History Archive Icon

History Archive

Mesoamerica

Mesoamerica Collection

History Archive - Mesoamerica Collection

Mesoamerica is a historical region and cultural area in North America. It extends from approximately central Mexico through Belize, Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, and northern Costa Rica, and within this region pre-Columbian societies flourished before the Spanish colonization of the Americas. In the 16th century, European diseases like smallpox and measles caused the deaths of upwards of 90% of the indigenous people. It is one of five areas in the world where ancient civilization arose independently, and the second in the Americas along with Norte Chico (Caral-Supe) in present-day Peru, in the northern coastal region.

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 BCE, the domestication of cacao, maize, beans, tomato, avocado, vanilla, squash and chili, as well as the turkey and 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, 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 obsidian, jade, cacao, cinnabar, Spondylus shells, hematite, and ceramics. While Mesoamerican civilization did know of the wheel and basic metallurgy, neither of these technologies became culturally important.

+ Read More

Among the earliest complex civilizations was the Olmec culture, which inhabited the Gulf Coast of Mexico and extended inland and southwards across the Isthmus of Tehuantepec. Frequent contact and cultural interchange between the early Olmec and other cultures in Chiapas, Guatemala and Oaxaca laid the basis for the Mesoamerican cultural area. All this was facilitated by considerable regional communications in ancient Mesoamerica, especially along the Pacific coast.

This formative period saw the spread of distinct religious and symbolic traditions, as well as artistic and architectural complexes. In the subsequent Preclassic period, complex urban polities began to develop among the Maya, with the rise of centers such as El Mirador, Calakmul and Tikal, and the Zapotec at Monte Alban. 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 three regions of the world where writing is known to have independently developed (the others being ancient Sumer and China). 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. Upon the collapse of Teotihuacan around 600 AD, competition between several important political centers in central Mexico, such as Xochicalco and Cholula, ensued.

At this time during the Epi-Classic period, the Nahua peoples began moving south into Mesoamerica from the North, and became politically and culturally dominant in central Mexico, as they displaced speakers of Oto-Manguean languages. 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 Chichen Itza and Mayapan. Towards the end of the post-Classic period, the Aztecs of Central Mexico built a tributary empire covering most of central Mesoamerica.

The distinct Mesoamerican cultural tradition ended with the Spanish conquest in the 16th century. Over the next centuries, Mesoamerican indigenous cultures were gradually subjected to Spanish colonial rule. Aspects of the Mesoamerican cultural heritage still survive among the indigenous peoples who inhabit Mesoamerica, many of whom continue to speak their ancestral languages, and maintain many practices harking back to their Mesoamerican roots.

Regional Sub-Divisions

Available Books

Book Title Date
Palenque - Views of Ancient Monuments in Central America Views of Ancient Monuments in Central America 1844
Palenque - Mitla. A Narrative of Incidents Mitla. A Narrative of Incidents 1858
Palenque - Coleccion de las Antiguedades Mexicanas Coleccion de las Antiguedades Mexicanas 1827
Palenque - Description of the Ruins of an Ancient City Description of the Ruins of an Ancient City 1822
Palenque - Antiquites Mexicaines Antiquites Mexicaines 1844
Palenque - Antiquities of Mexico Vol. 1 Antiquities of Mexico Vol. 1 1831
Palenque - Antiquities of Mexico Vol. 2 Antiquities of Mexico Vol. 2 1831
Palenque - Antiquities of Mexico Vol. 3 Antiquities of Mexico Vol. 3 1831
Palenque - Antiquities of Mexico Vol. 4 Antiquities of Mexico Vol. 4 1831
Palenque - Antiquities of Mexico Vol. 5 Antiquities of Mexico Vol. 5 1831
Palenque - Antiquities of Mexico Vol. 6 Antiquities of Mexico Vol. 6 1831
Palenque - Antiquities of Mexico Vol. 7 Antiquities of Mexico Vol. 7 1831
Palenque - Antiquities of Mexico Vol. 8 Antiquities of Mexico Vol. 8 1848
Palenque - Antiquities of Mexico Vol. 9 Antiquities of Mexico Vol. 9 1848
Palenque - Voyage Pittoresque et Archeologique dans la Province d'Yucatan Voyage Pittoresque et Archeologique dans la Province d'Yucatan 1838
Palenque - Guillermo Dupaix Papers Guillermo Dupaix Papers 1804
Palenque - Mexico To-Day Mexico To-Day 1883
Palenque - The Indian Races of North and South America The Indian Races of North and South America 1853
Palenque - Viaje Pintoresco y Arqueolojico de la Republica Mejicana Viaje Pintoresco y Arqueolojico de la Republica Mejicana 1840
Palenque - Vues des Cordilleres et Monumens de l'Amerique Vues des Cordilleres et Monumens de l'Amerique 1813
Palenque - Six Months Residence and Travels in Mexico Six Months Residence and Travels in Mexico 1824
Palenque - Le Costume Ancien et Moderne [Amerique] Vol. 1 Le Costume Ancien et Moderne [Amerique] Vol. 1 1820
Palenque - Prince Izon; a Romance of the Grand Canyon Prince Izon; a Romance of the Grand Canyon 1910
Palenque - Nombres Geograficos de Mexico [Atlas] Nombres Geograficos de Mexico [Atlas] 1885
Palenque - Incidents of Travel in Central America Vol. 1 Incidents of Travel in Central America Vol. 1 1841
Palenque - Incidents of Travel in Central America Vol. 2 Incidents of Travel in Central America Vol. 2 1841
Palenque - Historical Researches on the Conquest of Peru, Mexico Historical Researches on the Conquest of Peru, Mexico 1827
Palenque - Nicaragua, its People, Scenery, Monuments Vol. 1 Nicaragua, its People, Scenery, Monuments Vol. 1 1852
Palenque - Nicaragua, its People, Scenery, Monuments Vol. 2 Nicaragua, its People, Scenery, Monuments Vol. 2 1852
Palenque - Biologia Centrali-Americana Vol. 1 Biologia Centrali-Americana Vol. 1 1889
Palenque - Biologia Centrali-Americana Vol. 2 Biologia Centrali-Americana Vol. 2 1889
Palenque - Biologia Centrali-Americana Vol. 3 Biologia Centrali-Americana Vol. 3 1889
Palenque - Biologia Centrali-Americana Atlas Vol. 1 Biologia Centrali-Americana Atlas Vol. 1 1889
Palenque - Biologia Centrali-Americana Atlas Vol. 2 Biologia Centrali-Americana Atlas Vol. 2 1889
Palenque - Biologia Centrali-Americana Atlas Vol. 3 Biologia Centrali-Americana Atlas Vol. 3 1889
Palenque - Biologia Centrali-Americana Atlas Vol. 4 Biologia Centrali-Americana Atlas Vol. 4 1889
Palenque - The History of Ancient Mexico Vol. 1 The History of Ancient Mexico Vol. 1 1832
Palenque - The History of Ancient Mexico Vol. 2 The History of Ancient Mexico Vol. 2 1832
Palenque - Central American and West Indian Archaeology Central American and West Indian Archaeology 1916
Palenque - History of the Spanish Conquest of Yucatan and of the Itzas History of the Spanish Conquest of Yucatan and of the Itzas 1917
Palenque - Ruines du Mexique et Types Mexicains Ruines du Mexique et Types Mexicains 1862
Palenque - Cites et Ruines Americaines Cites et Ruines Americaines 1863
Palenque - The Ancient Cities of the New World The Ancient Cities of the New World 1885
Palenque - Les Anciennes Villes du Nouveau Monde Les Anciennes Villes du Nouveau Monde 1883
Palenque - Monuments anciens du Mexique Monuments anciens du Mexique 1866
Palenque - Archives de la Commission Scientifique du Mexique Vol. 1 Archives de la Commission Scientifique du Mexique Vol. 1 1865
Palenque - Archives de la Commission Scientifique du Mexique Vol. 2 Archives de la Commission Scientifique du Mexique Vol. 2 1865
Palenque - Archives de la Commission Scientifique du Mexique Vol. 3 Archives de la Commission Scientifique du Mexique Vol. 3 1865
Palenque - La Poblacion del Valle de Teotihuacan Vol 1 La Poblacion del Valle de Teotihuacan Vol 1 1922
Palenque - La Poblacion del Valle de Teotihuacan Vol 2 La Poblacion del Valle de Teotihuacan Vol 2 1922
Palenque - La Poblacion del Valle de Teotihuacan Vol 3 La Poblacion del Valle de Teotihuacan Vol 3 1922
Palenque - The Goldsmith's Art in Ancient Mexico The Goldsmith's Art in Ancient Mexico 1920
Palenque - Voyage Pittoresque et Archeologique du Mexique Voyage Pittoresque et Archeologique du Mexique 1836
Palenque - Histoire de la Nation Mexicaine depuis le Depart d'Aztlan Histoire de la Nation Mexicaine depuis le Depart d'Aztlan 1893
Palenque - Huehuetlapallan, Amerika's Grosse Urstadt Huehuetlapallan, Amerika's Grosse Urstadt 1823
Palenque - Codex Nuttall Codex Nuttall 1902
Palenque - Ancient Tombs of Palenque Ancient Tombs of Palenque 1896
Palenque - Archaeological Researches in Yucatan Archaeological Researches in Yucatan 1904
Palenque - Cave of Loltun, Yucatan Cave of Loltun, Yucatan 1879
Palenque - Ruins of Xkichmook, Yucatan Ruins of Xkichmook, Yucatan 1898
Palenque - The Home of a Forgotten Race The Home of a Forgotten Race 1914
Palenque - The Chultunes of Labna, Yucatan The Chultunes of Labna, Yucatan 1897
Palenque - Explorations in the Department of Peten Explorations in the Department of Peten 1911
Palenque - Explorations of the Upper Usumatsintla and Adjacent Region Explorations of the Upper Usumatsintla and Adjacent Region 1908
Palenque - Researches in the Central Portion of the Usumatsintla Valley Researches in the Central Portion of the Usumatsintla Valley 1901
Palenque - Prehistoric Ruins of Copan, Hondura Prehistoric Ruins of Copan, Hondura 1896
Palenque - The Book of Chilam Balam of Chumayel The Book of Chilam Balam of Chumayel 1913
Palenque - The Serpent Motive in the Ancient Art of Central America and Mexico The Serpent Motive in the Ancient Art of Central America and Mexico 1905
Palenque - Observations on the Uses of the Mounds of the West Observations on the Uses of the Mounds of the West 1847
Palenque - Observations on the Chalchihuitl of Mexico and Central America Observations on the Chalchihuitl of Mexico and Central America 1869
Palenque - A Trip to Mexico A Trip to Mexico 1880
Palenque - Rambles in Yucatan Rambles in Yucatan 1843
Palenque - Maya Architecture Maya Architecture 1926
Palenque - Onomatologia geografica de Morelos Onomatologia geografica de Morelos 1888
Palenque - Historia de las Indias de Nueva Espana y Islas de Tierra Firme Vol. 1 Historia de las Indias de Nueva Espana y Islas de Tierra Firme Vol. 1 1867
Palenque - Historia de las Indias de Nueva Espana y Islas de Tierra Firme Vol. 2 Historia de las Indias de Nueva Espana y Islas de Tierra Firme Vol. 2 1880
Palenque - Historia de las Indias de Nueva Espana y Islas de Tierra Firme Atlas Historia de las Indias de Nueva Espana y Islas de Tierra Firme Atlas 1880
Palenque - Coleccion General de Laminas de los Antiguos Monumentos de Nueva Espana Coleccion General de Laminas de los Antiguos Monumentos de Nueva Espana 1820
Palenque - An Inquiry into the Origin of the Antiquities of America An Inquiry into the Origin of the Antiquities of America 1839
Palenque - Descripcion Historica y Cronologica de las dos Piedras Descripcion Historica y Cronologica de las dos Piedras 1792

Images

Image Name
Diagram of Silver Mine
Two figures standing, facing each other and holding a long, serpentine object
Segundo Viage - Lamina 37
Histoire hieroglyphique des Azteques
Segundo Viage
Apendice - Lamina 2
Chute du Tequendama
Primer Viage - Lamina 6
Interior of the Principal Building at Kabah
Gateway of the Great Teocallis, Uxmal
Apendice - Lamina 8
Portion of a Building, Las Monjas, Uxmal
Plate XIX
Segundo Viage - Lamina 48
Costumes dessines par des peintres mexicains du temps de Montezuma
Primer Viage - Lamina 1
Six abstract designs
Front Cover
Book Display I
Book Display I
Pt. XL (guache) - Homme tenant un enfant
Pt. XXIII - Bas-relief en pierre
Pt. LI - Terres cuites de divers endroits
Comment ils appretent et mangent leurs mets
Book Display II
Trat: 3 - Lamina 6
Trat: 1 - Lamina 9
Relief en basalte representant le calendrier mexicain
Tercer Viage - Lamina 14
Volcan de Cotopaxi
Coatlicue, the Chief Aztec Deity (10 feet high)
Book Display IV
Hacienda of Tepenacasco
2ème Expedition - Planche XII
Papantla - Pueblo de Indios Totonacos
Volcan d'air de Turbaco
Vista Sobre los Vulcanes de Mexico desde el Pueblo de Tacubaya
Las Monjas, Chichen-Itza
3ème Expedition - Planche XXXXIV
Segundo Viage - Lamina 16
L'Exterieur et l'interieur d'une maison d'Unalaschka [I]
2ème Expedition - Planche XXXV
Pyramide de Cholula
Cascade du Rio Vinagre, pres du volcan de Purace
On the Parapet - Topeltzin's Magic
Rancheros
Plate XXXVIII
Habillemens des habitans du Canada No. 1
[Untitled view of Mexican women making tortillas with men in the background]
Plan d'une maison fortifiee de l'Inca, situee sur le dos de la Cordillere-de l'Assuay
Back of a Broken Idol at Copan
Pt. XXXVIII - Petite table de la chambre au fond
Tercer Viage - Lamina 16
Tercer Viage - Lamina 22
Plate I
Frontispiece
Interior of the Cathedral
Clay heads found in great quantities on the sites of ancient Aztec cities (II)
Vase of Centeotl or Ceres
Book Display IV
Back Cover
Maison de l'Inca, a Callo, dans le royaume de Quito
Fabrique d'indigo
Masse detachee de la pyramide de Cholula
Title Page
Troisieme Expedition du Captaine Dupaix
Back Cover
Armes des Mexicaines
Book Display III
Indias de la Sierra al S.E. de Mexico
Book Display IV
Mexicans Near the Hacienda del Valle
Fragmens de peintures hieroglyphiques, deposes a la bibliotheque royale de Berlin
Tercer Viage - Lamina 47
Segundo Viage - Lamina 52
Book Display II
Front Cover
View of Durango from the Santuario
Vista de la Mina de Veta Grande cerca de Zacatecas
Segundo Viage - Lamina 46
Title Page
Trat: 1 - Lamina 21
2ème Expedition - Planche XXIX
Apendice - Lamina 11
Front Cover
Segundo Viage - Lamina 38
Vue de la grande place de Mexico
Fragment d'un calendrier chretien tire des manuscrits azteques conserves a la bibliotheque royale de Berlin
Tercer Viage - Lamina 25
Tercer Viage - Lamina 49
Segundo Viage - Lamina 15
Vues de la grande place de Mexico
Costume des Soldats de la Milice
Mascarons
Segundo Viage - Lamina 43
Le Chimborazo, vu depuis le plateau de Tapia

Maps

Map Name
Historical Researches on the Conquest of Peru, Mexico - The World on Mercator's Projection (1827)
Historical Researches on the Conquest of Peru, Mexico - Anahuac in the Year 1521 Containing the Empire of Mexico (1827)
Six Months Residence and Travels in Mexico - Ancient Mexico from the original map made by order of Montezuma for Cortes (1824)
Monuments anciens du Mexique - Carte de Yucatan, dressee par M. de Waldeck (1866)
Views of Ancient Monuments in Central America - Outline Map of Central America (1844)
Six Months Residence and Travels in Mexico - A Plan of the City of Mexico by Lt. Col. Don Diego Garcia - AD 1793 (1824)
Voyage Pittoresque et Archeologique dans la Province d'Yucatan - Carte de la Province de Yucatan (1838)
Le Costume Ancien et Moderne [Amerique] Vol. 1 - Carte geografique de L'Amerique (1820)

Regions

View All Regions
History of Humanity - History Archive Logo
History of Humanity - History Mysteries Logo
History of Humanity - Ancient Mesopotamia Logo
History of Humanity - Egypt History Logo
History of Humanity - Persian Empire Logo
History of Humanity - Greek History Logo
History of Humanity - Alexander the Great Logo
History of Humanity - Roman History Logo
History of Humanity - Punic Wars Logo
History of Humanity - Golden Age of Piracy Logo
History of Humanity - Revolutionary War Logo
History of Humanity - Mafia History Logo