedentary human civilization, whereby farming of Domestication, domesticated species created food ...
;
floating gardens Chinampa ( nah, chināmitl ) is a technique used in Agriculture in Mesoamerica, Mesoamerican agriculture which relies on small, rectangle, rectangular areas of fertility (soil), fertile arable land to grow agriculture, crops on the shallow lake b ...
; use of bark paper and
agave ''Agave'' (; ; ) is a genus of monocots native to the hot and arid regions of the Americas and the Caribbean, although some ''Agave'' species are also native to tropical areas of North America, such as Mexico. The genus is primarily known for i ...
(see also
maguey Maguey may refer to various American plants: * Genus ''Agave'', especially ** Species ''Agave americana'', the century plant ** Species ''Agave salmiana'' * Genus ''Furcraea'', a source of natural fiber * Maguey flowers, an edible flower Other uses ...
) 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; harpoon-shaped digging stick * ''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 of the common rabbit. It is most commonly used in the making of fur hats and coats, and is considered quite valuable today, although it was once a lower-priced commodit ...
* ''Architecture'': construction of stepped pyramids;
stucco Stucco or render is a construction material made of Construction aggregate, aggregates, a binder (material), binder, and water. Stucco is applied wet and hardens to a very dense solid. It is used as a decorative coating for walls and ceilings, ...
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 polymers of the organic compound isoprene, with minor impurities of other organic compounds. Thailand, Malaysia, and ...
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 continued sequence of existence and event (philosophy), events that occurs in an apparently irreversible process, irreversible su ...
(a 260-day ritual calendar and a 365-day calendar based on the
solar year A tropical year or solar year (or tropical period) is the time that the Sun takes to return to the same position of the Sun, position in the sky of a celestial body of the Solar System such as the Earth, completing a full cycle of seasons; for e ...
); use of locally developed pictographic and
hieroglyph A hieroglyph (Ancient Greek, Greek for "sacred carvings") was a Character (symbol), character of the Egyptian hieroglyphs, ancient Egyptian writing system. logogram, Logographic scripts that are pictographic in form in a way reminiscent of ancien ...
ic (logo-syllabic)
writing systems A writing system is a method of visually representing verbal communication, based on a script and a orthography, set of rules regulating its use. While both writing and spoken language, speech are useful in conveying messages, writing differs i ...
; 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 ad ...
(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 with several embedded 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 ign ...
), 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 as an act of propitiation or worship. Evidence of ritual animal sacrifice has been seen at least since ancient Hebrews and Greeks, and possibly exis ...
, including
human sacrifice Human sacrifice is the act of killing one or more humans as part of a ritual, which is usually intended to please or appease deity, gods, a human ruler, an authoritative/priestly figure or spirits of veneration of the dead, dead ancestors or as ...
and quail sacrifice; paper and rubber as sacrificial offerings; pantheon of gods or spirits; acrobatic flier dance (see the Danza de los Voladores 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 (Spiritualism), spirit world through Altered state of consciousness, altered states of consciousness, such as tranc ...
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, or diffusion area, is a group of language Language is a structured system of communication. The structure of a language is its gra ...
defined by a number of grammatical traits that have spread through the area by diffusion


Geography

Located on the Middle American
isthmus An isthmus (; ; ) is a land bridge, 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 consists of a spit (landform), spit or shoal, bar, and a strait i ...
joining North and
South America South America is a continent entirely in the Western Hemisphere and mostly in the Southern Hemisphere, with a relatively small portion in the Northern Hemisphere at the northern tip of the continent. It can also be described as the souther ...
between ''ca.'' 10° and 22° northern
latitude In geography, latitude is a Geographic coordinate system, coordinate that specifies the north–south position of a point on the surface of the Earth or another celestial body. Latitude is given as an angle that ranges from –90° at the south ...
, Mesoamerica possesses a complex combination of ecological systems, topographic zones, and environmental contexts. These different 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 mean, average surface level of one or more among Earth's coastal Body of water, bodies of water from which heights such as elevation may be measured. The global MSL is a type of vertical ...
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 Geography (from Ancient Greek, Greek: , ''geographia''. Combination of Greek words ‘Geo’ (The Earth) and ‘Graphien’ (to describe), literally "earth description") is a field ...
and
tropical climate Tropical climate is the first of the five major climate groups in the Köppen climate classification identified with the letter A. Tropical climates are defined by a monthly average temperature of 18 °C (64.4 °F) or higher in the cool ...
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's five oceanic divisions. It extends from the Arctic Ocean in the north to the Southern Ocean (or, depending on definition, to Antarctica) in the south, and is bounded by the continen ...
and
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 American continent. It is bounded on the northeast, north and northwest by the Gulf Coast of the United ...
and the
Caribbean Sea The Caribbean Sea ( es, Mar Caribe; french: Mer des Caraïbes; ht, Lanmè Karayib; jam, Kiaribiyan Sii; nl, Caraïbische Zee; pap, Laman Karibe) is a sea of the Atlantic Ocean in the tropics of the Western Hemisphere. It is bounded by Mexico ...
. The highlands show much more climatic diversity, ranging from dry tropical to cold mountainous climates; the dominant climate is
temperate In geography, the temperate climates of Earth occur in the middle latitudes (23.5° to 66.5° N/S of Equator), which span between the tropics and the polar regions of Earth. These zones generally have wider temperature ranges throughout t ...
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 ...
and north Yucatán 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. It is bordered to the north and west by Mexico Mexico (Spanish language, Spanish: México), officially th ...
, southern
Campeche Campeche (; yua, Kaampech ), 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 Administrative divisions of Mexico, 32 Federal Entities of Mexico. Located in ...
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, constitute the 32 administrative divisions of Mexico, federal entities o ...
in
Mexico Mexico (Spanish language, Spanish: México), 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 so ...
, and
Belize Belize (; bzj, Bileez) is a Caribbean and Central American country on the northeastern coast of Central America. It is bordered by Mexico to the north, the Caribbean Sea to the east, and Guatemala to the west and south. It also shares a wate ...
. 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 (; ) is a landform that extends from a mainland and is surrounded by water on most, but not all of its borders. A peninsula is also sometimes ...
. 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 ...
, the Southern Pacific Lowlands, and Southeast Mesoamerica (including northern
Honduras Honduras, officially the Republic of Honduras, is a country in Central America. The republic of Honduras is bordered to the west by Guatemala, to the southwest by El Salvador, to the southeast by Nicaragua, to the south by the Pacific Ocean ...
).


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 roughly coterminous with present-day Mexico City and the eastern half of the State of Mexico. Surrounded by mountains and volcanoes, the Valley of Mexico wa ...
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 Citlaltépetl (from Nahuan languages, Nahuatl = star, and = mountain), is an inactive stratovolcano, the highest mountain in Mexico and the Table of the highest major summits of North America, third highest in Nor ...
, a
dormant volcano A volcano is a rupture in the crust of a planetary-mass object, such as Earth Earth is the third planet from the Sun and the only astronomical object known to harbor life. While large list of largest lakes and seas in the Solar Sys ...
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 Political divisions of Mexico, Federal Entities of Mexico. It is divided into M ...
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 ...
. 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 the Central American region of North America, bordered by Nicaragua to the north, the Caribbean Sea to the no ...
. The chain is historically
volcanic A volcano is a rupture in the Crust (geology), crust of a Planet#Planetary-mass objects, planetary-mass object, such as Earth, that allows hot lava, volcanic ash, and volcanic gas, gases to escape from a magma chamber below the surface. On Ear ...
. 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 at 5,452 m (17,887 ft). This volcano, which retains its
Nahuatl Nahuatl (; ), Aztec, or Mexicano is a language or, by some definitions, a group of languages of the Uto-Aztecan languages, Uto-Aztecan language family. Varieties of Nahuatl are spoken by about Nahuas, Nahua peoples, most of whom live mainly in ...
name, is located 70 km (43 mi) southeast of
Mexico City Mexico City ( es, link=no, Ciudad de México, ; abbr.: CDMX; Nahuatl: ''Altepetl Mexico'') is the capital city, capital and primate city, largest city of Mexico, and the List of North American cities by population, most populous city in North Amer ...
. 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 C ...
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 or ) is a subregion of the Americas. Its boundaries are defined as bordering th ...
in El Salvador, Arenal in Costa Rica, and Concepción and Maderas on
Ometepe Ometepe is an island An island (or isle) is an isolated piece of habitat that is surrounded by a dramatically different habitat, such as water. Very small islands such as emergent land features on atolls can be called islets, skerries, ...
, which is an island formed by both volcanoes rising out of Lake Cocibolca in Nicaragua. One important topographic feature is the
Isthmus of Tehuantepec The Isthmus of Tehuantepec () is an isthmus in Mexico. It represents the shortest distance between the Gulf of Mexico and the Pacific Ocean. Before the opening of the Panama Canal, it was a major overland transport route known simply as the Te ...
, a low plateau that breaks up the Sierra Madre chain between the Sierra Madre del Sur to the north and the
Sierra Madre de Chiapas The Sierra Madre de Chiapas is a major mountain range in Central America. It crosses El Salvador, Guatemala, Mexico and Honduras. The Sierra Madre de Chiapas is part of the American Cordillera, a chain of mountain ranges that consists of an almos ...
to the south. At its highest point, the
Isthmus An isthmus (; ; ) is a land bridge, 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 consists of a spit (landform), spit or shoal, bar, and a strait i ...
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 and a marginal sea of the Atlantic Ocean, largely surrounded by the North American continent. It is bounded on the northeast, north and northwest by the Gulf Coast of the United ...
and the
Pacific Ocean The Pacific Ocean is the largest and deepest of Earth's five oceanic divisions. It extends from the Arctic Ocean in the north to the Southern Ocean (or, depending on definition, to Antarctica) in the south, and is bounded by the continen ...
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 ...
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, which forms in Guatemala at the convergence of the Salinas or Chixoy and La Pasion River 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 and a marginal sea of the Atlantic Ocean, largely surrounded by the North American continent. It is bounded on the northeast, north and northwest by the Gulf Coast of the United ...
. Other rivers of note include the
Rio Grande de Santiago Rio or Río is the Portuguese, Spanish, Italian, and Maltese word for "river". When spoken on its own, the word often means Rio de Janeiro, a major city in Brazil. Rio or Río may also refer to: Geography Brazil * Rio de Janeiro * Rio do Sul, a ...
, the Grijalva River, the Motagua River, the Ulúa River, 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-bearing, permeability (Earth sciences), permeable rock, rock fractures, or unconsolidated materials (gravel, sand, or silt). Groundwater from aquifers can be extracted using a water well. Aquifers vary ...
s that are accessed through natural surface openings called
cenote A cenote ( or ; ) is a natural pit cave, pit, or sinkhole, resulting from the collapse of limestone bedrock that exposes groundwater. The regional term is specifically associated with the Yucatán Peninsula of Mexico, where cenotes were commonly ...
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 lake in Nicaragua. Of tectonic origin and with an area of , it is the largest lake in Central America, the List of lakes by area, 19th largest lake in the wor ...
is the largest lake in Mesoamerica.
Lake Chapala Lake Chapala ( es, Lago de Chapala, ) is Mexico's largest freshwater lake. It lies in the municipalities of Ocotlán, Jalisco, Ocotlán, Chapala, Mexico, Chapala, Jocotepec, Poncitlán, and Jamay (municipality), Jamay, in Jalisco, and in Venu ...
is Mexico's largest freshwater lake, but
Lake Texcoco Lake Texcoco ( es, Lago de Texcoco) was a natural lake within the "Anahuac" or Valley of Mexico. Lake Texcoco is best known as where the Aztecs built the city of Tenochtitlan, which was located on an island within the lake. After the Spanish con ...
is perhaps most well known as the location upon which
Tenochtitlan , ; es, Tenochtitlan also known as Mexico-Tenochtitlan, ; es, México-Tenochtitlan was a large Mexican in what is now the historic center of Mexico City. The exact date of the founding of the city is unclear. The date 13 March 1325 was ...
, 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 people included different Indigenous peoples of Mexico, ethnic groups of central Mexico, particularly those g ...
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 Izabal, Lake Güija, Lemoa, and 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 syste ...
s are present in Mesoamerica; the more well known are the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef System, the second largest in the world, and La Mosquitia (consisting of the Rio Platano Biosphere Reserve, Tawahka Asangni, Patuca National Park, and Bosawas Biosphere Reserve) a
rainforest Rainforests are characterized by a closed and continuous tree Canopy (biology), canopy, moisture-dependent vegetation, the presence of epiphytes and lianas and the absence of wildfire. Rainforest can be classified as tropical rainforest or tem ...
second in size in the Americas only to the Amazonas. The highlands present mixed and
coniferous Conifers are a group of conifer cone, cone-bearing Spermatophyte, seed plants, a subset of gymnosperms. Scientifically, they make up the phylum, division Pinophyta (), also known as Coniferophyta () or Coniferae. The division contains a single ...
forest. The biodiversity is among the richest in the world, though the number of species in the red list of the
IUCN The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN; officially International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources) is an international organization working in the field of nature conservation and sustainable use of natura ...
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 Archaic, the Preclassic (or Formative), the
Classic A classic is an outstanding example of a particular style; something of Masterpiece, lasting worth or with a timeless quality; of the first or Literary merit, highest quality, class, or rank – something that Exemplification, exemplifies its ...
, and the 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 Late Preclassic) generally reflects different configurations of socio-cultural organization that are characterized by increasing socio-political complexity, the adoption of new and different subsistence strategies, and changes in economic organization (including increased interregional interaction). The
Classic A classic is an outstanding example of a particular style; something of Masterpiece, lasting worth or with a timeless quality; of the first or Literary merit, highest quality, class, or rank – something that Exemplification, exemplifies its ...
period through the 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 hunting and gathering subsistence strategy. Big-game hunting, similar to that seen in contemporaneous
North America North America is a continent in the Northern Hemisphere and almost entirely within the Western Hemisphere. It is bordered to the north by the Arctic Ocean, to the east by the Atlantic Ocean, to the southeast by South America and the Car ...
, was a large component of the subsistence strategy of the Mesoamerican Paleo-Indian. These sites had
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 s ...
blades and Clovis-style fluted
projectile point In North American archaeology, archaeological terminology, a projectile point is an object that was hafting, hafted to a weapon that was capable of being thrown or projected, such as a javelin, dart (missile), dart, or arrow. They are thus diffe ...
s.


Archaic

The Archaic period (8000–2000 BCE) is characterized by the rise of 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 large majority of people belong to sedentary cultures. In Sociocultural evolution, evolutio ...
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 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 Mesoamerican civilization. Following a progressive development in Soconusco, Veracruz, Soconusco, they occupied the tropical lowlands of the modern-day Mexican states of Veracruz and Tabasco. It has b ...
, 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 ...
throughout the Preclassic period. The main sites of the Olmec include San Lorenzo Tenochtitlán,
La Venta La Venta is a pre-Columbian archaeological site of the Olmec civilization located in the present-day Mexico, Mexican state of Tabasco. Some of the artifacts have been moved to the museum :es:Parque-Museo La Venta, "Parque - Museo de La Venta", ...
, and
Tres Zapotes Tres Zapotes is a Mesoamerican Mesoamerica is a historical region and cultural area in southern North America and most of Central America. It extends from approximately central Mexico through Belize, Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua ...
. 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 Izapa is a very large pre-Columbian archaeological site located in the Mexican state of Chiapas; it is best known for its occupation during the Mesoamerican chronology, Late Formative period. The site is situated on the Izapa River, a tributary ...
, and Teopantecuanitlan, and as far south as in
Honduras Honduras, officially the Republic of Honduras, is a country in Central America. The republic of Honduras is bordered to the west by Guatemala, to the southwest by El Salvador, to the southeast by Nicaragua, to the south by the Pacific Ocean ...
. Research in the Pacific Lowlands of Chiapas and Guatemala suggest that
Izapa Izapa is a very large pre-Columbian archaeological site located in the Mexican state of Chiapas; it is best known for its occupation during the Mesoamerican chronology, Late Formative period. The site is situated on the Izapa River, a tributary ...
and the Monte Alto Culture may have preceded the Olmec. Radiocarbon samples associated with various sculptures found at the Late Preclassic site of
Izapa Izapa is a very large pre-Columbian archaeological site located in the Mexican state of Chiapas; it is best known for its occupation during the Mesoamerican chronology, Late Formative period. The site is situated on the Izapa River, a tributary ...
suggest a date of between 1800 and 1500 BCE. During the Middle and Late Preclassic period, the
Maya civilization The Maya civilization () of the Mesoamerican people is known by its ancient temples and Glyph, glyphs. Its Maya script is the most sophisticated and highly developed writing system in the Pre-Columbian era, pre-Columbian Americas. It is also ...
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 In the history of the Americas, the pre-Columbian era spans from the Migration to the New World, original settlement of North and So ...
, and Cerros. Middle to Late
Preclassic Maya The Preclassic period in Maya history stretches from the beginning of permanent village life c. 1000 BC until the advent of the Classic Period c. 250 AD, and is subdivided into Early (prior to 1000 BC), Middle (1000–400 BC), and Late (400 BC ...
sites include Kaminaljuyú, Cival, Edzná, Cobá, Lamanai, Komchen,
Dzibilchaltun Dzibilchaltún ( Yucatec: Ts'íibil Cháaltun, ) is a Maya Maya may refer to: Civilizations * Maya peoples, of southern Mexico and northern Central America ** Maya civilization, the historical civilization of the Maya peoples ** Maya languag ...
, and San Bartolo, among others. The Preclassic in the central Mexican highlands is represented by such sites as Tlapacoya,
Tlatilco Tlatilco was a large pre-Columbian In the history of the Americas, the pre-Columbian era spans from the Migration to the New World, original settlement of North and South America in the Upper Paleolithic period through European colonization of ...
, and
Cuicuilco Cuicuilco is an important archaeological site located on the southern shore of Lake Texcoco in the southeastern Valley of Mexico, in what is today the borough of Tlalpan in Mexico City. Some historians believe this settlement goes back to 1400 B ...
. 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 The Central Valleys ( es, Valles Centrales) of Oaxaca, also simply known as the Oaxaca Valley, is a geographic region located within the modern-day state of Oaxaca in southern Mexico. In an administrative context, it has been defined as comprising ...
, 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
palisade A palisade, sometimes called a stakewall or a paling, is typically a fence or defensive wall made from iron or wooden stakes, or tree trunks, and used as a defensive structure or enclosure. Palisades can form a stockade. Etymology ''Palisade'' ...
s, ceremonial structures, the use of
adobe Adobe ( ; ) is a building material made from earth and organic materials. is Spanish for ''mudbrick''. In some English-speaking regions of Spanish heritage, such as the Southwestern United States, the term is used to refer to any kind of ea ...
, and hieroglyphic writing. Also of importance, the site was one of the first to demonstrate inherited status, signifying a radical shift in socio-cultural and political structure. San José Mogote was eventual overtaken by Monte Albán, the subsequent capital of the Zapotec empire, during the Late Preclassic. The Preclassic in western Mexico, in the states of
Nayarit Nayarit (), officially the Free and Sovereign State of Nayarit ( es, Estado Libre y Soberano de Nayarit), is one of the 31 states that, along with Mexico City Mexico City ( es, link=no, Ciudad de México, ; abbr.: CDMX; Nahuatl: ''Altepetl Mex ...
,
Jalisco Jalisco (, , ; Nahuatl: Xalixco), officially the Free and Sovereign State of Jalisco ( es, Estado Libre y Soberano de Jalisco ; Nahuatl: Tlahtohcayotl Xalixco), is one of the 31 states which, along with Mexico City, comprise the 32 Political d ...
,
Colima Colima (), officially the Free and Sovereign State of Colima ( es, Estado Libre y Soberano de Colima), is one of the 31 states that make up the Political divisions of Mexico, 32 Federal Entities of Mexico. It shares its name with its capital and ...
, and
Michoacán Michoacán, formally Michoacán de Ocampo (; Purépecha language, Purépecha: ), officially the Free and Sovereign State of Michoacán de Ocampo ( es, Estado Libre y Soberano de Michoacán de Ocampo), is one of the 32 states which comprise the P ...
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 " shaft tomb tradition".


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. It is one of the largest archeological sites and urban centers of the pre-Co ...
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.
Pachuca Pachuca (; ote, Nju̱nthe), formally known as Pachuca de Soto, is the capital and largest city of the Mexican state State may refer to: Arts, entertainment, and media Literature * ''State Magazine'', a monthly magazine published by the U.S ...
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., El Chayal, which was predominantly used by the Maya during the Early Classic), and
jade Jade is a mineral used as jewellery or for ornament (art), ornaments. It is typically green, although may be yellow or white. Jade can refer to either of two different silicate minerals: nephrite (a silicate of calcium and magnesium in the amp ...
from the 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 Uaxactun (pronounced ) is an ancient sacred place of the Maya civilization, located in the Petén Basin region of the Maya lowlands, in the present-day Departments of Guatemala, department of Petén (department), Petén, Guatemala. The site lies ...
, Caracol,
Dos Pilas Dos Pilas is a Pre-Columbian site of the Maya civilization located in what is now the Departments of Guatemala, department of Petén Department, Petén, Guatemala. It dates to the Mesoamerican chronology, Late Classic Period, and was founded by ...
,
Naranjo Naranjo is a Pre-Columbian Maya civilization, Maya city in the Petén Basin region of Guatemala. It was occupied from about 500 BC to 950 AD, with its height in the Late Classic Period. The site is part of Cultural Triangle Yaxha-Nakum-Naranjo Nat ...
, and
Calakmul Calakmul (; also Kalakmul and other less frequent variants) is a Maya Maya may refer to: Civilizations * Maya peoples, of southern Mexico and northern Central America ** Maya civilization, the historical civilization of the Maya peoples ** Ma ...
. 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 Hiatus.


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 Palenque (; Yucatec Maya language, Yucatec Maya: ), also anciently known in the Itza Language as Lakamhaʼ ("Big Water or Big Waters"), was a Maya city City-state, state in southern Mexico that perished in the 8th century. The Palenque ruins dat ...
, and Calakmul (which was allied with Caracol and may have assisted in the defeat of Tikal), and
Dos Pilas Dos Pilas is a Pre-Columbian site of the Maya civilization located in what is now the Departments of Guatemala, department of Petén Department, Petén, Guatemala. It dates to the Mesoamerican chronology, Late Classic Period, and was founded by ...
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.


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 Uxmal (Yucatec Maya: ''Óoxmáal'' ) is an ancient Maya civilization, Maya city of the classical period located in present-day Mexico. It is considered one of the most important archaeological sites of Maya culture, along with Palenque, Chichen ...
, Sayil, Labna, 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 Chichen Itza , es, Chichén Itzá , often with the emphasis reversed in English to ; from yua, Chiʼchʼèen Ìitshaʼ () "at the mouth of the well of the Itza people" was a large pre-Columbian In the history of the Americas, the pre-Co ...
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 or ) is a subregion of the Americas. Its boundaries are defined as bordering the United States to the north, Colombia to the south, the Caribbean Sea to the east, and the Pacific Ocean to the west. Cen ...
. 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.


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 (
Mérida, Yucatán Mérida () is the capital of the Mexican state of Yucatán, and the largest city in southeastern Mexico. The city is also the municipal seat, seat of the Mérida Municipality, eponymous Municipality. It is located in the northwest corner of the ...
), 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' of Utatlán, the Mam in Zaculeu, the Poqomam in
Mixco Viejo Mixco Viejo () ("Old Mixco"), occasionally spelt Mixcu Viejo, is an archeology, archaeological site in the north east of the Chimaltenango (department), Chimaltenango department of Guatemala, some to the north of Guatemala City and from the ...
, and the Kaqchikel at
Iximche Iximcheʼ () (or Iximché using Spanish language, Spanish orthography) is a Pre-Columbian Mesoamerican archaeological site in the western highlands of Guatemala. Iximche was the capital of the Mesoamerican chronology, Late Postclassic Kaqchikel ...
in the Guatemalan highlands. The Pipil resided in
El Salvador El Salvador (; , meaning "The Saviour"), officially the Republic of El Salvador ( es, República de El Salvador), is a country in Central America. It is bordered on the northeast by Honduras Honduras, officially the Republic of Honduras ...
, while the Ch'orti' were in eastern Guatemala and northwestern
Honduras Honduras, officially the Republic of Honduras, is a country in Central America. The republic of Honduras is bordered to the west by Guatemala, to the southwest by El Salvador, to the southeast by Nicaragua, to the south by the Pacific Ocean ...
. In central Mexico, the early portion of the Postclassic correlates with the rise of the
Toltec The Toltec culture () was a Pre-Columbian era, pre-Columbian Mesoamerican culture that ruled a state centered in Tula (Mesoamerican site), Tula, Hidalgo (state), Hidalgo, Mexico, during the Epiclassic and the early Post-Classic period of Mesoam ...
and an empire based at their capital, 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 The Mexica ( Nahuatl: , ;''Nahuatl Dictionary.'' (1990). Wired Humanities Project. University of Oregon. Retrieved August 29, 2012, frolink/ref> singular ) were a Nahuatl-speaking indigenous people of the Valley of Mexico who were the rulers ...
and the
Aztec Empire The Aztec Empire or the Triple Alliance ( nci, Ēxcān Tlahtōlōyān, Help:IPA/Nahuatl, jéːʃkaːn̥ t͡ɬaʔtoːˈlóːjaːn̥ was an alliance of three Nahua peoples, Nahua altepetl, city-states: , , and . These three city-states ruled ...
. 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 Guerrero is one of the 32 states that comprise the Administrative divisions of Mexico, 32 Federal Entities of Mexico. It is divided in Municipalities of Guerrero, 81 municipalities and its capital city is Chilpancingo and its largest city is Acap ...
. The
Tarascans Tarascan or Tarasca is an exonym and the popular name for the Purépecha culture. It may refer to: * the Tarascan State, a Mesoamerica, Mesoamerican empire until the Spanish conquest in the 1500s, located in (present-day) west-central Mexico * the ...
(also known as the P'urhépecha) were located in
Michoacán Michoacán, formally Michoacán de Ocampo (; Purépecha language, Purépecha: ), officially the Free and Sovereign State of Michoacán de Ocampo ( es, Estado Libre y Soberano de Michoacán de Ocampo), is one of the 32 states which comprise the P ...
and Guerrero. With their capital at 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 The Totonac are an indigenous people of Mexico who reside in the Mexican state, states of Veracruz, Puebla, and Hidalgo (state), Hidalgo. They are one of the possible builders of the pre-Columbian city of El Tajín, and further maintained quar ...
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 ...
,
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 Political divisions of Mexico, Federal Entities of Mexico. It is divided into M ...
, and Hidalgo). The Huastec resided north of the Totonac, mainly in the modern-day states of
Tamaulipas Tamaulipas (), officially the Free and Sovereign State of Tamaulipas ( es, Estado Libre y Soberano de Tamaulipas), is a state in the northeast region of Mexico; one of the 31 states which, along with Mexico City, comprise the 32 Political divis ...
and northern Veracruz. The
Mixtec The Mixtecs (), or Mixtecos, are indigenous Mesoamerican peoples of Mexico inhabiting the region known as La Mixteca of Oaxaca and Puebla as well as La Montaña Region and Costa Chica of Guerrero, Costa Chica Regions of the state of Guerrer ...
and Zapotec cultures, centered at
Mitla Mitla is the second-most important archeological site in the Political divisions of Mexico, state of Oaxaca in Mexico, and the most important of the Zapotec peoples, Zapotec culture. The site is located 44 km from the Oaxaca, Oaxaca, city of ...
and Zaachila respectively, inhabited Oaxaca. The Postclassic ends with the 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 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 The Otomi (; es, Otomí ) are an indigenous people of Mexico inhabiting the central Mexican Plateau (Altiplano) region. The Otomi are an indigenous people of Mexico who inhabit a discontinuous territory in central Mexico. They are linguisticall ...
, Mixe–Zoque groups (which may or may not have been related to the Olmecs), the northern
Uto-Aztecan Uto-Aztecan, Uto-Aztekan or (rarely in English) Uto-Nahuatl is a Language family, family of indigenous languages of the Americas, consisting of over thirty languages. Uto-Aztecan languages are found almost entirely in the Western United States a ...
groups, often referred to as the
Chichimeca Chichimeca () is the name that the Nahua peoples of Mexico generically applied to nomadic and semi-nomadic peoples who were established in present-day Bajio region of Mexico. Chichimeca carried the meaning as the Roman term "barbarian" that desc ...
, that include the Cora and
Huichol The Huichol or Wixárika are an indigenous people of Mexico and the United States living in the Sierra Madre Occidental range in the states of Nayarit, Jalisco, Zacatecas, and Durango, as well as in the United States in the states of California, ...
, the Chontales, the Huaves, and the Pipil, Xincan and Lencan peoples of Central America.


Chronology in chart form


Other characteristics


Subsistence

By roughly 6000 BCE,
hunter-gatherer A traditional hunter-gatherer or forager is a human living an ancestrally derived lifestyle (sociology), lifestyle in which most or all food is obtained by foraging, that is, by gathering food from local sources, especially edible wild plants bu ...
s living in the 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 English, North American and Australian English), is a cereal grain first domesticated by indigenous peoples of Mexico, indigenous ...
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 Panama ( , ; es, link=no, Panamá ), officially the Republic of Panama ( es, República de Panamá), is a List of transcontinental countries#North America and South America, transcontinental country spanning the Central America, southern ...
, c. 5500 BCE. Slightly thereafter, semi- 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 ''Pachyrhizus erosus'', commonly known as jícama ( or ; Spanish ''jícama'' ; from Nahuatl ''xīcamatl'', ) Mexican turnip, is the name of a native Mexican vine, although the name most commonly refers to the plant's edible tuberous root. Jícam ...
,
tomato The tomato is the edible Berry (botany), berry of the plant ''Solanum lycopersicum'', commonly known as the tomato plant. The species originated in western South America, Mexico, and Central America. The Mexican Nahuatl word gave rise to th ...
and squash all became common cultivates by 3500 BCE. At the same time, these communities exploited
cotton Cotton is a soft, fluffy Staple (textiles), staple fiber that grows in a wikt:boll, boll, or protective case, around the seeds of the cotton plants of the genus ''Gossypium'' in the mallow family Malvaceae. The fiber is almost pure cellulose ...
,
yucca ''Yucca'' is a genus of perennial plant, perennial shrubs and trees in the family (biology), family Asparagaceae, subfamily Agavoideae. Its 40–50 species are notable for their Rosette (botany), rosettes of evergreen, tough, sword-shaped Leaf, ...
, and
agave ''Agave'' (; ; ) is a genus of monocots native to the hot and arid regions of the Americas and the Caribbean, although some ''Agave'' species are also native to tropical areas of North America, such as Mexico. The genus is primarily known for i ...
for fibers and
textile Textile is an Hyponymy and hypernymy, umbrella term that includes various Fiber, fiber-based materials, including fibers, yarns, Staple (textiles)#Filament fiber, filaments, Thread (yarn), threads, different #Fabric, fabric types, etc. At f ...
materials. By 2000 BCE, corn was the staple crop in the region, and remained so through modern times. The Ramón or Breadnut tree (''
Brosimum alicastrum ''Brosimum alicastrum'', commonly known as the breadnut or ramon, is a tree species in the family Moraceae of flowering plants, whose other genera include Ficus, figs and mulberry, mulberries. The plant is known by a range of names in Mesoamer ...
'') 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'') is a medium-sized, evergreen tree in the laurel family (Lauraceae). It is native to Americas, the Americas and was first domesticated by Mesoamerica, Mesoamerican tribes more than 5,000 years ago. Pre-Columb ...
,
papaya The papaya (, ), papaw, () or pawpaw () is the plant species ''Carica papaya'', one of the 21 accepted species in the genus Genus ( plural genera ) is a taxonomic rank used in the biological classification of extant taxon, living and fos ...
,
guava Guava () is a common tropical fruit cultivated in many tropical and subtropical regions. The common guava ''Psidium guajava'' (lemon guava, apple guava) is a small tree in the myrtle family (biology), family (Myrtaceae), native to Mexico, Cent ...
, mamey, zapote, and
annona ''Annona'' (from Taíno ''annon'') is a genus Genus ( plural genera ) is a taxonomic rank used in the biological classification of extant taxon, living and fossil organisms as well as Virus classification#ICTV classification, viruses. In th ...
. Mesoamerica lacked animals suitable for domestication, most notably domesticated large
ungulate Ungulates ( ) are members of the diverse clade Ungulata which primarily consists of large mammals with Hoof, hooves. These include odd-toed ungulates such as horses, rhinoceroses, and tapirs; and even-toed ungulates such as cattle, pigs, giraffe ...
s. The lack of
draft animals A working animal is an animal, usually domestication, domesticated, that is kept by humans and trained to human uses of animals, perform tasks instead of being animal slaughter, slaughtered to harvest animal products. Some are used for their ph ...
for transportation is one notable difference between Mesoamerica and the cultures of the South American Andes. Other animals, including the
duck Duck is the common name for numerous species of waterfowl in the family (biology), family Anatidae. Ducks are generally smaller and shorter-necked than swans and goose, geese, which are members of the same family. Divided among several subfam ...
,
dog The dog (''Canis familiaris'' or ''Canis lupus familiaris'') is a domesticated descendant of the wolf. Also called the domestic dog, it is Domestication of the dog, derived from the extinct Pleistocene wolf, and the modern wolf is the dog's n ...
s, and
turkey Turkey ( tr, Türkiye ), officially the Republic of Türkiye ( tr, Türkiye Cumhuriyeti, links=no ), is a transcontinental country located mainly on the Anatolia, Anatolian Peninsula in Western Asia, with a East Thrace, small portion on th ...
, were
domesticated Domestication is a sustained multi-generational relationship in which humans assume a significant degree of control over the reproduction and care of another group of organisms to secure a more predictable supply of resources from that group. A ...
. Turkey was the first to be domesticated locally, around 3500 BCE.
Dogs The dog (''Canis familiaris'' or ''Canis lupus familiaris'') is a domesticated descendant of the wolf. Also called the domestic dog, it is Domestication of the dog, derived from the extinct Pleistocene wolf, and the modern wolf is the dog's n ...
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 Rabbits, also known as bunnies or bunny rabbits, are small mammals in the family (biology), family Leporidae (which also contains the hares) of the order (biology), order Lagomorpha (which also contains the pikas). ''Oryctolagus cuniculus'' i ...
, 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 A city-state is an independent sovereign city which serves as the center of political, economic, and cultural life over its contiguous territory. They have existed in many parts of the world since the dawn of history, including cities such as ...
, 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.
Stela A stele ( ),Anglicized plural steles ( ); Greek plural stelai ( ), from Greek language, Greek , ''stēlē''. The Greek plural is written , ''stēlai'', but this is only rarely encountered in English. or occasionally stela (plural ''stelas'' or ...
e 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 (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 Cotton is a soft, fluffy Staple (textiles), staple fiber that grows in a wikt:boll, boll, or protective case, around the seeds of the cotton plants of the genus ''Gossypium'' in the mallow family Malvaceae. The fiber is almost pure cellulose ...
and
cochineal The cochineal ( , ; ''Dactylopius coccus'') is a scale insect in the suborder Sternorrhyncha, from which the natural dye carmine is derived. A primarily sessility (motility), sessile parasitism, parasite native to tropical and subtropical Sout ...
* Maya lowlands and the Gulf Coast: cacao,
vanilla Vanilla is a spice derived from orchids of the genus ''Vanilla (genus), Vanilla'', primarily obtained from pods of the Mexican species, flat-leaved vanilla (''Vanilla planifolia, V. planifolia''). Pollination is required to make the p ...
,
jaguar The jaguar (''Panthera onca'') is a large felidae, cat species and the only extant taxon, living member of the genus ''Panthera'' native to the Americas. With a body length of up to and a weight of up to , it is the largest cat species in t ...
skins, birds and bird feathers (especially
quetzal Quetzals () are strikingly colored bird Birds are a group of warm-blooded vertebrates constituting the class (biology), class Aves (), characterised by feathers, toothless beaked jaws, the Oviparity, laying of Eggshell, hard-shelled e ...
and
macaw Macaws are a group of Neotropical parrot, New World parrots that are long-tailed and often colorful. They are popular in aviculture or as companion parrots, although there are conservation concerns about several species in the wild. Biology ...
) * Central Mexico: Obsidian (
Pachuca Pachuca (; ote, Nju̱nthe), formally known as Pachuca de Soto, is the capital and largest city of the Mexican state State may refer to: Arts, entertainment, and media Literature * ''State Magazine'', a monthly magazine published by the U.S ...
) * Guatemalan highlands: Obsidian ( San Martin Jilotepeque, El Chayal, and Ixtepeque),
pyrite The mineral pyrite (), or iron pyrite, also known as fool's gold, is an iron sulfide with the chemical formula Iron, FeSulfur, S2 (iron (II) disulfide). Pyrite is the most abundant sulfide mineral. Pyrite's metallic Luster (mineralogy), lust ...
, and
jade Jade is a mineral used as jewellery or for ornament (art), ornaments. It is typically green, although may be yellow or white. Jade can refer to either of two different silicate minerals: nephrite (a silicate of calcium and magnesium in the amp ...
from the Motagua River valley * Coastal areas:
salt Salt is a mineral composed primarily of sodium chloride (NaCl), a chemical compound belonging to the larger class of Salt (chemistry), salts; salt in the form of a natural crystallinity, crystalline mineral is known as rock salt or halite. ...
, dry
fish Fish are Aquatic animal, aquatic, craniate, gill-bearing animals that lack Limb (anatomy), limbs with Digit (anatomy), digits. Included in this definition are the living hagfish, lampreys, and Chondrichthyes, cartilaginous and bony fish as we ...
,
shell Shell may refer to: Architecture and design * Shell (structure), a thin structure ** Concrete shell, a thin shell of concrete, usually with no interior columns or exterior buttresses ** Thin-shell structure Science Biology * Seashell, a hard out ...
, and
dye A dye is a color Color (American English) or colour (British English) is the visual perception, visual perceptual Physical property, property deriving from the spectrum of light interacting with the photoreceptor cells of the eyes. Color c ...
s


Architecture

Mesoamerican architecture is the collective name given to urban, ceremonial and public structures built by 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
pyramids A pyramid (from el, πυραμίς ') is a Nonbuilding structure, structure whose outer surfaces are triangular and converge to a single step at the top, making the shape roughly a Pyramid (geometry), pyramid in the geometric sense. The base o ...
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 A solstice is an event that occurs when the Sun appears to reach its most northerly or southerly sun path, excursion relative to the celestial equator on the celestial sphere. Two solstices occur annually, around June 21 and December 21. In man ...
and the two
equinoxes A solar equinox is a moment in time when the Sun crosses the Earth's equator, which is to say, appears zenith, directly above the equator, rather than north or south of the equator. On the day of the equinox, the Sun appears to rise "due east" ...
, 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 A lunar eclipse occurs when the Moon moves into the Earth's shadow. Such alignment occurs during an eclipse season, approximately every six months, during the full moon phase, when the Moon's orbital plane is closest to Ecliptic, the plane of t ...
, the phases of the
moon The Moon is Earth's only natural satellite. It is the List of natural satellites, fifth largest satellite in the Solar System and the largest and most massive relative to its parent planet, with a diameter about one-quarter that of Earth ( ...
, the periods of
Venus Venus is the second planet from the Sun. It is sometimes called Earth's "sister" or "twin" planet as it is almost as large and has a similar composition. As an Inferior and superior planets, interior planet to Earth, Venus (like Mercury (pl ...
and
Mars Mars is the fourth planet from the Sun and the second-smallest planet in the Solar System, only being larger than Mercury. In the English language, Mars is named for the Roman god of war. Mars is a terrestrial planet with a thin atmosph ...
, 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
astronomer An astronomer is a scientist in the field of astronomy who focuses their studies on a specific question or field outside the scope of Earth. They observe astronomical objects such as stars, planets, natural satellite, moons, comets and galaxy, g ...
s. 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 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', Q'eqchi', Kaqchikel, and the Mixe people of Oaxaca continue using modernized forms of the Mesoamerican calendar.


Writing systems

The Mesoamerican scripts deciphered to date are
logosyllabic In a written language A written language is the representation of a spoken or gestural language by means of a writing system. Written language is an invention in that it must be taught to children, who will pick up spoken language or sign ...
combining the use of logograms with a
syllabary In the Linguistics, linguistic study of Written language, written languages, a syllabary is a set of grapheme, written symbols that represent the syllables or (more frequently) mora (linguistics), moras which make up words. A symbol in a syllaba ...
, and they are often called
hieroglyph A hieroglyph (Ancient Greek, Greek for "sacred carvings") was a Character (symbol), character of the Egyptian hieroglyphs, ancient Egyptian writing system. logogram, Logographic scripts that are pictographic in form in a way reminiscent of ancien ...
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 Maya script, also known as Maya glyphs, is historically the native writing system of the Maya civilization of Mesoamerica and is the only Mesoamerican writing system that has been substantially deciphered. The earliest inscriptions found which ...
. Others include the
Olmec The Olmecs () were the earliest known major Mesoamerican civilization. Following a progressive development in Soconusco, Veracruz, Soconusco, they occupied the tropical lowlands of the modern-day Mexican states of Veracruz and Tabasco. It has b ...
, Zapotec, and 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 Latin script, also known as Roman script, is an alphabetic writing system based on the letters of the classical Latin alphabet, derived from a form of the Greek alphabet which was in use in the ancient Greece, Greek city of Cumae, in southe ...
. The other 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 A stele ( ),Anglicized plural steles ( ); Greek plural stelai ( ), from Greek language, Greek , ''stēlē''. The Greek plural is written , ''stēlai'', but this is only rarely encountered in English. or occasionally stela (plural ''stelas'' or ...
, carved directly onto architecture, carved or painted over stucco (e.g.,
murals A mural is any piece of graphic artwork that is painted or applied directly to a wall, ceiling or other permanent substrate. Mural techniques include fresco Fresco (plural ''frescos'' or ''frescoes'') is a technique of Mural, mural pain ...
), and on
pottery Pottery is the process and the products of forming vessels and other objects with clay and other ceramic materials, which are fired at high temperatures to give them a hard and durable form. Major types include earthenware, stoneware and porc ...
. 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 ''Handbook of Middle American Indians'' (HMAI) is a sixteen-volume compendium on Mesoamerica Mesoamerica is a historical region and cultural area in southern North America and most of Central America. It extends from approximately central Mexi ...
, Guide to Ethnohistorical Sources''. Mesoamerican codices survive from the
Aztec The Aztecs () were a Mesoamerican culture that flourished in central Mexico in the post-classic period from 1300 to 1521. The Aztec people included different Indigenous peoples of Mexico, ethnic groups of central Mexico, particularly those g ...
,
Maya Maya may refer to: Civilizations * Maya peoples, of southern Mexico and northern Central America ** Maya civilization, the historical civilization of the Maya peoples ** Maya language (disambiguation), Maya language, the languages of the Maya peop ...
,
Mixtec The Mixtecs (), or Mixtecos, are indigenous Mesoamerican peoples of Mexico inhabiting the region known as La Mixteca of Oaxaca and Puebla as well as La Montaña Region and Costa Chica of Guerrero, Costa Chica Regions of the state of Guerrer ...
, and Zapotec regions.


Arithmetic

Mesoamerican
arithmetic Arithmetic () is an elementary part of mathematics Mathematics is an area of knowledge that includes the topics of numbers, formulas and related structures, shapes and the spaces in which they are contained, and quantities and their chang ...
treated
number A number is a mathematical object used to count, measure, and label. The original examples are the natural numbers 1, 2, 3, 4, and so forth. Numbers can be represented in language with number words. More universally, individual numbers can ...
s as having both literal and symbolic value, the result of the 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 concept of zero was also used, and its representation at the Late Preclassic occupation of
Tres Zapotes Tres Zapotes is a Mesoamerican Mesoamerica is a historical region and cultural area in southern North America and most of Central America. It extends from approximately central Mexico through Belize, Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua ...
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 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 English, North American and Australian English), is a cereal grain first domesticated by indigenous peoples of Mexico, indigenous ...
, then common beans, forming the Three Sisters agricultural technique. The cornstalk served as a trellis for the beans to climb, and the beans 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 The ''Florentine Codex'' is a 16th-century Ethnography, ethnographic research study in Mesoamerica by the Spanish Franciscan friar Bernardino de Sahagún. Sahagún originally titled it: ''La Historia General de las Cosas de Nueva España'' (in E ...
, compiled in the third quarter of the sixteenth century. Bernardino de Sahagún reported the ritualistic use of
Psilocybe ''Psilocybe'' ( ) is a genus of gilled mushrooms, growing worldwide, in the family Hymenogastraceae. Most or nearly all species contain the Psychedelic drug, psychedelic compounds psilocybin and psilocin. Taxonomy Taxonomic history A 2002 ...
mushrooms known to the
Aztecs The Aztecs () were a Mesoamerican culture that flourished in central Mexico in the post-classic period from 1300 to 1521. The Aztec people included different Indigenous peoples of Mexico, ethnic groups of central Mexico, particularly those g ...
as '' teōnanācatl'' (agglutinative form of ''teōtl'' (god, sacred) and ''nanācatl'' (mushroom) in 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 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 of
deities A deity or god is a supernatural being who is considered divinity, divine or sacred. The ''Oxford Dictionary of English'' defines deity as a God (male deity), god or goddess, or anything revered as divine. C. Scott Littleton defines a deity as " ...
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 The word ''zoomorphism'' derives from the Greek language, Greek ζωον (''zōon''), meaning "animal", and μορφη (''morphē''), meaning "shape" or "form". In the context of art, zoomorphism could describe art that imagines humans as non-hum ...
, 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 ''Ceiba'' is a genus of trees in the family Malvaceae, native to Tropics, tropical and Subtropics, subtropical areas of the Americas (from Mexico and the Caribbean to N Argentina) and tropical West Africa. Some species can grow to tall or more ...
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: autosacrifice and
human sacrifice Human sacrifice is the act of killing one or more humans as part of a ritual, which is usually intended to please or appease deity, gods, a human ruler, an authoritative/priestly figure or spirits of veneration of the dead, dead ancestors or as ...
. 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 Bloodletting (or blood-letting) is the withdrawal of blood from a patient to prevent or cure illness and disease. Bloodletting, whether by a physician or by leeches, was based on an ancient system of medicine in which blood and other bodily flu ...
, 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 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 s ...
prismatic blade In archaeology, a prismatic blade is a long, narrow, specialized lithic flake, stone flake tool with a sharp edge, like a small razor blade. Prismatic blades are flaked from lithic core, stone cores through pressure flaking or direct percussion. T ...
s or stingray spines, and blood was drawn from piercing or cutting the
tongue The tongue is a muscular organ (anatomy), organ in the mouth of a typical tetrapod. It manipulates food for mastication and swallowing as part of the digestive system, digestive process, and is the primary organ of taste. The tongue's upper surfa ...
,
earlobe The human earlobe (''lobulus auriculae''), the lower portion of the outer ear, is composed of tough Loose_connective_tissue#Areolar_tissue, areolar and adipose connective tissues, lacking the firmness and elasticity of the rest of the auricle (a ...
s, and/or
genitals A sex organ (or reproductive organ) is any part of an animal or plant that is involved in sexual reproduction. The reproductive organs together constitute the reproductive system. In animals, the testis in the male, and the ovary in the female, a ...
(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 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 In Islam, the ''ulama'' (; ar, علماء ', singular ', "scholar", literally "the learned ones", also spelled ''ulema''; feminine: ''alimah'' ingularand ''aalimath'' lural are the guardians, transmitters, and interpreters of reli ...
, is still played in a few places. Over 1300 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 Astronomy () is a natural science that studies astronomical object, celestial objects and phenomena. It uses mathematics, physics, and chemistry in order to explain their origin and chronology of the Universe, evolution. Objects of interest ...
included a broad understanding of the cycles of planets and other celestial bodies. Special importance was given to the
sun The Sun is the star A star is an astronomical object comprising a luminous spheroid of plasma (physics), plasma held together by its gravity. The List of nearest stars and brown dwarfs, nearest star to Earth is the Sun. Many other st ...
,
moon The Moon is Earth's only natural satellite. It is the List of natural satellites, fifth largest satellite in the Solar System and the largest and most massive relative to its parent planet, with a diameter about one-quarter that of Earth ( ...
, and
Venus Venus is the second planet from the Sun. It is sometimes called Earth's "sister" or "twin" planet as it is almost as large and has a similar composition. As an Inferior and superior planets, interior planet to Earth, Venus (like Mercury (pl ...
as the morning and evening star. Observatories were built at some sites, including the round observatory at Ceibal and the "Observatorio" at 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 pyramid at Chichen Itza and the Observatorio at 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 Uaxactun (pronounced ) is an ancient sacred place of the Maya civilization, located in the Petén Basin region of the Maya lowlands, in the present-day Departments of Guatemala, department of Petén (department), Petén, Guatemala. The site lies ...
'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 The Pleiades (), also known as The Seven Sisters, Messier 45 and other names by different cultures, is an Asterism (astronomy), asterism and an open cluster, open star cluster containing middle-aged, hot Stellar classification#Class B, B-type st ...
.


Symbolism of space and time

It has been argued that among Mesoamerican societies the concepts of
space Space is the boundless Three-dimensional space, three-dimensional extent in which Physical body, objects and events have relative position (geometry), position and direction (geometry), direction. In classical physics, physical space is often ...
and
time Time is the continued sequence of existence and event (philosophy), events that occurs in an apparently irreversible process, irreversible succession from the past, through the present, into the future. It is a component quantity of various me ...
are associated with the four cardinal compass points and linked together by the
calendar A calendar is a system of organizing days. This is done by giving names to periods of time, typically days, weeks, months and years. A date is the designation of a single and specific day within such a system. A calendar is also a ph ...
. 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 ( Bacab). They are as follows: * Hobnil, Bacab of the
East East or Orient is one of the four cardinal direction The four cardinal directions, or cardinal points, are the four main compass directions: north, east, south, and west, commonly denoted by their initials N, E, S, and W respectively. Relat ...
, associated with the color red and the ''Kan'' years *
Can Tzicnal Can may refer to: Containers * Aluminum can * Drink can * Oil can * Steel and tin cans * Trash can * Petrol can * Metal can (disambiguation) Music * Can (band), West Germany, 1968 ** Can (album), ''Can'' (album), 1979 * Can (South Korean band) ...
, Bacab of the
North North is one of the four compass points or cardinal directions. It is the opposite of south and is perpendicular to east and west. ''North'' is a noun, adjective, or adverb indicating Direction (geometry), direction or geography. Etymology T ...
, assigned the color white and the ''Muluc'' years * Zac Cimi, Bacab of the
West West or Occident is one of the four cardinal directions or points of the compass. It is the opposite direction from east and is the direction in which the Sunset, Sun sets on the Earth. Etymology The word "west" is a Germanic languages, German ...
, associated with the color black and the ''Ix'' years * Hozanek, Bacab of the
South South is one of the cardinal directions or Points of the compass, compass points. The direction is the opposite of north and is perpendicular to both east and west. Etymology The word ''south'' comes from Old English ''sūþ'', from earlier Pro ...
, associated with the color yellow and the ''Cauac'' years. Later cultures such as the Kaqchikel and K'iche' maintain the association of cardinal directions with each color, but used 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: croco dile, the serpent,
water Water (chemical formula ) is an Inorganic compound, inorganic, transparent, tasteless, odorless, and Color of water, nearly colorless chemical substance, which is the main constituent of Earth's hydrosphere and the fluids of all known living ...
, 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 Flint, occasionally flintstone, is a sedimentary rock, sedimentary cryptocrystalline form of the mineral quartz, categorized as the variety of chert that occurs in chalk or marly limestone. Flint was widely used historically to make stone tool ...
(or
chert Chert () is a hard, fine-grained sedimentary rock composed of microcrystalline or cryptocrystalline quartz Quartz is a hard, crystalline mineral composed of silica ( silicon dioxide). The atoms are linked in a continuous framework of S ...
). 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
monkey Monkey is a common name that may refer to most mammals of the infraorder Simiiformes, also known as the simians. Traditionally, all animals in the group now known as simians are counted as monkeys except the apes, which constitutes an incomple ...
, the
eagle Eagle is the common name for many large Bird of prey, birds of prey of the family Accipitridae. Eagles belong to several groups of Genus, genera, some of which are closely related. Most of the 68 species of eagle are from Eurasia and Africa. Ou ...
, 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 Lizards are a widespread group of Squamata, squamate reptiles, with over 7,000 species, ranging across all continents except Antarctica, as well as most oceanic island chains. The group is paraphyletic since it excludes the snakes and Amphisbae ...
, dried herbs, the
buzzard Buzzard is the common name of several species of birds of prey. ''Buteo'' species * Archer's buzzard (''Buteo archeri'') * Augur buzzard (''Buteo augur'') * Broad-winged hawk (''Buteo platypterus'') * Common buzzard (''Buteo buteo'') * Eastern bu ...
, 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 Pulque (; nci, metoctli), or octli, is an alcoholic beverage made from the fermentation (food), fermented sap of the Agave americana, maguey (agave) plant. It is traditional in central Mexico, where it has been produced for millennia. It has t ...
.


Political and religious art

Mesoamerican
art Art is a diverse range of human activity, and resulting product, that involves creative or imaginative talent expressive of technical proficiency, beauty, emotional power, or conceptual ideas. There is no generally agreed definition of wha ...
istic expression was conditioned by
ideology An ideology is a set of beliefs or philosophies attributed to a person or group of persons, especially those held for reasons that are not purely epistemic, in which "practical elements are as prominent as theoretical ones." Formerly applied pr ...
and generally focused on themes of
religion Religion is usually defined as a social- cultural system of designated behaviors and practices, morals, beliefs, worldviews, texts, sanctified places, prophecies, ethics, or religious organization, organizations, that generally relates hu ...
and/or sociopolitical 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 A stele ( ),Anglicized plural steles ( ); Greek plural stelai ( ), from Greek language, Greek , ''stēlē''. The Greek plural is written , ''stēlai'', but this is only rarely encountered in English. or occasionally stela (plural ''stelas'' or ...
,
sculpture Sculpture is the branch of the visual arts that operates in three dimensions. Sculpture is the three-dimensional art work which is physically presented in the dimensions of height, width and depth. It is one of the plastic arts. Durable sc ...
, architectural
relief Relief is a sculptural method in which the sculpted pieces are bonded to a solid background of the same material. The term ''wikt:relief, relief'' is from the Latin verb ''relevo'', to raise. To create a sculpture in relief is to give the impres ...
s, 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 In the history of the Americas, the pre-Columbian era spans from the original settlement of North and South America in the Upper Paleolithic period through European colonization, which began with Christopher Columbus's voyage of 1492. Usually ...
, but musical instruments were found, as well as carvings and depictions, that clearly show how music played a central role in the 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, some of it mixed with the incoming Spanish music and exists to date.


See also

*
Americas (terminology) The Americas, also known as America,"America." ''The Oxford Companion to the English Language'' (). McArthur, Tom, ed., 1992. New York: Oxford University Press, p. 33: " 6c: from the feminine of ''Americus'', the Latinized first name of the expl ...
*Americas *
Central America Central America ( es, América Central or ) is a subregion of the Americas. Its boundaries are defined as bordering the United States to the north, Colombia to the south, the Caribbean Sea to the east, and the Pacific Ocean to the west. Cen ...
*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. * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * 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 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