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Pre-Columbian Era

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Mesoamerica

Trivia powered by Prof. WalterMesoamerica is the region extending from central Mexico south to the northwestern border of Costa Rica that gives rise to a group of stratified, culturally related agrarian civilizations spanning an approximately 3,000-year period before the European discovery of the New World by Christopher Columbus. Mesoamerican is used to refer to that group of pre-Columbian cultures. This refers to an environmental area occupied by an assortment of ancient cultures that share religious beliefs, art, architecture, and technology in the Americas for more than three thousand years.

Between 2000 and 300 BCE, complex cultures begin to form in Mesoamerica. Some matured into advanced pre-Columbian Mesoamerican civilizations such as the Olmec, Teotihuacan, Maya, Zapotec, Mixtec, Huastec, Purepecha, Toltec, and Mexica (also known as the Aztecs, an incorrect name coined in the 19th century by Alexander von Humboldt). The "Aztecs" are actually known as the Triple Alliance, since they are three smaller kingdoms loosely united together, which flourish for nearly 3,500 years before first contact with Europeans.

These indigenous civilizations are credited with many inventions: building pyramid-temples, mathematics, astronomy, medicine, writing, highly accurate calendars, fine arts, intensive agriculture, engineering, an abacus calculator, and complex theology. They also invent the wheel, but it is used solely as a toy. In addition, they use native copper, silver and gold for metalworking, in which they use very advanced methods.

Archaic inscriptions on rocks and rock walls all over northern Mexico (especially in the state of Nuevo León) demonstrate an early propensity for counting. Their number system is base 20 and includes zero. These early count-markings are associated with astronomical events and underscore the influence that astronomical activities has upon Mesoamerican people before the arrival of Europeans. Many of the later Mesoamerican civilizations carefully build their cities and ceremonial centers according to specific astronomical events.

The biggest Mesoamerican cities, such as Teotihuacan, Tenochtitlan, and Cholula, are among the largest in the world. These cities grew as centers of commerce, ideas, ceremonies, and theology, and they radiate influence outwards onto neighboring cultures in central Mexico.

While many city-states, kingdoms, and empires compete with one another for power and prestige, Mesoamerica can be said to has had five major civilizations: the Olmec, Teotihuacan, the Toltec, the Mexica and the Maya. These civilizations (with the exception of the politically fragmented Maya) extend their reach across Mesoamerica—and beyond—like no others. They consolidate power and distribute influence in matters of trade, art, politics, technology, and theology. Other regional power players make economic and political alliances with these civilizations over the span of 4,000 years. Many make war with them, but almost all peoples find themselves within one of their spheres of influence.

Regional communications in ancient Mesoamerica have been the subject of considerable research. There is evidence of trade routes starting as far north as the Mexico Central Plateau, and going down to the Pacific coast. These trade routes and cultural contacts then went on as far as Central America. These networks operate with various interruptions from pre-Olmec times and up to the Late Classical Period (600–900 CE).

  • Mesoamerica

    • Olmec civilization

    • Teotihuacan civilization

    • Maya civilization

    • Aztec/Mexica/Triple Alliance civilization

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