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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Maya chacmool from Chichen Itza

Chacmool (also spelled chac-mool) is the term used to refer to a particular form of pre-Columbian Mesoamerican sculpture depicting a reclining figure with its head facing 90 degrees from the front, supporting itself on its elbows and supporting a bowl or a disk upon its stomach. These figures possibly symbolised slain warriors carrying offerings to the gods; the bowl upon the chest was used to hold sacrificial offerings, including pulque, tamales, tortillas, tobacco, turkeys, feathers and incense. In an Aztec example the recipient is a cuauhxicalli (a stone bowl to receive sacrificed human hearts). Chacmools were often associated with sacrificial stones or thrones.

Aztec chacmools bore water imagery and were associated with Tlaloc, the rain god. Their symbolism placed them on the frontier between the physical and supernatural realms, as intermediaries with the gods. The chacmool form of sculpture first appeared around the 9th century AD in the Valley of Mexico and the northern Yucatán Peninsula.

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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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WLA lacma Mayan jadeite pendant.jpg
Credit: Beesnest McClain

Jade was worked in variety of ways in Mesoamerica, either as ornaments, a medium upon which hieroglyphs were inscribed, or shaped into figurines, weapons, and other objects.



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