Mexico or Mesoamerica Term Paper

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The history of Mexico can be extended back at least 20,000 years based on archaeological evidence showing signs of human habitation north of the Valley of Mexico. The people of Northern Mexico then and later were hunters and gatherers in a semi-desert area. Agriculture began in the region around 3,000 B.C. A number of related civilizations emerged in the area of Mesoamerica (which includes the central area of Mexico, Cental America, down to Guatemala and Honduras) before the coming of the Spanish in the sixteenth century.

Development of Mesoamerican Civilization

Among the civilizations of import in this area were the Olmecs, the Teotihuacans, the Toltecs, the Mayans, the Zapotecs, and the Aztecs. The Classic Period is dated from around 500 B.C. To 800 A.D., and the Post-Classic Period extends from 800 A.D. To around 1521 A.D. The Classic Period was marked more by urbanization and advances in architecture as well as other visual arts. The Post-Classic Period was marked by a greater emphasis on military rule.

By the middle of the first millennium B.C., the Olmec cultural pattern dominated the area of Mesoamerica and was a clearly Mesoamerican cultural form. This would be supplanted by the Teotihuacan form in the heart of the central Mexican highlands, and this was Mesoamerica's first urban civilization. At that time, the first Maya societies were developing and achieving the complexity that would lead to Classic Maya civilization:

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The existence of a Maya/Mexican polarity and the interaction of cultures representing the two patterns would be important factors in Mesoamerican culture history from this time on. Maya culture history, as the story of the development of one end of a continuum, cannot be written without continual reference to Mexican Mesoamerica. (Henderson 27)

Term Paper on Mexico or Mesoamerica Assignment

The links between the Olmec and the later Maya are numerous, and some believe that the Olmec may have been Maya speakers. Olmec emerged around 1,500 B.C. And came to dominate most of Mesoamerica. Olmec-style monumental art and architecture developed in the northwestern and southeastern edges of the lowlands:

The history of the Classic period in the southern lowlands is a story of progressive growth and elaboration. Communities multiplied. Many grew into powerful cities with imposing public architecture. Monumental art and hieroglyphic inscriptions became increasingly prominent. True palaces and enormously rich burials marked widening social gaps. Occupational specialists held positions of intermediate status between small ruling groups and masses of ordinary farmers. (Henderson 38)

The growth of civilization in the Teotihuacan Valley occurred in the area northeast of Lake Texcoco. By 400 B.C. At Tlapacoya, a complex social organization had developed. Cuicuilco was a site south of Lake Texcoco that was destroyed by a volcano in 200 B.C. The city of Teotihuacan developed because of a concentration of fresh water springs in the area, and water was a necessity for a population to gather. This site has been called "the most important site in the whole of Mexico" (Coe and Koontz 103). The community that gathered there was able to channel the water for farming and other purposes. The water helped meet the physical needs of the people, and this fact coupled with a complex belief system helped create the first full-fledged city on the central Mexican plateau.

The history of Teotihuacan was then a history of expansion around this nucleated center, with an increase in density and with socioeconomic differentiation for the population at the center. The city's orbit of influence also increased:

By the Miccaotli phase Teotihuacan had certainly reached the status of a city and the Teotihuacan culture the status of a civilization. The subsequent history of Central Mexico was one of cyclical rise and decline of urban civilizations with changing centers of political and economic power. (Price and Sanders 141)

The Maya achieved dominance in the region after emerging around 750 B.C. Nak'be is a large pre-Classic village of the Maya. The Olmec influence was strong in the beginning. The Maya were widespread with the main body in two lowland zones to the north and the south. Maya culture extended from the mouth of the Usumacinta River to the Gulf of Honduras through territory now known as Campeche, Qintana Roo, Belize, and Northern Guatemala. This is a relatively lush forest zone, well watered, and supporting a slash and burn agriculture. Because of differential resources, a degree of functional interdependence was the norm for the communities in the area. Social stratification was not apparent, and the are traded with communities some distance away.

Mayan chiefdoms emerges around 400 to 300 B.C. In the Yucutan at Izapa and Kaminaljuyu. These included dense populations building ceremonial buildings and Maya stelae, though still small. The classic era for the Maya extended from about 200 to 900 A.D., and this period was marked by organized communities, hierarchies, and division of labor. The primary ceremonial centers were found at Tikal, Seibal, Uaxactun, Yaxchilan, Palenque, and Copan. These centers were widely scattered and presided over an area of about 250 square kilometers. They were linked together physically by roads and causeways, with smaller centers serving several hamlets with smaller populations. The larger cities served as a source for a social bond for the Maya. These centers also attracted a large population and essentially became cities. Tikal, for instance, was established by 100 B.C. And had 40,000 people by 400 A.D. these cities were sustained by their belief systems and by social prestige based on family kinship ties. Urbanization was modest compared to Teotihuacan. The population did grow rapidly and reached 10 million by 700 A.D. The society was hierarchical, with a literate priestly elite, and with mathematical and calendrical skills and writing. The population and the social structure supported a ruling elite, an artisan class, and warriors for protection. A detailed account of the Maya sites and the artifacts and structures found at these sites is offered by Michael Coe (The Maya). What we know of the Maya has been limited by the relatively few writing we have deciphered. As Michael Coe notes

O) ur knowledge of ancient Maya thought must represent only a tiny fraction of the whole picture, for of the thousands of books in which the full extent of their learning and ritual was recorded, only four have survived to modern times (as though all that posterity knew of ourselves were to be based upon three prayer books and 'Pilgrim's Progress'). (Coe 161)

The Aztecs were probably the best known of the Mesoamerican peoples conquered by the Spanish, and they were Indians of elaborate culture, living in the Valley of Mexico and its surrounding regions. Our knowledge of the Aztecs derives largely from the written reports of the first Spaniards in the New World, including historical and ethnological researches of colonial Spanish friars, and from archaeology. Another source of knowledge is from the Indian literature and arts maintained after the conquest, showing that there is some continuity between what was and what is. Indeed, there are some in the region who still speak Nahuatl today, that being the Aztec language, and their way of life as well has only been partially modified by four centuries of contact with Europeans. The Aztecs were Mongoloid peoples whose ancestors migrated from Asia over the Siberian-Alaskan route some 30,000 years ago. Before the Aztecs occupied the Valley of Mexico, there was a series of distinct other Indian occupations, with the civilizations of the Chichimec and the Toltec the most clearly delineated. The transition was made from the nomadic hunting and gathering stage to the sedentary agricultural and village stage between 9,000 and 3,000 years ago. The Aztecs were relative latecomers to the region. Their capital, Tenochtitlan, was on the site of the modern Mexico City, and it was founded in the fourteenth century on an artificial island in the valley lake. The Aztecs gradually conquered and subjugated their neighbors and developed a military state that waged aggressive and continuous warfare against surrounding tribes. The ruling classes engaged in human sacrifice and a methodical exaction of tribute.

The Aztecs rules the Mesoamerican region but were not the only civilization in the central and southern part of the New World at that time. The civilization of the Incas had developed at about the same time as the Aztecs, and both civilizations would be destroyed by the coming of the Spanish in the sixteenth century. The civilization of the Incas was found in the Andean highlands of the western coast of South America, and these peoples had developed one of the most remarkable social and political systems outside the European world. Though the Incas lacked some of the more striking traits of the Aztec and early Maya cultures, they had developed the most organized and rational society in native America. They had a paternalistic welfare government headed by a chief who was both emperor and deity. Members of the royal family constituted the court, and they also filled the main administrative posts. Professional architects and builders directed the construction of public buildings, temples, waterworks, terraces, and fortresses. A system of… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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