Portal:Mesoamerica

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Classic Period royal palace at Palenque

Mesoamerica (Spanish: Mesoamérica) is a region and cultural area in the Americas, extending approximately from central Mexico to Belize, Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, and Costa Rica, within which a number of pre-Columbian societies flourished before the Spanish colonization of the Americas in the 15th and 16th centuries.

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 BC the domestication of maize, beans, 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, and 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.

Among the earliest complex civilizations was the Olmec culture which inhabited the Gulf coast of Mexico. In the Preclassic period, complex urban polities began to develop among the Maya and the Zapotecs. 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 five regions of the world where writing was independently developed. 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. During the Epi-Classic period the Nahua peoples began moving south into Mesoamerica from the North. 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 Chichén Itzá and Mayapán. Towards the end of the post-Classic period the Aztecs of Central Mexico built a tributary empire covering most of central Mesoamerica.


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Page 51 of Book IX from the Florentine Codex.  The text is in Nahuatl written with a Latin script.

Nahuatl (Nahuatl pronunciation: /ˈnaːwatɬ/ ( ),[cn 1] with stress on the first syllable) is a group of related languages and dialects of the Nahuan (traditionally called "Aztecan") branch of the Uto-Aztecan language family. Altogether they are spoken by an estimated 1.5 million Nahua people, most of whom live in Central Mexico. All Nahuan languages are indigenous to Mesoamerica.

Nahuatl has been spoken in Central Mexico since at least the 7th century AD.[1] It was the language of the Aztecs, who dominated what is now central Mexico during the Late Postclassic period of Mesoamerican chronology. During the preceding century and a half, the expansion and influence of the Aztec Empire had led to the variety spoken by the residents of Tenochtitlan becoming a prestige language in Mesoamerica. With the introduction of the Latin alphabet, Nahuatl also became a literary language and many chronicles, grammars, works of poetry, administrative documents and codices were written in the 16th and 17th centuries.[2] This early literary language based on the Tenochtitlan variety has been labeled Classical Nahuatl and is among the most studied and best documented languages of the Americas.[3]

Today Nahuatl varieties[cn 2] are spoken in scattered communities mostly in rural areas. There are considerable differences among varieties, and some are mutually unintelligible. They have all been subject to varying degrees of influence from Spanish. No modern Nahuatl languages are identical to Classical Nahuatl, but those spoken in and around the Valley of Mexico are generally more closely related to it than those on the periphery.[4] Under Mexico's Ley General de Derechos Lingüísticos de los Pueblos Indígenas ("General Law on the Linguistic Rights of Indigenous Peoples") promulgated in 2003,[5] Nahuatl along with the other indigenous languages of Mexico are recognized as lenguas nacionales ("national languages") in the regions where they are spoken, enjoying the same status as Spanish within their region.[cn 3]

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Morley at the Maya site of Copán, in Honduras (ca. 1912)

Sylvanus Griswold Morley (June 7, 1883 – September 2, 1948) was an American archaeologist, epigrapher, and Mayanist scholar who made significant contributions toward the study of the pre-Columbian Maya civilization in the early 20th century.

Morley is particularly noted for the extensive excavations of the Maya site of Chichen Itza that he directed on behalf of the Carnegie Institution. He also published several large compilations and treatises on Maya hieroglyphic writing, and wrote popular accounts on the Maya for a general audience.

To his contemporaries, "Vay" Morley was one of the leading Mesoamerican archaeologists of his day. Although more recent developments in the field have resulted in a re-evaluation of his theories and works, his publications, particularly on calendric inscriptions, are still cited. In his role as director of various projects sponsored by the Carnegie Institution, he oversaw and encouraged many others who later established notable careers in their own right. His commitment and enthusiasm for Maya studies helped inspire the necessary sponsorship for projects that would ultimately reveal much about ancient Maya civilization.

Morley also conducted espionage in Mexico on behalf of the United States during World War I, but the scope of those activities only came to light well after his death. His archaeological field work in Mexico and Central America provided suitable cover for investigating German activities and anti-American activity at the behest of the United States' Office of Naval Intelligence.

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Mexico xochicalco pyramids.JPG
Credit: Maxtreiber

Xochicalco (Nahuatl pronunciation: /ʃotʃiˈkaɬko/) is a pre-Columbian archaeological site in the Mexican state of Morelos. The apogee of Xochicalco came in the Epiclassic period (AD 700 – 900) after the fall of Teotihuacan and it has been speculated that Xochicalco may have played a part in the collapse of the Teotihuacan empire.



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Cite error: There are <ref group=cn> tags on this page, but the references will not show without a {{reflist|group=cn}} template (see the help page).

  1. ^ Suárez 1983:149
  2. ^ Canger 1980:13
  3. ^ Canger 2002:195
  4. ^ Canger 1988
  5. ^ "Ley General de Derechos Lingüísticos de los Pueblos Indígenas" (PDF online reproduction). Diario Oficial de la Federación. Issued by the Cámara de Diputados del H. Congreso de la Unión. 2003-03-13.  (Spanish).