Spanish: Mesoamérica) is a
cultural area in the
Americas, extending approximately from central
Costa Rica, within which a number of
pre-Columbian societies flourished before the
Spanish colonization of the Americas in the 15th and 16th centuries.
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 BC the domestication of
chili, as well as the
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, and 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
hematite, and ceramics. While Mesoamerican civilization did know of the wheel and basic metallurgy, neither of these technologies became culturally important.
Among the earliest complex civilizations was the
Olmec culture which inhabited the Gulf coast of Mexico. In the
Preclassic period, complex urban polities began to develop among the
Maya and the
Zapotecs. 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 five regions of the world where writing was independently developed. 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. During the Epi-Classic period the
Nahua peoples began moving south into Mesoamerica from the North. 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
Chichén Itzá and
Mayapán. Towards the end of the post-Classic period the
Aztecs of Central Mexico built a
tributary empire covering most of central Mesoamerica.
Olmec were the first major civilization in
Mexico. They lived in the
tropical lowlands of south-central Mexico, in the modern-day states of
The Olmec flourished during
Formative period, dating roughly from as early as 1500
BCE to about 400 BCE. Pre-Olmec cultures had flourished in the area since about 2500 BCE, but by 1600–1500 BCE Early Olmec culture had emerged centered on the
San Lorenzo Tenochtitlán site near the coast in southeast Veracruz. They were the first Mesoamerican civilization and laid many of the foundations for the civilizations that followed. Among other "firsts", the Olmec appeared to practice
ritual bloodletting and played the
Mesoamerican ballgame, hallmarks of nearly all subsequent Mesoamerican societies.
The most familiar aspect of the Olmecs is their artwork, particularly the aptly named "
colossal heads". The Olmec civilization was first defined through artifacts which collectors purchased on the pre-Columbian art market in the late 19th century and early 20th century. Olmec artworks are considered among ancient America's most striking.
Bernardino de Sahagún (1499 – October 23, 1590) was a
Franciscan friar, missionary priest and pioneering
ethnographer who participated in the Catholic
evangelization of colonial
New Spain (now
Mexico). Born in
Sahagún, Spain, in 1499, he journeyed to New Spain in 1529, and spent more than 50 years conducting interviews regarding
Aztec beliefs, culture and history. Though he primarily dedicated himself to the
missionary task, his extraordinary work documenting indigenous worldview and culture has earned him the title “the first
anthropologist.” He also contributed to the description of the Aztec language
Nahuatl, into which he translated the
Gospels and a basic manual of religious education.
Sahagún is perhaps best known as the author of Historia general de las cosas de la Nueva España (in English: General History of the Things of New Spain (hereinafter referred to as Historia General). The most famous extant manuscript of the Historia General is the
Florentine Codex. It consists of 2400 pages organized into twelve books with approximately 2,000 illustrations drawn by native artists using European techniques. The text in
Nahuatl documents the culture,
religious cosmology (worldview), ritual practices, society, economics, and history of the Aztec people. In the process of putting together the Historia general, Bernardino pioneered new methods for gathering ethnographic information and validating its accuracy. The Historia general has been called “one of the most remarkable accounts of a non-Western culture ever composed,” and Bernardino has been called the father of American
Did you know?