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Mesoamerica

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Mesoamerica Collection

History Archive - Mesoamerica Collection

Mesoamerica is a historical region and cultural area in North America. It extends from approximately central Mexico through Belize, Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, and northern Costa Rica, and within this region pre-Columbian societies flourished before the Spanish colonization of the Americas. In the 16th century, European diseases like smallpox and measles caused the deaths of upwards of 90% of the indigenous people. It is one of five areas in the world where ancient civilization arose independently, and the second in the Americas along with Norte Chico (Caral-Supe) in present-day Peru, 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, beans, tomato, avocado, vanilla, squash and chili, as well as the turkey and dog, caused a transition from paleo-Indian hunter-gatherer tribal grouping 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 numeric system, a complex calendric system, a tradition of ball playing, and a distinct architectural style, were diffused through the area. Also in this period, villages began to become socially stratified and develop into chiefdoms with the development of large ceremonial centers, interconnected by a network of trade routes for the exchange of luxury goods, such as obsidian, jade, cacao, cinnabar, Spondylus shells, hematite, and ceramics. While Mesoamerican civilization did know of the wheel and basic metallurgy, neither of these technologies became culturally important.

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Among the earliest complex civilizations was the Olmec culture, which inhabited the Gulf Coast of Mexico and extended inland and southwards across the Isthmus of Tehuantepec. Frequent contact and cultural interchange between the early Olmec and other cultures in Chiapas, Guatemala and Oaxaca laid the basis for the Mesoamerican cultural area. All this was facilitated by considerable regional communications in ancient Mesoamerica, especially along the Pacific coast.

This formative period saw the spread of distinct religious and symbolic traditions, as well as artistic and architectural complexes. In the subsequent Preclassic period, complex urban polities began to develop among the Maya, with the rise of centers such as El Mirador, Calakmul and Tikal, and the Zapotec at Monte Alban. During this period, the first true Mesoamerican writing systems were developed in the Epi-Olmec and the Zapotec cultures, and the Mesoamerican writing tradition reached its height in the Classic Maya hieroglyphic script.

Mesoamerica is one of only three regions of the world where writing is known to have independently developed (the others being ancient Sumer and China). In Central Mexico, the height of the Classic period saw the ascendancy of the city of Teotihuacan, which formed a military and commercial empire whose political influence stretched south into the Maya area and northward. Upon the collapse of Teotihuacan 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. During the early post-Classic period, Central Mexico was dominated by the Toltec culture, Oaxaca by the Mixtec, and the lowland Maya area had important centers at Chichen Itza and Mayapan. Towards the end of the post-Classic period, the Aztecs of Central Mexico built a tributary empire covering most of central Mesoamerica.

The distinct Mesoamerican cultural tradition ended with the Spanish conquest 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 of whom continue to speak their ancestral languages, and maintain many practices harking back to their Mesoamerican roots.

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Related Images

Image Name
Nombres Geograficos de Mexico [Atlas] - Title Page (1885)
Monuments anciens du Mexique - Pt. XLIII - Masques de cranes humains (1866)
Coleccion General de Laminas de los Antiguos Monumentos de Nueva Espana - Segundo Viage - Lamina 58 (1820)
Coleccion General de Laminas de los Antiguos Monumentos de Nueva Espana - Tercer Viage - Lamina 41 (1820)
Monuments anciens du Mexique - Front Cover (1866)
Six Months Residence and Travels in Mexico - Mexican Indians going to market (1824)
Historical Researches on the Conquest of Peru, Mexico - Title Page (1827)
Vues des Cordilleres et Monumens de l'Amerique - Peintures hieroglyphiques de la Raccolta di Mendoza [I] (1813)
Coleccion General de Laminas de los Antiguos Monumentos de Nueva Espana - Segundo Viage - Lamina 9 (1820)
Viaje Pintoresco y Arqueolojico de la Republica Mejicana - Plaza Mayor de Guadalajara (1840)
Vues des Cordilleres et Monumens de l'Amerique - Chute du Tequendama (1813)
Coleccion General de Laminas de los Antiguos Monumentos de Nueva Espana - Primer Viage - Lamina 10 (1820)
Coleccion General de Laminas de los Antiguos Monumentos de Nueva Espana - Tercer Viage - Lamina 25 (1820)
Le Costume Ancien et Moderne [Amerique] Vol. 1 - Peche de la baleine etc [I] (1820)
An Inquiry into the Origin of the Antiquities of America - Plate IX (1839)
Vues des Cordilleres et Monumens de l'Amerique - Plan d'une maison fortifiee de l'Inca, situee sur le dos de la Cordillere-de l'Assuay (1813)
Le Costume Ancien et Moderne [Amerique] Vol. 1 - Les ruines de Miguitlan ou Mitla [II] (1820)
Antiquites Mexicaines - 2ème Expedition - Planche LIX (1844)
Vues des Cordilleres et Monumens de l'Amerique - Bas-relief azteque trouve a la grande place de Mexico (1813)
Antiquites Mexicaines - 2ème Expedition - Planche XXIX (1844)
Antiquites Mexicaines - 2ème Expedition - Planche VIII (1844)
Views of Ancient Monuments in Central America - Gateway of the Great Teocallis, Uxmal (1844)
Antiquities of Mexico Vol. 2 - Back Cover (1831)
Coleccion General de Laminas de los Antiguos Monumentos de Nueva Espana - Tercer Viage - Lamina 49 (1820)
Antiquities of Mexico Vol. 6 - Book Display IV (1831)
Coleccion General de Laminas de los Antiguos Monumentos de Nueva Espana - Tercer Viage - Lamina 14 (1820)
Antiquites Mexicaines - 1er Expedition - Planche XXVI (1844)
Le Costume Ancien et Moderne [Amerique] Vol. 1 - Back Cover (1820)
Coleccion General de Laminas de los Antiguos Monumentos de Nueva Espana - Tercer Viage - Lamina 13 (1820)
Coleccion de las Antiguedades Mexicanas - Vista de la Mina de Veta Grande (1827)
Vues des Cordilleres et Monumens de l'Amerique - Idole azteque, en basalte, trouvee dans la ville de Mexico (1813)
Voyage Pittoresque et Archeologique dans la Province d'Yucatan - Costume des Soldats de la Milice (1838)
Antiquites Mexicaines - 3ème Expedition - Planche XVII (1844)
Antiquites Mexicaines - 3ème Expedition - Planche XL (1844)
Viaje Pintoresco y Arqueolojico de la Republica Mejicana - Restauracion de la Piramide de Xochicalco (1840)
Antiquities of Mexico Vol. 3 - Book Display IV (1831)
Voyage Pittoresque et Archeologique dans la Province d'Yucatan - Carte et Plan d'une partie des ruines d'Ytzalane (1838)
Viaje Pintoresco y Arqueolojico de la Republica Mejicana - Capilla del Senor de St. Teresa (1840)
Le Costume Ancien et Moderne [Amerique] Vol. 1 - Vue d'une cote septentrionale du Spitzberg [II] (1820)
Monuments anciens du Mexique - Pt. XX - Vue pittoresque du Temple de la Croix, prise de la porte d'entree du palais; on voit au pied de la pyramide l'habitation que je m'y etais construite (1866)
Vues des Cordilleres et Monumens de l'Amerique - Ruines de Miguitlan ou Mitla dans la province d'Oaxaca; plan et elevation [II] (1813)
Vues des Cordilleres et Monumens de l'Amerique - Cascade du Rio Vinagre, pres du volcan de Purace (1813)
Coleccion General de Laminas de los Antiguos Monumentos de Nueva Espana - Tercer Viage - Lamina 15 (1820)
Six Months Residence and Travels in Mexico - Ancient Mexican Sculpture - Plate I (1824)
Historia de las Indias de Nueva Espana y Islas de Tierra Firme Atlas - Trat: 2 - Lamina 3 (1880)
Mexico To-Day - Map of Mexico (1883)
Coleccion General de Laminas de los Antiguos Monumentos de Nueva Espana - Primer Viage - Lamina 3 (1820)
Viaje Pintoresco y Arqueolojico de la Republica Mejicana - [Untitled View of Mexican workers] (1840)
Coleccion General de Laminas de los Antiguos Monumentos de Nueva Espana - Segundo Viage - Lamina 12 (1820)
Mexico To-Day - Facsimile of Heading of Inquisition Manuscript (1883)
Description of the Ruins of an Ancient City - Two figures, one seated and one standing, with tools and decorative elements (1822)
Monuments anciens du Mexique - Pt. IV - Statue demi-grandeur en basalte, la plus parfaite que j'aie vue et dessinee (1866)
Viaje Pintoresco y Arqueolojico de la Republica Mejicana - Figuras de Piedra y de Barro del Tiempo de los Indios Antiguos (1840)
Antiquites Mexicaines - 2ème Expedition - Planche XIII (1844)
Le Costume Ancien et Moderne [Amerique] Vol. 1 - Naturels de Sithanak et d'Unalaschka (1820)
Viaje Pintoresco y Arqueolojico de la Republica Mejicana - Idolos y Ornamentos de Barro (1840)
Mexico To-Day - Making Tortilla Cakes (1883)
Antiquities of Mexico Vol. 1 - Front Cover (1831)
Historia de las Indias de Nueva Espana y Islas de Tierra Firme Atlas - Trat: 1 - Lamina 5 (1880)
Coleccion de las Antiguedades Mexicanas - Bajo-Relievo de la Piramide de Xochicalco (1827)
Six Months Residence and Travels in Mexico - [Untitled View] (1824)
Coleccion General de Laminas de los Antiguos Monumentos de Nueva Espana - Segundo Viage - Lamina 2 (1820)
Antiquites Mexicaines - 2ème Expedition - Planche XXIII (1844)
Historia de las Indias de Nueva Espana y Islas de Tierra Firme Atlas - Apendice - Lamina 7 (1880)
Mitla. A Narrative of Incidents - Display (1858)
Mexico To-Day - Aztec Sacrificial Stone (1883)
Le Costume Ancien et Moderne [Amerique] Vol. 1 - L'Amerique representee sous des figures allegoriques (1820)
Historia de las Indias de Nueva Espana y Islas de Tierra Firme Atlas - Trat: 1 - Lamina 31 (1880)
Nombres Geograficos de Mexico [Atlas] - Plate IV (1885)
Antiquites Mexicaines - 1er Expedition - Planche XXIII (1844)
Coleccion General de Laminas de los Antiguos Monumentos de Nueva Espana - Primer Viage - Lamina 1 (1820)
Antiquites Mexicaines - 2ème Expedition - Planche LXVII (1844)
Antiquites Mexicaines - 2ème Expedition - Planche XXXXIV (1844)
Antiquites Mexicaines - 3ème Expedition - Planche IV (1844)
Prince Izon; a Romance of the Grand Canyon - On the Parapet - Topeltzin's Magic (1910)
Antiquites Mexicaines - 3ème Expedition - Planche XX (1844)
Antiquites Mexicaines - 2ème Expedition - Planche XXX (1844)
Le Costume Ancien et Moderne [Amerique] Vol. 1 - Portrait de Franklin (1820)
Antiquites Mexicaines - 3ème Expedition - Planche XVIII (1844)
Antiquites Mexicaines - 2ème Expedition - Planche XXXXVIII (1844)
Antiquites Mexicaines - 2ème Expedition - Planche LV (1844)
Antiquites Mexicaines - 3ème Expedition - Planche V (1844)
Antiquites Mexicaines - 2ème Expedition - Planche XXXIV (1844)
Coleccion General de Laminas de los Antiguos Monumentos de Nueva Espana - Tercer Viage (1820)
Le Costume Ancien et Moderne [Amerique] Vol. 1 - Le Cayambe (1820)
Antiquities of Mexico Vol. 9 - Book Display II (1848)
Le Costume Ancien et Moderne [Amerique] Vol. 1 - Plusiers chefs qui vont a la guerre (1820)
Monuments anciens du Mexique - Pt. V - Figure etrange qui offre une certaine ressemblance avec les valets des cartes a jouer (1866)
Le Costume Ancien et Moderne [Amerique] Vol. 1 - Comment ils appretent et mangent leurs mets (1820)
Description of the Ruins of an Ancient City - Architectural element decorated with birds and abstract designs (1822)
Vues des Cordilleres et Monumens de l'Amerique - Buste d'une pretress azteque [II] (1813)
Le Costume Ancien et Moderne [Amerique] Vol. 1 - Vue d'une auberge et d'une voiture publique (1820)
Viaje Pintoresco y Arqueolojico de la Republica Mejicana - Interior de Aguas Calientes (1840)
Antiquites Mexicaines - 2ème Expedition - Planche III (1844)
Monuments anciens du Mexique - Pt. XXXIX (droite) - Femme tenant un ornement de la main droite (1866)
Historia de las Indias de Nueva Espana y Islas de Tierra Firme Atlas - Trat: 3 - Lamina 4 (1880)
Views of Ancient Monuments in Central America - Pyramidal Building and Fragments of Sculpture at Copan (1844)
Le Costume Ancien et Moderne [Amerique] Vol. 1 - Regolo ou Cacique accompagne de ses femmes (1820)
Nombres Geograficos de Mexico [Atlas] - Plate XXXVI (1885)
Monuments anciens du Mexique - Pt. XXXI et XXXII - Relief en pierre de l'edifice dit Temple du Soleil, tous deux mutiles [II] (1866)

Related Maps

Map Name
Views of Ancient Monuments in Central America - Outline Map of Central America (1844)
Voyage Pittoresque et Archeologique dans la Province d'Yucatan - Carte de la Province de Yucatan (1838)
Six Months Residence and Travels in Mexico - Ancient Mexico from the original map made by order of Montezuma for Cortes (1824)
Six Months Residence and Travels in Mexico - A Plan of the City of Mexico by Lt. Col. Don Diego Garcia - AD 1793 (1824)
Le Costume Ancien et Moderne [Amerique] Vol. 1 - Carte geografique de L'Amerique (1820)
Historical Researches on the Conquest of Peru, Mexico - The World on Mercator's Projection (1827)
Historical Researches on the Conquest of Peru, Mexico - Anahuac in the Year 1521 Containing the Empire of Mexico (1827)
Monuments anciens du Mexique - Carte de Yucatan, dressee par M. de Waldeck (1866)

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