Portal:Mesoamerica

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Cipatli trim.png    Cipatli trim.png    Cipatli trim.png    Mesoamerica    Cipatli (reverse) trim.png    Cipatli (reverse) trim.png    Cipatli (reverse) trim.png

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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An Aztec woman blowing on maize before putting in the cooking pot, so that it will not fear the fire. Florentine Codex, late 16th century.

The most important staple of Aztec cuisine was maize (corn), a crop that was so important to Aztec society that it played a central part in their mythology. Just like wheat in Europe or rice in most of East Asia, it was the food without which a meal was not a meal. It came in an inestimable number of varieties varying in color, texture, size and prestige and was eaten as tortillas, tamales or atolli, maize gruel. The other constants of Aztec food were salt and chili peppers and the basic definition of Aztec fasting was to abstain from these two flavorers. The other major foods were beans and New World varieties of the grains amaranth (or pigweed), and chia[disambiguation needed]. The combination of maize and these basic foods would have provided the average Aztec with a very well-rounded diet without any significant deficiencies in vitamins or minerals. The processing of maize called nixtamalization, the cooking of maize grains in alkaline solutions, also drastically increased the nutritional value of the common staple.

Water, maize gruels and pulque, the fermented juice of the century plant, were the most common drinks, and there were many different fermented alcoholic beverages made from honey, cacti and various fruits. The elite took pride in not drinking pulque, a drink of commoners, and preferred drinks made from cacao. It was one of the most prestigious luxuries available; it was the drink of rulers, warriors and nobles and was flavored with chili peppers, honey and a seemingly endless list of spices and herbs.

The Aztec diet included an impressive variety of animals; turkeys and various fowl, pocket gophers, Green iguanas, axolotls (a type of water salamander), shrimp, fish and a great variety of insects, larvae and insect eggs. They ate various mushrooms and fungi, including the parasitic corn smut, which grows on ears of corn. Squash was very popular and came in many different varieties. Squash seed, fresh, dried or roasted, were especially popular. Tomatoes, though different from the varieties common today, was often mixed with chili in sauces or as filling for tamales.

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Prescott c. 1850–1859

William Hickling Prescott (May 4, 1796 – January 29, 1859) was an American historian and Hispanist, who is widely recognized by historiographers to have been the first American scientific historian. Despite suffering from serious visual impairment, which at times prevented him from reading or writing for himself, Prescott became one of the most eminent historians of 19th century America. He is also noted for his eidetic memory.

A direct descendant of the revolutionary American officer William Prescott, William H. Prescott spent his childhood and adolescence in Boston, Massachusetts. Prescott attended Harvard University, and considered a legal career, but his poor health prevented him from working professionally and he therefore dedicated himself to a life of writing. After an extensive period of study, during which he sporadically contributed to academic journals, Prescott specialized in late Renaissance Spain and the early Spanish Empire. His works on the subject, The History of the Reign of Ferdinand and Isabella the Catholic (1837), The History of the Conquest of Mexico (1843), A History of the Conquest of Peru (1847) and the unfinished History of the Reign of Phillip II (1856–1858) have become classic works in the field, and have had a great impact on the study of both Spain and Mesoamerica. During his lifetime, he was upheld as one of the greatest living American intellectuals, and knew personally many of the leading political figures of the day, in both the United States and Britain. Prescott has become one of the most widely translated American historians, and was an important figure in the development of history as a rigorous academic discipline.

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Monolito de Coatlicue (con colores).JPG
Credit: El Comandante

Coatlicue, (Classical Nahuatl: Cōhuātlīcue [koːwaːˈtɬiːkʷe], is the Aztec goddess who gave birth to the moon, stars, and Huitzilopochtli, the god of the sun and war. She is also known as Toci (Tocî, "our grandmother") and Cihuacoatl (Cihuācōhuātl, "the lady of the serpent"), the patron of women who die in childbirth.


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