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.
Olmec figurines are archetypical figurines that were produced by the Formative Period inhabitants of Mesoamerica. While many of these figurines may or may not have been produced directly by the people of the Olmec heartland, they bear the hallmarks and motifs of Olmec culture.
These figurines are usually found in household refuse, in ancient construction fill, and (outside the Olmec heartland) in graves, although many Olmec-style figurines, particularly those labelled as Las Bocas- or Xochipala-style, were recovered by looters and are therefore without provenance.
The vast majority of figurines are simple in design, often nude or with a minimum of clothing, and made of local terracotta. Most of these recoveries are mere fragments: a head, arm, torso, or a leg. It is thought, based on wooden busts recovered from the water-logged El Manati site, that figurines were also carved from wood, but, if so, none have survived.
More durable and better known by the general public are those figurines carved, usually with a degree of skill, from jade, serpentine, greenstone, basalt, and other minerals and stones.
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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