The Peoples Of The Americas
Author: Stearns, Peter N
Date: 1992

The Archaic Cultures

By about 9000 B.C. small bands of hunters were widely dispersed over the
American continents. Changes in climate with the ending of the last Ice Age
may lay behind changes in diet and ways of life. The disappearance of large
game animals, whatever the cause, was probably met with the less-specialized
hunting of smaller game, fishing, and an increased dependence on gathering
wild fruits and other plant foods. The culture of these early populations is
usually called the Archaic period. It represented an adaptation to the
changing environment and possibilities of subsistence. People made baskets and
used stone grinding tools to prepare the roots and plants they collected for
food. They used a wide range of animals and plants. As the seacoasts
stabilized between 5000 and 4000 B.C., populations concentrated around lagoons
and river mouths to exploit fish and shellfish. Enormous debris mounds or
shell middens found in Chile and Tierra del Fuego indicate long human
dependence on these maritime resources. In Brazil, the middens indicate
intensive use of these resources and permanent occupatien sites.

Agriculture In The Americas

The move toward agriculture was a natural extension of a process in which
a wide range of animal and plant resources was used with less dependence on
the hunting of big game. Agriculture may thus have been brought about first by
women, since in many simple hunting societies women are responsible for
gathering plant foods. There is early evidence from Guitarrero caves in
highland Peru of cultivation as early as 7000 B.C., and by 5000 B.C. plant
domestication had taken place in a number of regions in the Americas.

The introduction of agriculture, the American version of the Neolithic
revolution, was not so complete and drastic a change as we once thought, and
many peoples continued to practice hunting and gathering along with some
cultivation. In many places agriculturalists and hunter-gatherers eventually
lived in close contact with each other as a result of different adaptations to
environments and opportunities and of social choices. The movement from
hunting to agriculture did not always happen. In a particularly rich
environment on the seacoast or where game was plentiful, peoples might avoid
agriculture and the regimentation of life it could represent.

Eventually, however, agriculture was practiced all over the Americas from
the woodlands of eastern North America to the tropical forests of the Amazon
basin. American Indians eventually cultivated over 100 different crops from
peppers, squash, and tomatoes to amaranth and quinoa. Some crops, particularly
maize, potatoes, and manioc, became essential sources of food to dense
populations. As in Asia earlier, agriculture imposed restrictions on human
behavior and the patterns of human action; as American societies depended
increasingly on agriculture, a series of processes were sometimes set in
motion that resulted in complex social, economic, and political systems.

Maize, Manioc, And Potatoes

By about 4000 B.C. the domestication of maize had taken place in central
Mexico and along with it came the cultivation of peppers, squash, and beans.
These expanded and more dependable food resources resulted in population
growth (although some scholars argue that the growth of populations may have
stimulated the search for new food sources and the domestication of plants).
The cultivation of maize spread far and wide. By 2000 B.C. it was grown in
Peru, along with the potato and other crops native to that region. Maize
spread northward to the present southern United States, and by about A.D. 1000
it was grown by groups such as the Iroquois in Canada.

In the tropical forests of the Orinoco and Amazon basins, people had
developed an agriculture based on varieties of manioc or cassava, a root that
could be made into a flour. The introduction of maize in areas that had
depended only on manioc probably resulted in population growth and, with it,
the rise of more complex societies. While varieties of potatoes were the
staple in highland South America, and manioc was the principal crop of peoples
of the lowlands of South America and the islands of the Caribbean, maize
cultivation spread in all directions and was often practiced in those areas in
conjunction with other staples. In Mesoamerica, the area from north central
Mexico to Nicaragua, maize dominated the diet of agricultural peoples.

It seems clear that, in most casls, agriculture is a major feature in
determining the ability of societies to achieve the surplus production and
complexity needed for those elements usually associated with civilization.
With the adoption of agriculture and a sedentary way of life, the process of
civilization was set in motion in the Americas.

Cultural Hearths And Social Systems

Traditionally, archeologists have seen two major cultural hearths in the
Americas: Mesoamerica and the Peruvian orbit, including the coastal areas of
Ecuador and Peru and the Andean highlands. In these two areas, processes of
development, based on intensive agriculture and including most of the features
usually associated with Old World civilizations, could be seen. In both areas
a number of cycles of cultural advance and, sometimes, of empire-building took
place long before the rise of the Incas and Aztecs, who were in power when the
Europeans arrived. Artistic styles flourished and declined, and states rose
and fell over thousands of years.

Some scholars have suggested that the area between these cultural
hearths, including present-day Panama and Colombia, also contained a number of
advanced societies with considerable cultural achievements (especially in
metallurgy and goldworking) that differed only in that they did not build
large stone buildings. Thus the whole region from central Mexico southward to
Chile formed a continuous nucleus of American civilizations. On the
peripheries of this nucleus, due to influence and imitation, other Indian
peoples adopted features characteristic of the civilizations.

Types Of American Indian Societies

The idea of a relatively contiguous area of cultural development makes
more sense than the previous concept of independent centers. That earlier
concept produced an image of the Americas in which isolated civilizations and
cultural traditions developed along parallel lines with little contact or
interchange. Emphasis on artistic variation and regional diversity contributed
to this view, but scholars are increasingly beginning to examine the broad
similarities among ancient American cultures. While many differences and
variations existed, there were also uniformities of organization, subsistence,
technology, and belief that made them more alike than any one of them was to
civilizations of the Old World.

To some extent we can make distinctions among ancient American societies
on the basis of their economic and political organization. Sedentary
agriculture, and with it population density, was a key. Hunters and gatherers,
living much as the early migrants to the Americas, continued to occupy large
portions of the continents, dividing in small bands and moving seasonally to
take advantage of the resources. These peoples sometimes were organized in
larger tribes and might recognize a chief, but generally their societies were
organized around family groups or clans and there was little hierarchy or
specialization of skills. With some exceptions, the material culture of these
people tended to be relatively simple.

Peoples who had made a partial transition to agriculture lived in larger
and more complex societies. Here the village of 100 or 200 rather than the
band of 25 was more common. Men often continued to hunt or make war, but women
tilled the fields. Agricultural techniques tended to be simple and often
necessitated periodic migration when soils played out. The villages of these
tribes of semisedentary farmers and hunters have been found on the Brazilian
coast and in the woodlands of eastern North America.

It was among peoples who had made a full transition to sedentary
agriculture that the complex societies emerged most clearly, for it was here
that surplus production was most firmly established. These populations could
reach the millions. Men shifted into agriculture, forming a peasant base for a
hierarchical society that might have included classes of nobles, merchants,
and priests. Strong states and even empires could result, and the extraction
of tribute from subject peoples and redistribution by central authority formed
the basis of rule.

Chiefdoms And States

Sedentary peoples and hunters often lived near each other and shared
mutual hostility and disregard, but, in fact, the categories of sedentary,
semisedentary, and hunter-gatherers were never clear-cut and many aspects of
life were shared by them all. To some extent the large imperial states with
highly developed religious and political systems and monumental architecture
(which we call civilizations such as Teotihuacan in Mexico or Chimor in Peru)
were variants of a widely diffused pattern, the chiefdom.

From the Amazon to the Mississippi valley, populations - sometimes in the
tens of thousands - were governed by hereditary chieftains who ruled from
central towns over a large territory, including smaller towns or villages that
paid tribute to the ruler. The predominant town often had a ceremonial
function, with large temples and a priest class. Beautiful pottery and other
goods indicate specialization.

The existence of social hierarchy with a class of nobles and commoners
was also a characteristic of many of the chiefdoms. It is sometimes argued
that in the state-building societies ceremonial centers became true cities,
and clan or family relations were replaced by social classes. The scale of the
society was greater, but the differences are not always so obvious. Both the
Aztecs and the Incas with their complex social hierarchies maintained aspects
of earlier clan organization. In fact, in terms of social organization,
warfare, and ceremonialism there seems to be little that differentiates the
Maya city-states from some of the chiefdoms in South America or southeastern
North America. Cahokia near St. Louis, an important town of the Mississippian
culture (c. A.D. 1050-1200) with its great earthen mounds covering an area of
five square miles, probably supported a population of over 30,000, as large as
the great cities of the Maya civilization.

A distinction between sedentary agriculturists and nomadic hunters may be
more useful than the distinctions between "civilized" and "uncivilized."
Building and carving in stone, and thus the ability of archaeologists to
reconstruct a culture, seem to have become a major feature in determining the
difference between a state or chiefdom - and by extension between
"civilizations" - and societies that do not seem to merit the title. At the
same time, we should recognize that the settled peoples and the hunters
recognized the difference between their ways of life, and when they were in
contact, they often shared a mutual jealousy and a hostility toward each
other. The Incas looked down on the peoples of the Amazonian rain forest and
referred to them as chunchos, or barbarians, but they could never conquer
these peoples. They traded with them from time to time, and sometimes used
them as mercenaries. The Aztecs called the nomads who lived to the north
chichimecs, which came to mean "uncivilized," but the Aztecs themselves may
have originated as one of these groups, which were constantly pushing in on
the wealthier and better-fed settled areas. To some extent the pattern of
tension between the nomad and the "civilized" Old World was reproduced in the
Americas.

Mesoamerica

Geographically, the region of Mesoamerica is a complex patchwork of zones
that is also divided vertically into cooler highlands, tropical lowlands and
coasts, and an intermediate temperate zone. These variations created a number
of environments with different possibilities for human exploitation. They also
created a basis for trade, as peoples sought to acquire goods not available
locally. Much trade flowed from the tropical lowlands to the cooler central
plateau.

The long slow process of change by which the hunters and gatherers of
Mexico began to settle into small villages and domesticate certain plants is
poorly known. Human beings were probably in Mesoamerica by 20,000 B.C. with
men hunting the large game animals and, most likely, women involved in the
gathering activities. Beginning around 5000 B.C. gathering and an increasing
use of plant foods eventually led to the domestication of certain plants.
Beans, peppers, avocados, squash, and eventually maize served as the basis of
agriculture in the region. Later innovations such as the introduction or
development of pottery took place around 2000 B.C., but there was little to
differentiate one small village from the next.

As the Shang dynasty ruled in China, permanent sedentary villages based
to some extent on agriculture were first beginning to appear in Mesoamerica.
These were small and modest settlements. The lack of elaborate burials
indicates that these were societies without much hierarchy or social
differentiation, and the uniform and simple nature of pottery and other
material goods indicates a lack of craft specialization. But the number of
these Archaic period villages proliferated, and population densities rose.

The Olmec Mystery

Quite suddenly a new phenomenon appeared. On the southeastern coast of
Mesoamerica (Veracruz and Tabasco), without much evidence of gradual
development in the archeological record, a cultural tradition emerged that
included irrigated agriculture, monumental sculpture, urbanism, an elaborate
religion, and the beginnings of calendrical and writing systems. The origin of
the Olmecs remains unknown, but their impressive sites at La Venta and Tres
Zapotes attest to a high degree of social organization and artistic skill. The
major Olmec sites at San Lorenzo (1200-900 B.C.) and La Venta (900-500 B.C.)
are in the wet tropical forests of the Gulf coast of eastern Mexico, but Olmec
objects and art style spread to the drier highlands of central Mexico and
toward the Pacific coast to the south.

The Olmecs have been called the "mother civilization" of Mesoamerica.
Maize cultivation, especially along the rivers, provided the basis for a state
ruled by a hereditary elite and in which the ceremonialism of a complex
religion dominated much of life. At about the time that Tutankhamen ruled in
Egypt, the Olmec civilization flourished in Mesoamerica.

The Olmecs remain a mystery. Some of their monumental sculptures seem to
bear Negroid features; others appear to be representations of humans with
feline attributes. They were great carvers of jade and traded or conquered to
obtain it. They developed a vigesimal numerical system - based on 20 - and a
calendar that combined a 365-day year with a 260-day ritual cycle. This became
the basis of all Mesoamerican calendar systems. What language they spoke and
what became of their civilization remain unknown, but some scholars believe
that they were the ancestors of the great Maya civilization that followed.

Olmec objects and, probably, Olmec influence and religious ideas spread
into many areas of the highlands and lowlands, creating the first generalized
culture in the region. By 900 B.C. Olmec style and symbols were widely
diffused in Mesoamerica.

During this preclassic period (c. 2000-300 B.C.), other civilizations
were developing elsewhere in middle America. At Monte Alban in the valley of
Oaxaca, the Zapotec people created a large hilltop center based on terraced
and irrigated agriculture in the surrounding valley. A writing system and
calendar are also apparent here, perhaps borrowed from the Olmecs, as is
considerable evidence of warfare and conquest. By about A.D. 500 Monte Alban
had become a chief ceremonial center covering over 15 square miles and
including some 30,000 people. Farther to the south, some early Maya centers
began to appear. In the central valley of Mexico, Olmec artistic influence
could be seen in expanding communities.

Much of what we know about these cultures must be interpreted from their
architecture and art and the symbols these contain. Art, and especially public
art, was both decorative and functional. It defined the place of the
individual in society and in the universe. It had political and religious
functions; in the Americas, as in many civilizations, these aspects were
usually united. Interpreting artistic styles and symbols presents a variety of
problems in the absence of written sources. The diffusion of Olmec symbols is
a good example of the problem. Did the use of these symbols among other
peoples in distant places indicate trade networks, missionary activity,
colonies, conquest, or aesthetic appreciation? We do not know, but clearly
Olmec influence was widely felt throughout the region.

The Classic Era

After the Olmec initiative, the period from about A.D. 150 to 900 was a
great age of cultural achievement in Mesoamerica. Archeologists refer to it as
the classic period, and during it great civilizations flourished in a number
of places. The two main centers of civilization were the high central valley
of Mexico and the more humid tropical lands of southern Mexico, Yucatan, and
Guatemala.

The Valley Of Mexico: Teotihuacan

In central Mexico the city of Teotihuacan, near modern Mexico City,
emerged as an enormous urban center with important religious functions. It was
supported by intensive agriculture in the surrounding region and probably by
crops planted around the great lake in the central valley of Mexico.
Teotihuacan's enormous temple pyramids rival those of ancient Egypt and
suggest a considerable state apparatus with the power to mobilize large
numbers of workers. Population estimates for this city, which covered nine
square miles, are as high as 200,000. This would make it greater than the
cities of ancient Egypt or Mesopotamia and probably second only to ancient
Rome of the cities of classical antiquity.

There were residential districts for certain trades and ethnic groups,
and there is considerable evidence of wide social distinctions between the
priests, nobles, and the common folk. The many gods of Mesoamerica, still
worshiped when the Europeans arrived in the 16th century, were already honored
at Teotihuacan. The god of rain, the feathered serpent, the goddess of corn,
and the goddess of waters are all apparent in the murals and decorations that
adorned the palaces and temples. In fact, almost all Teotihuacan art seems to
be religious in nature.

The influence of Teotihuacan extended as far to the south as Guatemala,
and tribute was probably exacted from many regions. Teotihuacan objects, such
as pottery and finely worked obsidian - and Teotihuacan artistic style - are
found in many other areas. Teotihuacan influence was strong at Monte Alban in
Oaxaca. Warriors dressed in the style of Teotihuacan can be found far to the
south in the Maya region.

Teotihuacan represented either a political empire or a dominant cultural
and ideological style that spread over much of central Mexico. The lack of
battle scenes on the walls of Teotihuacan have led some scholars to believe
that the dominance of Teotihuacan led to a long period of peace maintained by
the authority and power of the great city. Internally, the fact that the later
buildings tend to be secular palaces rather than temple pyramids perhaps
indicates a shift in power and orientation from religious to civil authority.

The Classic Maya

Between about A.D. 300 and 900, at roughly the same time that Teotihuacan
dominated the central plateau, the Maya peoples were developing Mesoamerican
civilization to its highest point in southern Mexico and Central America.
While the Tang dynasty ruled China, Charlemagne created his domain in Europe,
and Islam spread its influence from Spain to India, after the classical period
had ended in the Old World, a great civilization flourished in the American
tropics. The American classic period, launched as the Old World classical
civilizations were coming to an end, lasted well into the next period of world
history. Because of the richness of the archeological records and because Maya
peoples still retained many aspects of the classic period when the Spanish
arrived and observed them, it is possible to reconstruct the world of the
classic Maya in some detail. We can use the Maya as an example of the classic
period in Mesoamerican development, for while their civilization was
distinctive it was based on some principles common to the area.

The Maya culture extended over a broad region that now includes parts of
five different countries (Mexico, Guatemala, Belize, Honduras, and El
Salvador). It included a number of related languages, and it had considerable
regional variation as can be seen in its art styles. The whole region shared a
common culture that included monumental architecture, a written language, a
calendrical and mathematical system, a highly developed religion, and concepts
of statecraft and social organization. With an essentially Neolithic
technology in an area of dense forests plagued by insects and often poor
soils, as many as 50 city-states flourished.

How did the large classic Maya urban-religious centers, such as Tikal,
Copan, Quirigua, and Palenque, with populations between 30,000 and 80,000,
support themselves? Slash-and-burn agriculture as practiced today in the
region was not enough. The classic Maya used a number of agricultural systems.
Evidence of irrigation, swamp drainage, and a system of artificially
constructed "ridged fields" at river mouths (where intensive agriculture was
practiced) has now appeared and seems to explain the Maya ability to support
large urban centers and a total population of perhaps five million. While some
authorities still believe that the Maya centers were essentially ceremonial
and were occupied primarily by rulers, artisans, and an elite, it seems clear
that populations concentrated in and around these centers to create a densely
occupied landscape. The Maya cities vary in size and layout but almost all
include large pyramids surmounted by temples, complexes of masonry buildings
that served administrative or religious purposes, elite residences, a ritual
ball court, and often a series of altars and memorial pillars. These memorial
monuments, or stelae, were erected to commemorate triumphs and events in the
lives of the Maya rulers or to mark ceremonial occasions. The stelae were
usually dated and inscribed with hieroglyphic script. A complex calendar and a
sophisticated writing system were two of the greatest Maya achievements.

Religion, Writing, And Society

The calendar system and sophisticated astronomical observations were made
possible by a vigesimal system of mathematics. The Maya knew the concept of
zero and used it in conjunction with the concept of place value or position.
With elegant simplicity and only signs for one, five, and zero, they could
make complex calculations. As among all the Mesoamerican peoples, the Maya
calendar was based on a concept of recurring cycles of different length. They
had a sacred cycle of 260 days divided into months of 20 days, within which
there was a cycle of 13 numbers. This ritual calendar meshed with a solar
calendar of 365 days, or 18 months of 20 days with a remainder of 5 "dead" or
inauspicious days at the end of the year. The two calendars operated
simultaneously so any day would have two names, but the particular combination
of those two days would reoccur only once every 52 years. Thus among the Maya
and most Mesoamericans, cycles of 52 years were sacred.

The classic Maya, however, differed from their neighbors in that they
also kept a "long count" or a system of dating from a fixed date in the past.
This date, 3114 B.C. by our calendar, probably marked the beginning of a great
cycle of 5200 years since the world was created. Like other Mesoamericans (and
the ancient Peruvians) the Maya believed in great cycles of creation and
destruction of the universe. The long count enabled the Maya to date events
with precision. The earliest recorded Maya date that survives is A.D. 292 and
the last is A.D. 928.

A second great Maya accomplishment was the creation of a writing system.
The Maya "wrote" on stone monuments, murals, and ceramics, and in books of
folded bark paper and deerskin, only four of which survive. Scribes were
honored and held an important place in society. Although we still cannot read
many inscriptions, recent advances now permit the reading of many texts. The
Maya written language was, like Chinese and Sumerian, a logographic system
that combined phonetic and semantic elements. With this system and about 287
symbols they were able to record and transmit complex concepts and ideas. The
few remaining books are religious and astronomical texts, and many
inscriptions on ceramics deal with the cult of the dead and with the complex
Maya cosmology.

The Maya view of the universe was a flat earth, whose cardinal points and
center were each dominated by a god who supported the sky. Above the sky
extended 13 levels of heavens and below nine underworlds, each dominated by a
god. Through these levels the sun and the moon, also conceived as deities,
passed each day. A basic concept of Mesoamerican dualism - male and female,
good and bad, day and night - emphasized the unity of all things, similar to
that found in some Asian religions. Thus each god often had a parallel female
consort or feminine form and often an underworld equivalent as well. In
addition, there were patron deities of various occupations and classes. Thus
the number of deities in the inscriptions seems overwhelming, but these should
be understood as manifestations of a more limited set of supernatural forces,
much like the avatars, or incarnations, of the Hindu gods.

While the few surviving books are religious in character, the majority of
inscriptions on monuments are historical records of the ruling families of the
Maya cities. The major Maya centers were the cores of city-states that
controlled outlying territories. There was constant warfare, and rulers, such
as Pacal of Palenque (who died in A.D. 683), expanded their territories by
conquest. Pacal's victories were recorded on his funerary monuments and in his
lavish tomb discovered inside a pyramid at Palenque.

The rulers exercised considerable civil and probably religious power, and
their rule was aided by an elite that exercised administrative functions. A
class of scribes or perhaps priests tended to the cult of the state and
specialized in the complex calendrical observations and calculations. The
ruler and the scribes organized and participated in rituals of self-mutilation
and human sacrifice that among the Maya, as in much of Mesoamerica, formed an
important aspect of religion. Also, as a form of both worship and sport, the
Maya like other Mesoamerican peoples wagered on and played a ritual ball game
on specially constructed courts in which players moved a ball with their hips
or elbows. Losers might forfeit their possessions or their lives.

Builders, potters, scribes, sculptors, and painters worked in the cities
for the glory of the gods and the rulers. Most people, however, were peasant
farmers whose labor supported the elaborate ritual and political lives of the
elite. Captives were enslaved. Patrilineal families probably formed the basis
of social life as they did among the Maya of later days. The elite, however,
traced their families through both their fathers and mothers. Elite women are
often represented in dynastic monuments in positions of importance. State
marriages were important and elite women retained considerable rights. Among
the common folk, women took over the preparation of food and domestic duties,
including the production of fine cloth using the backstrap loom. The division
of tasks by gender was probably supported by religious belief and custom if
present-day Maya pracEices are a guide.

Classic Collapse

Between about A.D. 700 and 900, the Mesoamerican world was shaken by the
cataclysmic decline of the great cultural centers. The reasons for this
collapse are not fully understood, but the phenomenon was general. In the
central plateau, Teotihuacan was destroyed around A.D. 650 by outside
invaders, probably nomadic hunters from the north perhaps with the
collaboration of some of the groups under the dominance of Teotihuacan. The
city may have already been in decline due to increasing problems with
agriculture. Whereas the fall of Teotihuacan seems to have been sudden, Monte
Alban, the Zapotec center, went into a phase of slow decline and eventual
abandonment.

The most mysterious aspect of the collapse was the abandonment of the
Maya cities. During the 8th century A.D. Maya rulers stopped erecting
commemorative stelae and large buildings; population sizes dwindled. By A.D.
900 most of the major Maya centers were deserted. Scholars do not agree
whether this process was the result of ecological problems and climatic
change, agricultural exhaustion, internal revolt, or foreign pressure. The
collapse took place at different times in different places and seems to be the
result of a number of processes, of which increasing warfare was either a
cause or symptom. The warfare may be related to the decline of Teotihuacan and
the attempt of Maya city-states to position themselves to control old trade
routes.

Chief among the explanations for the Maya collapse has been agricultural
exhaustion. The Maya ability to create a civilization in the dense rain forest
of the Peten in Guatemala and in the Chiapas lowlands had been based on a
highly productive agricultural system. By the 8th century, the limits of that
system, given the size and density of population, may have been reached. Tikal
had an estimated density of over 300 people per square mile. Maintaining the
great population centers was an increasing burden. Epidemic disease has also
been suggested as a cause of the collapse, perhaps indicating some unrecorded
contact with the Old World. Others believe that the peasantry simply refused
to bear the burdens of serving and feeding the political and religious elite
and that internal rebellion led to the end of ruling dynasties and their
cities.

The reasons for the collapse of the classic civilization remain unclear,
but the period was clearly ending, and while a few centers continued to be
occepied by squatters and some traditions persisted, the cultural achievements
of the classic period were not attained again. Long-count dating ended, the
stelae cult ceased, and ceramic quality and architectural accomplishments
declined. But as the great Maya centers of the southern lowlands and highlands
were abandoned or declined, Maya cities in the Yucatan and in the Guatemala
highlands expanded and carried on some of the traditions, along with
considerable cultural influences from central Mexico. Mexicanized ruling
families established themselves at Chichen Itza and other towns in Yucatan,
and Mexicanized Maya groups from the Gulf coast penetrated into the southern
Maya areas. The northern Maya area was able to accommodate these influences
and create a new synthesis of Maya and central Mexican culture. In the great
southern Maya cities, such as Tikal, Palenque, and Quirigua, no such
adjustment was made and the rain forest soon overran the temples and palaces.

After A.D. 1000 one of the new groups that occupied the central plateau
after the fall of Teotihuacan, the Nahuatl-speaking Toltecs, established
political control over a large territory and eventually extended their
influence into Maya territory. Their genius seems to have been military, and
much of their culture derived from classic traditions. From their capital at
Tula in central Mexico, Toltec influence and trade may have spread as far as
the American Southwest, where the cliff-dwelling Anasazi people, the ancestors
of the Pueblo Indians, produced beautiful ceramics and cultivated maize in the
desert valleys. In Yucatan, ruling families claimed descent from Toltec
invaders. Even when the Toltec empire fell around A.D. 1200, the cultural
traditions of Mesoamerica did not die, for imperial states and civilization do
not necessarily go together. Eventually, however, a new power, the Aztecs,
rose in the central plateau of Mexico. The Aztecs initiated yet another cycle
of expansion based on the deep-rooted ways of life and thought of Mesoamerica.


 

Back to Main menu

A project by History World International

World History Center