Mesoamerican Civilizations

By Emily Brown and Brianna Turner

The Olmec Civilization

  • The Olmecs were the first pre-Columbian civilization of Mesoamerica, which took place between 1200-400BCE.
  • Olmec is translated to mean "rubber people" or "people of the rubber country." They were named this because they extracted latex from rubber trees called Castilla elastica. They mixed this latex with the juice of a local vine and created rubber.
  • The region in which the Olmecs were located in what is now Southern Mexico.
  • They lived in the hot humid lowlands along the Gulf Coast.
The majority of what we know about the Olmecs is found for archaeological excavation. Along with large earthen pyramids, there were 17 large stone heads recovered. They had very flat faces and full lips and other facial features. They were believed to be portraits of Olmec leaders. They also built many stone monuments and had a remarkable art style.

The Teotihuacan Civilization

  • Teotihuacan is the largest and most important city of pre-Aztec central Mexico. Located about 30 miles from present day Mexico City, the 8 square mile city supported a population between 125000-200000.
  • Not only was it the region's main economic and religious centre, but at one time one of the largest cities in the world.
  • The city began to populate around 100 BC, due to refugees from a city destroyed by volcanic activity.
  • The city fell mostly into ruin in about 750 AD due to a fire. Then it became inhabited by the Aztecs.
  • The city did very well economically. Two-thirds of the population farmed and others worked with a volcanic glass to make weapons, tools, and ornamentation. The city was crawling with merchants and was ruled by priests.
  • The city contained 2000 single-story apartment compounds, great plazas, temples, a canalized river, and palaces that belonged to the priests.

The Mayan Civilization

  • Mayans were Mesoamerican Indians, who nearly continuously occupied a territory in southern Mexico, Guatemala and northern Belize.
  • At one time the Maya possessed one of the greatest civilizations of the Western Hemisphere. They practiced agriculture, built great stone pyramid temples and stone buildings, worked gold and copper, and used a from of hieroglyphic writing that has now been mostly deciphered.
  • They invented slash-and-burn agriculture, hieroglyphic writing, the calendar, and made books with paper.
  • At its height in 900CE, Mayan civilization was made up of 40 cites, each with a population between 5000 and 50000. At its peak it reached a total of two million people.
  • Scholars have many different theories about the cause of the Mayan civilization's speedy decline after 900CE. The theories include everything from fire fights within the cities, agricultural exhaustion, deforestation, drought, and war related causes.
  • They worshiped nature gods.

The Toltec Civilization

  • Nahuatl-speaking tribe who held control over Mexico from the 10th to the 12th century CE. Their name means "reed people"
  • They burned down the city of Teotihuacan in 900CE.
  • The Toltecs marked the rise of militarism in Mesoamerica.
  • They also were known as builders and craftsmen. They created the art of fine metalwork, monumental porticoes, serpent columns, giant statues, carved human and animal standard bearers, and peculiar reclining Chac Mool figures.
  • They were invaded and taken over in the mid 12th century.

The Aztec Civilization

  • Ran central and southern Mexico during the 15th and early 16th century. their name means "white land"
  • They started out as a group of hunters that began migrating southward.
  • The basis of their empire was their amazing system of agriculture, which featured the intense cultivation of land, and complicated systems of irrigation and reclamation of swampland.
  • Their military also played a dominate role.
  • They also had classes of people, from priestly to salves.
  • The Aztecs had very strong religion. They believed that there was 13 heavens and 9 underworlds. They even made very gruesome human sacrifices to their sun god and other gods.
  • The Aztec empire was still expanding, and its society still developing, when its progress was stopped abruptly in 1519 by the appearance of Spanish explorers.

The Incan Civilization

  • South American Indians who ruled an empire that stretched along the Pacific Coast in 1532.
  • They left no written records behind. Their history is solely based on people called "memorizers".
  • Their system of tax could only be paid by time in the army, on public works, or in agricultural work.
  • The empire was lost in 1535, three years after the Spanish arrived in Peru.
  • Inca had highly developed technology and architecture but not a lot different from others. They had palaces and temples.
  • The economy was based on pure agriculture. Practically every man was a farmer and provided his own food and clothing.
  • Their religion was a mixture of animism, fetishism, and the worship of nature gods.