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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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Stela 5 and Altar 8

Tak'alik Ab'aj (/tɑːkəˈlk əˈbɑː/; Mayan pronunciation: [takʼaˈlik aˈɓaχ]; Spanish: [takaˈlik aˈβax]) is a pre-Columbian archaeological site in Guatemala; it was formerly known as Abaj Takalik; its ancient name may have been Kooja. It is one of several Mesoamerican sites with both Olmec and Maya features. The site flourished in the Preclassic and Classic periods, from the 9th century BC through to at least the 10th century AD, and was an important centre of commerce, trading with Kaminaljuyu and Chocolá. Investigations have revealed that it is one of the largest sites with sculptured monuments on the Pacific coastal plain. Olmec-style sculptures include a possible colossal head, petroglyphs and others. The site has one of the greatest concentrations of Olmec-style sculpture outside of the Gulf of Mexico.

Takalik Abaj is representative of the first blossoming of Maya culture that had occurred by about 400 BC. The site includes a Maya royal tomb and examples of Maya hieroglyphic inscriptions that are among the earliest from the Maya region. Excavation is continuing at the site; the monumental architecture and persistent tradition of sculpture in a variety of styles suggest the site was of some importance.

Takalik Abaj was a sizeable city with the principal architecture clustered into four main groups spread across nine terraces. While some of these were natural features, others were artificial constructions requiring an enormous investment in labour and materials. The site featured a sophisticated water drainage system and a wealth of sculptured monuments.


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Portrait of Juan de Torquemada

Juan de Torquemada (c. 1562 – 1624) was a Franciscan friar, missionary and historian in Spanish colonial Mexico, and is considered the "leading Franciscan chronicler of his generation." He is most famous for his monumental history of the indigenous peoples entitled Los veinte y un libros rituales y Monarquía indiana, commonly known as Monarquía indiana ("Indian Monarchy"), published initially in Spain in 1615 with a license obtained by Torquemada. Monarquia Indiana was the "prime text of Mexican history, and was destined to influence all subsequent chronicles until the twentieth century." The fact that it was republished a century later in 1723, in what has been considered the standard edition, is an indication of its importance. It was used by later historians, the Franciscan Augustin de Vetancurt and most importantly by eighteenth-century Jesuit Francisco Javier Clavijero.

Juan de Torquemada was born at Torquemada, Palencia, sometime between 1557 and 1565, with few firm data on his life, with much coming from his own work. He arrived in New Spain as a child and grew up in Mexico City. He studied philosophy and Nahuatl at the convent Grande de San Francisco in Mexico City, studying under Fray Juan Bautista and Antonio de Valeriano, an indigenous graduate of the colegio who taught him Nahuatl. He was ordained sometime between 1579 and 1583. In 1582 he moved to the convent of Santiago Tlatelolco, and he was made guardian of that convent in 1600. He also took over the administration of the Colegio de Santa Cruz de Tlatelolco.



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Toniná 6.jpg
Credit: Simon Burchell

The goals and motives of Maya warfare are not thoroughly understood. Evidence of warfare includes fortified defenses around structure complexes, artistic and epigraphical depictions of war, and weapons such as obsidian blades and projectile points. Some scholars have suggested that the capture of sacrificial victims was a driving force behind warfare.

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Lost World Pyramid

  • ... that the Lost World (pictured) at the ancient Maya city of Tikal was the first architectural complex to be built at the city?
  • ... that the early Maya farming village of Cuello in Belize has a mass grave containing 26 sacrificed war captives?
  • ... that the Madrid Codex, one of only three surviving pre-Columbian Maya books, contains almanacs and horoscopes that were used to assist Maya priests in their ceremonies?


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