Mesoamerica refers to a cultural area where pre-Columbian societies like the Maya, the Aztec, and the Toltec flourished before the arrival of the Spaniards in the 15th and 16th centuries. Despite their isolation, these cultures were very technologically and mathematically advanced. Their extensive trade routes allowed them to share ideas. Their culture was very complex, yet was decimated by the Spaniards.
Evidence of human presence dates back to before 10,000 B.C. Early peoples knew nothing of agriculture, relying on a nomadic existence of hunting and gathering. Many Clovis points and obsidian blades, among other weapons, have been discovered at kill sites and in caves.
The Archaic period extended from 8000 to 2000 B.C. During this phase, agriculture developed as people cultivated wild plants. People began to settle in one place, developing pottery to cook and store their food. At this point, very few animals were domesticated.
By the Classic period, starting around 200 A.D, pre-Columbian people had become skilled builders. Society have become more complex, and this was reflected in the art, the architecture, and the writing of the time. Massive temples were erected in the jungle, and huge cities developed.
Ancient middle Americans relied on a number of foods. Squash and chilies were cultivated early, as was maize, a variety of corn. By 3500 B.C., people that also added beans, tomatoes, and a variety of fruits. Fibers were obtained from cotton, agave, and yucca plants, and turned into textiles.
While ancient Mesoamericans planted a variety of fruits and vegetables, they had a few domesticated animals. Turkeys were domesticated early, around 3500 B.C. Dear, dogs, and dogs were also domesticated and eaten. Larger animals, like cattle and horses, did not live in the area; therefore, Mesoamerican cultures were unable to domesticate these animals for food or as pack animals.
In fact, most of their meat came from hunting. Deer and rabid were abundant, as were birds. Insects were also a valuable source of protein for the diet. Not only did people hunt for food, they also sought beautiful feathers and soft furs.
Temples were built as ceremonial centers. These ceremonial centers were the heart of ancient Mesoamerican civilization. Huge temples were erected, reaching for the sky.
Ancient Mesoamericans came from a diverse group. Given their agricultural nature, it is no surprise that they shared a common calendar. The Mayans in particular were highly skilled observers and astronomers. Their 365 day calendar is incredibly accurate, and they also were able to track lunar eclipses, the movement of planets, and the phases of the moon.
The Mesoamerican ballgame is famous and has been played for over 3000 years. Through that time, the game has changed –ulama, a modern equivalent, is still played today. The rules of the ancient ballgame are not known. The solid rubber ball could weigh 9 pounds or more, making it a challenge to keep the ball in play. The game was often played for fun, though could also have important ritual implications. In some games, human sacrifice was a feature.
For thousands of years, the Mesoamericans rule this corner of the world. Upon the arrival of the Spaniards in the 15th and 16th century, disease and warfare destroyed much of their way of life.
Want more information on the ancient Mesoamericans? Read on for more articles on the Maya, the Toltec, the Aztecs, the Zapotec, the Olmec, and Teotihuacan.