Ancient America Before Columbus Mysteries Pyramids Vikings Anasazi HUGE 365 PIX

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Seller: ancientgifts ✉️ (5,282) 100%, Location: Lummi Island, Washington, US, Ships to: WORLDWIDE, Item: 125445064479 Ancient America Before Columbus Mysteries Pyramids Vikings Anasazi HUGE 365 PIX. Reader’s Digest Mysteries of the Ancient Americas, The New World Before Columbus Edited by Joseph L. Gardner. NOTE: We have 100,000 books in our library, over 10,000 different titles. Odds are we have other copies of this same title in varying conditions, some less expensive, some better condition. We might also have different editions as well (some paperback, some hardcover, oftentimes international editions). If you don’t see what you want, please contact us and ask. We’re happy to send you a summary of the differing conditions and prices we may have for the same title. DESCRIPTION: Hardcover with Dust Jacket: 320 pages. Publisher: The Reader’s Digest Association Inc; (1986). A very large, magnificent, quality, coffee-table type hardback book with over three hundred incredible cull-color pictures and illustrations. A visual feast, scholarly, entertaining, imaginative, informative, and readable. This book has it all! The book focuses on some of the puzzles such as who "discovered" America, how and when the first settlers came, who built the New World pyramids, and Lost Cities that have intrigued historians, archaeologists, and laymen over the centuries. Each section contains various theories of explanation, which can range from the wild romancing of early explorers to the latest information from different fields of research. The text is highly readable and is accompanied by a wealth of color photographs, maps, and reconstructive drawings of various sites. This attractive volume will be useful for reports, but will also appeal to anyone who is fascinated by the color and lure of the past. CONDITION: LIKE NEW. HUGE hardcover w/dustjacket. Reader's Digest (1986) 320 pages. Book is new and unread, however dustjacket does show modest shelfwear. Pages are pristine; clean, crisp, unmarked, unmutilated, tightly bound, unambiguously unread. However as is common with such huge, heavy oversized books, the dustjacket does show mild edge and corner shelfwear. Extra large, heavy books like this are awkward to handle and so tend to get dragged across and bumped into book shelves as they are shelved and re-shelved, so it is not uncommon to see accelerated edge and corner shelfwear to both the dustjacket and covers of such huge, heavy books). Otherwise the overall condition is entirely consistent with new stock from an open-shelf book store (such as Barnes & Noble, for instance) wherein patrons are permitted to browse open stock, and so otherwise "new" books often have become slightly blemished and/or show a little handling/shelf/browsing wear. Satisfaction unconditionally guaranteed. In stock, ready to ship. No disappointments, no excuses. PROMPT SHIPPING! HEAVILY PADDED, DAMAGE-FREE PACKAGING! Meticulous and accurate descriptions! Selling rare and out-of-print ancient history books on-line since 1997. We accept returns for any reason within 30 days! #144. PLEASE SEE DESCRIPTIONS AND IMAGES BELOW FOR DETAILED REVIEWS AND FOR PAGES OF PICTURES FROM INSIDE OF BOOK. PLEASE SEE PUBLISHER, PROFESSIONAL, AND READER REVIEWS BELOW. PUBLISHER REVIEWS: REVIEW: Explore America's enigmatic past- the fascinating mysteries, unanswered questions, and buried splendor of times, places, and peoples long forgotten. 365 illustrations, 19 maps, 6 full-spread reconstructions. An amassing of the various historical and cultural anomalies of the Americas dating to the periods prior to the late 15th century, with much information on the origins and littler known aspects of the Incas, Aztecs, Olmecs, Mayas, Toltecs, and other peoples of the ancient Americas, their mysterious origins and contacts with earlier civilizations across the oceans, their unique religious and cultural practices, much more. REVIEW: This book focuses on some puzzles, who "discovered" America, how and when the first settlers came, who built the New World pyramids, and Lost Cities that have intrigued historians, archaeologists, and laymen over the centuries. REVIEW: The Reader's Digest Association, Inc. is a global media and direct marketing company based in Chappaqua, New York, best known for its flagship publication founded in 1922, Reader's Digest. The company's headquarters are in New York City, where it moved from Pleasantville, New York. The company was founded by DeWitt and Lila Wallace in 1922 with the first publication of Reader's Digest magazine, but has grown to include a diverse range of magazines, books, music, DVDs and online content. TABLE OF CONTENTS: Voyagers of Legend. In Search of Early Man. Stirrings of New World Civilizations. Pyramid Makers and Mound Builders. Ancient Artisans and Master Builders. Lost Cities. Of Gods and Men. PROFESSIONAL REVIEWS: REVIEW: Mysteries of the Ancient Americas” presents fabulous tales from the past, offers the solutions of modern science, and poses new questions that make the story even more intriguing. We know that the Vikings preceded Christopher Columbus to the New World by 500 years. But why did they abandon their Newfoundland colony? Native Americans built the world's largest pyramids. What engineering methods did they employ in creating such awesome edifices? Mysteries like these are probed, and the answers sought in chapters that approach ancient history topically. The book is a visual feast, with more than 350 (most in full color) drawings, paintings, and other works of art, as well as photographs of sites today. Maps pinpoint the locations discussed; specially commissioned full-spread reconstructions carry the reader back in time. Based on the most up-to-date information and drawing upon the expertise of more than a dozen scholars, the text is written in a clear, easy-to-follow style by people who know how to translate difficult, even conflicting, subject matter into a popular narrative. Reading the book from cover to cover, dipping in a chapter at a time, or merely browsing through its color-splashed pages, you will discover an American past more dazzling, more varied, more mysterious than the one you studied in school. READER REVIEWS: REVIEW: Well done and profusely illustrated. This book is an awesome tour of the archaeology and anthropology of the ancient Americas. If you were to own only one book on this subject, this would be it. The imagery is mind-blowing. The text quite readable. The end result not only a fantastic collection of quality prints of ancient art, but also an education in the history of two continents. REVIEW: The formatting is very flexible in that you can choose to read it from beginning to end, or pick themes that most interest you (for example, if you are fascinated by the Olmec, shown by archeological evidence to have predated the Maya, you could start with that chapter). More questions are posed than answers given, but that’s in the first word of the title. Beautiful illustrations are abundant. Fascinating evidence that other explorers, from the Vikings to Egyptians and various Africans, may have set foot in the New World before Christopher Columbus. It goes to readers of this review highly recommended. REVIEW: Everyone in the Americas should own this book. After all I'm sure people in Egypt have books about Pharaohs and Pyramids. People in Scandinavia could tell you about Viking lore. The people that make yearly visits to Stonehenge could maybe tell you about the Druids. What do we really know about the Americas? The Mayan Temples? Cowboys and Indians? The history of U.S. presidents? This book is so fascinating and is filled with so many cool pictures. You could read it from cover to cover or pick it up in the middle and find something so amazing. Lost cities in the jungle, ancient artifacts which suggest early travelers from Egypt, Africa, outer space? This book is great, and for the price you can't beat it. fans of the show LOST might recognize it as one of the books presented on the show in season 5. So get it Losties! For everyone else, just get it. REVIEW: Readers Digest were skilled at publishing books like this one: designed to appeal to a popular audience of casual readers with colorful photos and illustrations, yet the text is intelligent enough for more scholarly people. From the controversies over "who discovered America?" and "who were the earliest inhabitants?" to essays on the Maya, Aztecs, Olmecs, Inca, and Anasazi, this is a good introduction to the subject. REVIEW: Some lovely photos, and quite informative and interesting overall. You know, it's a Reader's Digest, so you expect to be entertained and they have never failed me in their historical books. REVIEW: This is a very informative book for research into the pre-Columbian era of the Americas. It does a lot of speculating, but the pictures are good and what is presented as factual is accurate. REVIEW: Even though this book is a bit outdated (1986) the photos and drawings are so vivid that you really get a good sense on what these places and artifacts look like REVIEW: I was very interested in the book and couldn't put it down. I recommend it for anyone. Very good information. REVIEW: It's one of my favorite coffee table books. Great information and pictures. Love the truth that it reveals. REVIEW: This is an amazing book with great pictures. REVIEW: Good overview like most books in this vein. REVIEW: The history is great. Shows a side of a forgotten people history would have you forget and never know. REVIEW: Excellent resource of ancient Americans history. REVIEW: Interesting read of history I was totally unfamiliar with. REVIEW: This book opens a new look to the past. Really well documented. SHIPPING & RETURNS/REFUNDS: We always ship books domestically (within the USA) via USPS INSURED media mail (“book rate”). Most international orders cost an additional $17.99 to $48.99 for an insured shipment in a heavily padded mailer. There is also a discount program which can cut postage costs by 50% to 75% if you’re buying about half-a-dozen books or more (5 kilos+). Rates vary a bit from country to country, and not all books will fit into a USPS global priority mail flat rate envelope. This book does barely fit into a flat rate envelope, but with NO padding, it will be highly susceptible to damage. We strongly recommend first class airmail, which although more expensive, would allow us to properly protect the book. Our postage charges are as reasonable as USPS rates allow. ADDITIONAL PURCHASES do receive a VERY LARGE discount, typically about $5 per book (for each additional book after the first) so as to reward you for the economies of combined shipping/insurance costs. Your purchase will ordinarily be shipped within 48 hours of payment. We package as well as anyone in the business, with lots of protective padding and containers. All of our shipments are fully insured against loss, and our shipping rates include the cost of this coverage (through,, the USPS, UPS, or Fed-Ex). International tracking is provided free by the USPS for certain countries, other countries are at additional cost. 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Please note that eBay may not refund payment processing fees on returns beyond a 30-day purchase window. So except for shipping costs, we will refund all proceeds from the sale of a return item, eBay may not always follow suit. Obviously we have no ability to influence, modify or waive eBay policies. ABOUT US: Prior to our retirement we used to travel to Eastern Europe and Central Asia several times a year seeking antique gemstones and jewelry from the globe’s most prolific gemstone producing and cutting centers. Most of the items we offer came from acquisitions we made in Eastern Europe, India, and from the Levant (Eastern Mediterranean/Near East) during these years from various institutions and dealers. Much of what we generate on Etsy, Amazon and Ebay goes to support worthy institutions in Europe and Asia connected with Anthropology and Archaeology. Though we have a collection of ancient coins numbering in the tens of thousands, our primary interests are ancient/antique jewelry and gemstones, a reflection of our academic backgrounds. Though perhaps difficult to find in the USA, in Eastern Europe and Central Asia antique gemstones are commonly dismounted from old, broken settings – the gold reused – the gemstones recut and reset. Before these gorgeous antique gemstones are recut, we try to acquire the best of them in their original, antique, hand-finished state – most of them originally crafted a century or more ago. We believe that the work created by these long-gone master artisans is worth protecting and preserving rather than destroying this heritage of antique gemstones by recutting the original work out of existence. That by preserving their work, in a sense, we are preserving their lives and the legacy they left for modern times. Far better to appreciate their craft than to destroy it with modern cutting. Not everyone agrees – fully 95% or more of the antique gemstones which come into these marketplaces are recut, and the heritage of the past lost. But if you agree with us that the past is worth protecting, and that past lives and the produce of those lives still matters today, consider buying an antique, hand cut, natural gemstone rather than one of the mass-produced machine cut (often synthetic or “lab produced”) gemstones which dominate the market today. We can set most any antique gemstone you purchase from us in your choice of styles and metals ranging from rings to pendants to earrings and bracelets; in sterling silver, 14kt solid gold, and 14kt gold fill. When you purchase from us, you can count on quick shipping and careful, secure packaging. We would be happy to provide you with a certificate/guarantee of authenticity for any item you purchase from us. There is a $3 fee for mailing under separate cover. I will always respond to every inquiry whether via email or eBay message, so please feel free to write. ADDITIONAL BACKGROUND: MESOAMERICA: Mesoamerica was a region and cultural area in the Americas, extending from approximately central Mexico through Belize, Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, and northern Costa Rica, and within which pre-Columbian societies flourished before the Spanish colonization of the Americas in the 15th and 16th centuries. It is one of six areas in the world where ancient civilization arose independently, and the second in the Americas along with Norte Chico (Caral-Supe) in present-day northern coastal Peru. 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 B.C., the domestication of cacao, maize, beans, tomato, 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 and extended inland and southwards across the Isthmus of Tehuantepec. Frequent contact and cultural interchange between the early Olmec and other cultures in Chiapas, Guatemala and Oaxaca laid the basis for the Mesoamerican cultural area. All this was facilitated by considerable regional communications in ancient Mesoamerica, especially along the Pacific coast. This formative period saw the spread of distinct religious and symbolic traditions, as well as artistic and architectural complexes. In the subsequent Preclassic period, complex urban polities began to develop among the Maya, with the rise of centers such as El Mirador, Calakmul and Tikal, and the Zapotec at Monte Albán. 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 three regions of the world where writing is known to have independently developed (the others being ancient Sumer and China). 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. Upon the collapse of Teotihuacán around A.D. 600, competition between several important political centers in central Mexico, such as Xochicalco and Cholula, ensued. At this time during the Epi-Classic period, the Nahua peoples began moving south into Mesoamerica from the North, and became politically and culturally dominant in central Mexico, as they displaced speakers of Oto-Manguean languages. 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. The distinct Mesoamerican cultural tradition ended with the Spanish conquest in the 16th century. Over the next centuries, Mesoamerican indigenous cultures were gradually subjected to Spanish colonial rule. Aspects of the Mesoamerican cultural heritage still survive among the indigenous peoples who inhabit Mesoamerica, many of whom continue to speak their ancestral languages, and maintain many practices harking back to their Mesoamerican roots. The term Mesoamerica – literally, "middle America" in Greek – is defined as the area that is home to the Mesoamerican civilization, which comprises a group of peoples with close cultural and historical ties. The exact geographic extent of Mesoamerica has varied through time, as the civilization extended North and South from its heartland in southern Mexico. The term was first used by the German ethnologist Paul Kirchhoff, who noted that similarities existed among the various pre-Columbian cultures within the region that included southern Mexico, Guatemala, Belize, El Salvador, western Honduras, and the Pacific lowlands of Nicaragua and northwestern Costa Rica. In the tradition of cultural history, the prevalent archaeological theory of the early to middle 20th century, Kirchhoff defined this zone as a cultural area based on a suite of interrelated cultural similarities brought about by millennia of inter- and intra-regional interaction (i.e., diffusion). Mesoamerica is recognized as a near-prototypical cultural area, and the term is now fully integrated in the standard terminology of pre-Columbian anthropological studies. Conversely, the sister terms Aridoamerica and Oasisamerica, which refer to northern Mexico and the western United States, respectively, have not entered into widespread usage. Some of the significant cultural traits defining the Mesoamerican cultural tradition are: sedentism based on maize agriculture; the construction of stepped pyramids; the use of two different calendars (a 260-day ritual calendar and a 365-day calendar based on the solar year); vigesimal (base 20) number system; the use of locally developed pictographic and hieroglyphic (logo-syllabic) writing systems; the use of rubber and the practice of the Mesoamerican ballgame; the use of bark paper for ritual purposes and as a medium for writing; the practice of various forms of sacrifice, including Human sacrifice; a religious complex based on a combination of shamanism and natural deities, and a shared system of symbols; a linguistic area defined by a number of grammatical traits that have spread through the area by diffusion. Located on the Middle American isthmus joining North and South America between about 10° and 22° northern latitude, Mesoamerica possesses a complex combination of ecological systems, topographic zones, and environmental contexts. A main distinction groups these different niches into two broad categories: the lowlands (those areas between sea level and 1000 meters) and the altiplanos, or highlands (situated between 1,000 and 2,000 meters above sea level). In the low-lying regions, sub-tropical and tropical climates are most common, as is true for most of the coastline along the Pacific and Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean Sea. The highlands show much more climatic diversity, ranging from dry tropical to cold mountainous climates; the dominant climate is temperate with warm temperatures and moderate rainfall. The rainfall varies from the dry Oaxaca and north Yucatán to the humid southern Pacific and Caribbean lowlands. Several distinct sub-regions within Mesoamerica are defined by a convergence of geographic and cultural attributes. These sub-regions are more conceptual than culturally meaningful, and the demarcation of their limits is not rigid. The Maya area, for example, can be divided into two general groups: the lowlands and highlands. The lowlands are further divided into the southern and northern Maya lowlands. The southern Maya lowlands are generally regarded as encompassing northern Guatemala, southern Campeche and Quintana Roo in Mexico, and Belize. The northern lowlands cover the remainder of the northern portion of the Yucatán Peninsula. Other areas include Central Mexico, West Mexico, the Gulf Coast Lowlands, Oaxaca, the Southern Pacific Lowlands, and Southeast Mesoamerica (including northern Honduras). There is extensive topographic variation in Mesoamerica, ranging from the high peaks circumscribing the Valley of Mexico and within the central Sierra Madre mountains to the low flatlands of the northern Yucatán Peninsula. The tallest mountain in Mesoamerica is Pico de Orizaba, a dormant volcano located on the border of Puebla and Veracruz. Its peak elevation is 5,636 meters (18,490 feet). The Sierra Madre mountains, which consist of several smaller ranges, run from northern Mesoamerica south through Costa Rica. The chain is historically volcanic. In central and southern Mexico, a portion of the Sierra Madre chain is known as the Eje Volcánico Transversal, or the Trans-Mexican volcanic belt. There are 83 inactive and active volcanoes within the Sierra Madre range, including 11 in Mexico, 37 in Guatemala, 23 in El Salvador, 25 in Nicaragua, and 3 in northwestern Costa Rica. According to the Michigan Technological University, 16 of these are still active. The tallest active volcano is Popocatépetl at 5,452 meters (17,887 feet). This volcano, which retains its Nahuatl name, is located 70 kilometers (43 miles) southeast of Mexico City. Other volcanoes of note include Tacana on the Mexico–Guatemala border, Tajumulco and Santamaría in Guatemala, Izalco in El Salvador, Momotombo in Nicaragua, and Arenal in Costa Rica. One important topographic feature is the Isthmus of Tehuantepec, a low plateau that breaks up the Sierra Madre chain between the Sierra Madre del Sur to the north and the Sierra Madre de Chiapas to the south. At its highest point, the Isthmus is 224 meters (735 feet) above mean sea level. This area also represents the shortest distance between the Gulf of Mexico and the Pacific Ocean in Mexico. The distance between the two coasts is roughly 200 kolimeters (120 miles). Although the northern side of the Isthmus is swampy and covered with dense jungle, the Isthmus of Tehuantepec, as the lowest and most level point within the Sierra Madre mountain chain, was nonetheless a main transportation, communication, and economic route within Mesoamerica. Outside of the northern Maya lowlands, rivers are common throughout Mesoamerica. Some of the more important ones served as loci of human occupation in the area. The longest river in Mesoamerica is the Usumacinta, which forms in Guatemala at the convergence of the Salinas or Chixoy and La Pasion River and runs north for 970 kilometers (600 miles) – 480 kilometers (300 miles) of which are navigable – eventually draining into the Gulf of Mexico. Other rivers of note include the Rio Grande de Santiago, the Grijalva River, the Motagua River, the Ulúa River, and the Hondo River. The northern Maya lowlands, especially the northern portion of the Yucatán peninsula, are notable for their nearly complete lack of rivers (largely due to the absolute lack of topographic variation). Additionally, no lakes exist in the northern peninsula. The main source of water in this area is aquifers that are accessed through natural surface openings called cenotes. With an area of 8,264 square kilometers (3,191 square miles), Lake Nicaragua is the largest lake in Mesoamerica. Lake Chapala is Mexico’s largest freshwater lake, but Lake Texcoco is perhaps most well known as the location upon which Tenochtitlan, capital of the Aztec Empire, was founded. Lake Petén Itzá, in northern Guatemala, is notable as the location at which the last independent Maya city, Tayasal (or Noh Petén), held out against the Spanish until 1697. Other large lakes include Lake Atitlán, Lake Izabal, Lake Güija, Lemoa, and Lake Managua. Almost all ecosystems are present in Mesoamerica; the more well known are the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef System, the second largest in the world, and La Mosquitia (consisting of the Rio Platano Biosphere Reserve, Tawahka Asangni, Patuca National Park, and Bosawas Biosphere Reserve) a rainforest second in size in the Americas only to the Amazonas. The highlands present mixed and coniferous forest. The biodiversity is among the richest in the world, although the number of species in the red list of the IUCN is growing every year. Tikal is one of the largest archaeological sites, urban centers, and tourist attractions of the pre-Columbian Maya civilization. It is located in the archaeological region of the Petén Basin in what is now northern Guatemala. The history of human occupation in Mesoamerica is divided into stages or periods. These are known, with slight variation depending on region, as the Paleo-Indian, the Archaic, the Preclassic (or Formative), the Classic, and the Postclassic. The last three periods, representing the core of Mesoamerican cultural fluorescence, are further divided into two or three sub-phases. Most of the time following the arrival of the Spanish in the 16th century is classified as the Colonial period. The differentiation of early periods (i.e., up through the end of the Late Preclassic) generally reflects different configurations of socio-cultural organization that are characterized by increasing socio-political complexity, the adoption of new and different subsistence strategies, and changes in economic organization (including increased interregional interaction). The Classic period through the Postclassic are differentiated by the cyclical crystallization and fragmentation of the various political entities throughout Mesoamerica. The Mesoamerican Paleo-Indian period precedes the advent of agriculture and is characterized by a nomadic hunting and gathering subsistence strategy. Big-game hunting, similar to that seen in contemporaneous North America, was a large component of the subsistence strategy of the Mesoamerican Paleo-Indian. These sites had obsidian blades and Clovis-style fluted projectile points. The Archaic period (8000–2000 B.C.) is characterized by the rise of incipient agriculture in Mesoamerica. The initial phases of the Archaic involved the cultivation of wild plants, transitioning into informal domestication and culminating with sedentism and agricultural production by the close of the period. Archaic sites include Sipacate in Escuintla, Guatemala, where maize pollen samples date to circa 3500 B.C. The well-known Coxcatlan cave site in the Valley of Tehuacán, Puebla, which contains over 10,000 teosinte cobs (an antecedent to maize), and Guilá Naquitz in Oaxaca represent some of the earliest examples of agriculture in Mesoamerica. The early development of pottery, often seen as a sign of sedentism, has been documented at several sites, including the West Mexican sites of Matanchén in Nayarit and Puerto Marqués in Guerrero. La Blanca, Ocós, and Ujuxte in the Pacific Lowlands of Guatemala yielded pottery dated to circa 2500 B.C. The first complex civilization to develop in Mesoamerica was that of the Olmec, who inhabited the gulf coast region of Veracruz throughout the Preclassic period. The main sites of the Olmec include San Lorenzo Tenochtitlán, La Venta, and Tres Zapotes. Although specific dates vary, these sites were occupied from roughly 1200 to 400 B.C. Remains of other early cultures interacting with the Olmec have been found at Takalik Abaj, Izapa, and Teopantecuanitlan, and as far south as in Honduras. Research in the Pacific Lowlands of Chiapas and Guatemala suggest that Izapa and the Monte Alto Culture may have preceded the Olmec. Radiocarbon samples associated with various sculptures found at the Late Preclassic site of Izapa suggest a date of between 1800 and 1500 B.C. During the Middle and Late Preclassic period, the Maya civilization developed in the southern Maya highlands and lowlands, and at a few sites in the northern Maya lowlands. The earliest Maya sites coalesced after 1000 B.C., and include Nakbe, El Mirador, and Cerros. El Mirador flourished from 600 B.C. to A.D. 100, and may have had a population of over 100,000. Middle to Late Preclassic Maya sites include Kaminaljuyú, Cival, Edzná, Cobá, Lamanai, Komchen, Dzibilchaltun, and San Bartolo, among others. The Preclassic in the central Mexican highlands is represented by such sites as Tlapacoya, Tlatilco, and Cuicuilco. These sites were eventually superseded by Teotihuacán, an important Classic-era site that eventually dominated economic and interaction spheres throughout Mesoamerica. The settlement of Teotihuacan is dated to the later portion of the Late Preclassic, or roughly A.D. 50. In the Valley of Oaxaca, San José Mogote represents one of the oldest permanent agricultural villages in the area, and one of the first to use pottery. During the Early and Middle Preclassic, the site developed some of the earliest examples of defensive palisades, ceremonial structures, the use of adobe, and hieroglyphic writing. Also of importance, the site was one of the first to demonstrate inherited status, signifying a radical shift in socio-cultural and political structure. San José Mogote was eventual overtaken by Monte Albán, the subsequent capital of the Zapotec empire, during the Late Preclassic. The Preclassic in western Mexico, in the states of Nayarit, Jalisco, Colima, and Michoacán also known as the Occidente, is poorly understood. This period is best represented by the thousands of figurines recovered by looters and ascribed to the "shaft tomb tradition". The Classic period is marked by the rise and dominance of several polities. The traditional distinction between the Early and Late Classic are marked by their changing fortune and their ability to maintain regional primacy. Of paramount importance are Teotihuacán in central Mexico and Tikal in Guatemala; the Early Classic’s temporal limits generally correlate to the main periods of these sites. Monte Alban in Oaxaca is another Classic-period polity that expanded and flourished during this period, but the Zapotec capital exerted less interregional influence than the other two sites. During the Early Classic, Teotihuacan participated in and perhaps dominated a far-reaching macro-regional interaction network. Architectural and artifact styles (talud-tablero, tripod slab-footed ceramic vessels) epitomized at Teotihuacan were mimicked and adopted at many distant settlements. Pachuca obsidian, whose trade and distribution is argued to have been economically controlled by Teotihuacan, is found throughout Mesoamerica. Tikal came to dominate much of the southern Maya lowlands politically, economically, and militarily during the Early Classic. An exchange network centered at Tikal distributed a variety of goods and commodities throughout southeast Mesoamerica, such as obsidian imported from central Mexico (e.g., Pachuca) and highland Guatemala (e.g., El Chayal, which was predominantly used by the Maya during the Early Classic), and jade from the Motagua valley in Guatemala. Tikal was often in conflict with other polities in the Petén Basin, as well as with others outside of it, including Uaxactun, Caracol, Dos Pilas, Naranjo, and Calakmul. Towards the end of the Early Classic, this conflict lead to Tikal’s military defeat at the hands of Caracol in 562, and a period commonly known as the Tikal Hiatus. The Late Classic period (beginning about A.D. 600 until A.D. 909 [varies]) is characterized as a period of interregional competition and factionalization among the numerous regional polities in the Maya area. This largely resulted from the decrease in Tikal’s socio-political and economic power at the beginning of the period. It was therefore during this time that other sites rose to regional prominence and were able to exert greater interregional influence, including Caracol, Copán, Palenque, and Calakmul (which was allied with Caracol and may have assisted in the defeat of Tikal), and Dos Pilas Aguateca and Cancuén in the Petexbatún region of Guatemala. Around 710, Tikal arose again and started to build strong alliances and defeat its worst enemies. In the Maya area, the Late Classic ended with the so-called "Maya collapse", a transitional period coupling the general depopulation of the southern lowlands and development and florescence of centers in the northern lowlands. Generally applied to the Maya area, the Terminal Classic roughly spans the time between A.D. 800/850 and about A.D. 1000. Overall, it generally correlates with the rise to prominence of Puuc settlements in the northern Maya lowlands, so named after the hills in which they are mainly found. Puuc settlements are specifically associated with a unique architectural style (the "Puuc architectural style") that represents a technological departure from previous construction techniques. Major Puuc sites include Uxmal, Sayil, Labna, Kabah, and Oxkintok. While generally concentrated within the area in and around the Puuc hills, the style has been documented as far away as at Chichen Itza to the east and Edzna to the south. Chichén Itzá was originally thought to have been a Postclassic site in the northern Maya lowlands. Research over the past few decades has established that it was first settled during the Early/Late Classic transition but rose to prominence during the Terminal Classic and Early Postclassic. During its apogee, this widely known site economically and politically dominated the northern lowlands. Its participation in the circum-peninsular exchange route, possible through its port site of Isla Cerritos, allowed Chichén Itzá to remain highly connected to areas such as central Mexico and Central America. The apparent "Mexicanization" of architecture at Chichén Itzá led past researchers to believe that Chichén Itzá existed under the control of a Toltec empire. Chronological data refutes this early interpretation, and it is now known that Chichén Itzá predated the Toltec; Mexican architectural styles are now used as an indicator of strong economic and ideological ties between the two regions. The Postclassic (beginning A.D. 900–1000, depending on area) is, like the Late Classic, characterized by the cyclical crystallization and fragmentation of various polities. The main Maya centers were located in the northern lowlands. Following Chichén Itzá, whose political structure collapsed during the Early Postclassic, Mayapán rose to prominence during the Middle Postclassic and dominated the north for about 200 years. After Mayapán’s fragmentation, political structure in the northern lowlands revolved around large towns or city-states, such as Oxkutzcab and Ti’ho (Mérida, Yucatán), that competed with one another. Toniná, in the Chiapas highlands, and Kaminaljuyú in the central Guatemala highlands, were important southern highland Maya centers. The latter site, Kaminaljuyú, is one of the longest occupied sites in Mesoamerica and was continuously inhabited from circa 800 B.C. to around A.D. 1200. Other important highland Maya groups include the K'iche' of Utatlán, the Mam in Zaculeu, the Poqomam in Mixco Viejo, and the Kaqchikel at Iximche in the Guatemalan highlands. The Pipil resided in El Salvador, while the Ch'orti' were in eastern Guatemala and northwestern Honduras. In central Mexico, the early portion of the Postclassic correlates with the rise of the Toltec and an empire based at their capital, Tula (also known as Tollan). Cholula, initially an important Early Classic center contemporaneous with Teotihuacan, maintained its political structure (it did not collapse) and continued to function as a regionally important center during the Postclassic. The latter portion of the Postclassic is generally associated with the rise of the Mexica and the Aztec Empire. One of the more commonly known cultural groups in Mesoamerica, the Aztec politically dominated nearly all of central Mexico, the Gulf Coast, Mexico’s southern Pacific Coast (Chiapas and into Guatemala), Oaxaca, and Guerrero. The Tarascans (also known as the P'urhépecha) were located in Michoacán and Guerrero. With their capital at Tzintzuntzan, the Tarascan state was one of the few to actively and continuously resist Aztec domination during the Late Postclassic. Other important Postclassic cultures in Mesoamerica include the Totonac along the eastern coast (in the modern-day states of Veracruz, Puebla, and Hidalgo). The Huastec resided north of the Totonac, mainly in the modern-day states of Tamaulipas and northern Veracruz. The Mixtec and Zapotec cultures, centered at Mitla and Zaachila respectively, inhabited Oaxaca. The Postclassic ends with the arrival of the Spanish and their subsequent conquest of the Aztec between 1519 and 1521. Many other cultural groups did not acquiesce until later. For example, Maya groups in the Petén area, including the Itza at Tayasal and the Kowoj at Zacpeten, remained independent until 1697. Some Mesoamerican cultures never achieved dominant status or left impressive archaeological remains but are nevertheless noteworthy. These include the Otomi, Mixe–Zoque groups (which may or may not have been related to the Olmecs), the northern Uto-Aztecan groups, often referred to as the Chichimeca, that include the Cora and Huichol, the Chontales, the Huaves, and the Pipil, Xincan and Lencan peoples of Central America. By roughly 6000 B.C., hunter-gatherers living in the highlands and lowlands of Mesoamerica began to develop agricultural practices with early cultivation of squash and chilli. The earliest example of maize dates to circa 4000 B.C. and comes from Guilá Naquitz, a cave in Oaxaca. Earlier maize samples have been documented at the Los Ladrones cave site in Panama, circa 5500 B.C. Slightly thereafter, other crops began to be cultivated by the semi-agrarian communities throughout Mesoamerica. Although maize is the most common domesticate, the common bean, tepary bean, scarlet runner bean, jicama, tomato and squash all became common cultivates by 3500 B.C. At the same time, cotton, yucca and agave were exploited for fibers and textile materials. By 2000 B.C., corn was the staple crop in the region and remained so through modern times. The Ramón or Breadnut tree (Brosimum alicastrum) was an occasional substitute for maize in producing flour. Fruit was also important in the daily diet of Mesoamerican cultures. Some of the main ones consumed include avocado, papaya, guava, mamey, zapote, and annona. Mesoamerica lacked animals suitable for domestication, most notably domesticated large ungulates – the lack of draft animals to assist in transportation is one notable difference between Mesoamerica and the cultures of the South American Andes. Other animals, including the duck, dogs, and turkey, were domesticated. Turkey was the first, occurring around 3500 B.C. Dogs were the primary source of animal protein in ancient Mesoamerica, and dog bones are common in midden deposits throughout the region. Societies of this region did hunt certain wild species to complement their diet. These animals included deer, rabbit, birds, and various types of insects. They also hunted in order to gain luxury items such as feline fur and bird plumage. Mesoamerican cultures that lived in the lowlands and coastal plains settled down in agrarian communities somewhat later than did highland cultures due to the fact that there was a greater abundance of fruits and animals in these areas, which made a hunter-gatherer lifestyle more attractive. Fishing also was a major provider of food to lowland and coastal Mesoamericans creating a further disincentive to settle down in permanent communities. Temples provided spatial orientation, which was imparted to the surrounding town. The cities with their commercial and religious centers were always political entities, somewhat similar to the European city-state, and each person could identify himself with the city in which he lived. The ceremonial centers were always built to be visible. The pyramids were meant to stand out from the rest of the city, to represent its gods and their powers. Another characteristic feature of the ceremonial centers is historic layers. All of the ceremonial edifices were built in various phases, one on top of the other, to the point that what we now see is usually the last stage of construction. Ultimately, the ceremonial centers were the architectural translation of the identity of each city, as represented by the veneration of their gods and masters.[citation needed] Stelae were common public monuments throughout Mesoamerica, and served to commemorate notable successes, events and dates associated with the rulers and nobility of the various sites. Given that Mesoamerica was broken into numerous and diverse ecological niches, none of the societies that inhabited the area were self-sufficient.[citation needed] For this reason, from the last centuries of the Archaic period onward, regions compensated for the environmental inadequacies by specializing in the extraction of certain abundant natural resources and then trading them for necessary unavailable resources through established commercial trade networks. The following is a list of some of the specialized resources traded from the various Mesoamerican sub-regions and environmental contexts: Pacific lowlands: cotton and cochineal. Maya lowlands and the Gulf Coast: cacao, vanilla, jaguar skins, birds and bird feathers (especially quetzal and macaw). Central Mexico: Obsidian (Pachuca). Guatemalan highlands: Obsidian (San Martin Jilotepeque, El Chayal, and Ixtepeque), pyrite, and jade from the Motagua River valley. Coastal areas: salt, dry fish, shell, and dyes. Agriculturally based people historically divide the year into four seasons. These included the two solstices and the two equinoxes, which could be thought of as the four "directional pillars" that support the year. These four times of the year were, and still are, important as they indicate seasonal changes that directly impact the lives of Mesoamerican agriculturalists. The Maya closely observed and duly recorded the seasonal markers. They prepared almanacs recording past and recent solar and lunar eclipses, the phases of the moon, the periods of Venus and Mars, the movements of various other planets, and conjunctions of celestial bodies. These almanacs also made future predictions concerning celestial events. These tables are remarkably accurate, given the technology available, and indicate a significant level of knowledge among Maya astronomers. Among the many types of calendars the Maya maintained, the most important include a 260-day cycle, a 360-day cycle or 'year', a 365-day cycle or year, a lunar cycle, and a Venus cycle, which tracked the synodic period of Venus. Maya of the European contact period said that knowing the past aided in both understanding the present and predicting the future (Diego de Landa). The 260-day cycle was a calendar to govern agriculture, observe religious holidays, mark the movements of celestial bodies and memorialize public officials. The 260-day cycle was also used for divination, and (like the Catholic calendar of saints) to name newborns. The names given to the days, months, and years in the Mesoamerican calendar came, for the most part, from animals, flowers, heavenly bodies, and cultural concepts that held symbolic significance in Mesoamerican culture. This calendar was used throughout the history of Mesoamerican by nearly every culture. Even today, several Maya groups in Guatemala, including the K'iche', Q'eqchi', Kaqchikel, and the Mixe people of Oaxaca continue using modernized forms of the Mesoamerican calendar. One of the earliest examples of the Mesoamerican writing systems, the Epi-Olmec script on the La Mojarra Stela 1, is dated to around A.D. 150. Mesoamerica is one of the five places in the world where writing has developed independently. The Mesoamerican scripts deciphered to date are logosyllabic combining the use of logograms with a syllabary, and they are often called hieroglyphic scripts. Five or six different scripts have been documented in Mesoamerica, but archaeological dating methods, and a certain degree of self-interest, create difficulties in establishing priority and thus the forebear from which the others developed. The best documented and deciphered Mesoamerican writing system, and therefore the most widely known, is the classic Maya script. Others include the Olmec, Zapotec, and Epi-Olmec/Isthmian writing systems. An extensive Mesoamerican literature has been conserved partly in indigenous scripts and partly in the postinvasion transcriptions into Latin script. The other glyphic writing systems of Mesoamerica, and their interpretation, have been subject to much debate. One important ongoing discussion regards whether non-Maya Mesoamerican texts can be considered examples of true writing or whether non-Maya Mesoamerican texts are best understood as pictographic conventions used to express ideas, specifically religious ones, but not representing the phonetics of the spoken language in which they were read. Mesoamerican writing is found in several mediums, including large stone monuments such as stelae, carved directly onto architecture, carved or painted over stucco (e.g., murals), and on pottery. No Precolumbian Mesoamerican society is known to have had widespread literacy, and literacy was probably restricted to particular social classes, including scribes, painters, merchants, and the nobility. The Mesoamerican book was typically written with brush and colored inks on a paper prepared from the inner bark of the ficus amacus. The book consisted of a long strip of the prepared bark, which was folded like a screenfold to define individual pages. The pages were often covered and protected by elaborately carved book boards. Some books were composed of square pages while others were composed of rectangular pages. Mesoamerican arithmetic treated numbers as having both literal and symbolic value, the result of the dualistic nature that characterized Mesoamerican ideology. The Mesoamerican numbering system was vigesimal (i.e., based on the number 20). In representing numbers, a series of bars and dots were employed. Dots had a value of one, and bars had a value of five. This type of arithmetic was combined with a symbolic numerology: '2' was related to origins, as all origins can be thought of as doubling; '3' was related to household fire; '4' was linked to the four corners of the universe; '5' expressed instability; '9' pertained to the underworld and the night; '13' was the number for light, '20' for abundance, and '400' for infinity. The concept of zero was also used, and its representation at the Late Preclassic occupation of Tres Zapotes is one of the earliest uses of zero in human history. It was once said “Mesoamerica would deserve its place in the human pantheon if its inhabitants had only created maize, in terms of harvest weight the world's most important crop". But the inhabitants of Mexico and northern Central America also developed tomatoes, now basic to Italian cuisine; peppers, essential to Thai and Indian food; all the world's squashes (except for a few domesticated in the United States); and many of the beans on dinner plates around the world. One writer estimated that Indians developed three-fifths of the crops now grown in cultivation, most of them in Mesoamerica. Having secured their food supply, the Mesoamerican societies turned to intellectual pursuits. In a millennium or less, a comparatively short time, they invented their own writing, astronomy and mathematics, including the zero. Maize played an important role in Mesoamerican Feasts due to its symbolic meaning and abundance. Fray Bernardino de Sahagún collected extensive information on plants, animals, soil types, among other matters from native informants in Book 11, The Earthly Things, of the twelve-volume General History of the Things of New Spain, known as the Florentine Codex, compiled in the third quarter of the sixteenth century. An earlier work, the Badianus Manuscript or Libellus de Medicinalibus Indorum Herbis is another Aztec codex with written text and illustrations collected from the indigenous viewpoint. The shared traits in Mesoamerican mythology are characterized by their common basis as a religion that, although in many Mesoamerican groups developed into complex polytheistic religious systems, retained some shamanistic elements. The great breadth of the Mesoamerican pantheon of deities is due to the incorporation of ideological and religious elements from the first primitive religion of Fire, Earth, Water and Nature. Astral divinities (the sun, stars, constellations, and Venus) were adopted and represented in anthropomorphic, zoomorphic, and anthropozoomorphic sculptures, and in day-to-day objects. The qualities of these gods and their attributes changed with the passage of time and with cultural influences from other Mesoamerican groups. The gods are at once three: creator, preserver, and destroyer, and at the same time just one. An important characteristic of Mesoamerican religion was the dualism among the divine entities. The gods represented the confrontation between opposite poles: the positive, exemplified by light, the masculine, force, war, the sun, etc.; and the negative, exemplified by darkness, the feminine, repose, peace, the moon, etc. The typical Mesoamerican cosmology sees the world as separated into a day world watched by the sun and a night world watched by the moon. More importantly, the three superposed levels of the world are united by a Ceiba tree (Yaxche' in Mayan). The geographic vision is also tied to the cardinal points. Certain geographical features are linked to different parts of this cosmovision. Thus mountains and tall trees connect the middle and upper worlds; caves connect the middle and nether worlds. Generally, sacrifice can be divided into two types: autosacrifice and human sacrifice. The different forms of sacrifice are reflected in the imagery used to evoke ideological structure and sociocultural organization in Mesoamerica. In the Maya area, for example, stele depict bloodletting rituals performed by ruling elites, eagles and jaguars devouring human hearts, jade circles or necklaces that represented hearts, and plants and flowers that symbolized both nature and the blood that provided life. Imagery also showed pleas for rain or pleas for blood, with the same intention to replenish the divine energy. Autosacrifice, also called bloodletting, is the ritualized practice of drawing blood from oneself. It is commonly seen or represented through iconography as performed by ruling elites in highly ritualized ceremonies, but it was easily practiced in mundane sociocultural contexts (i.e., non-elites could perform autosacrifice). The act was typically performed with obsidian prismatic blades or stingray spines, and blood was drawn from piercing or cutting the tongue, earlobes, and/or genitals (among other locations). Another form of autosacrifice was conducted by pulling a rope with attached thorns through the tongue or earlobes. The blood produced was then collected on paper held in a bowl. Autosacrifice was not limited to male rulers, as their female counterparts often performed these ritualized activities. They are typically shown performing the rope and thorns technique. A recently discovered queen's tomb in the Classic Maya site of Waka (also known as El Perú) had a ceremonial stingray spine placed in her genital area, suggesting that women also performed bloodletting in their genitalia. Human sacrifice had great importance in the social and religious aspects of Mesoamerican culture. First, it showed death transformed into the divine. Death is the consequence of a human sacrifice, but it is not the end; it is but the continuation of the cosmic cycle. Death creates life – divine energy is liberated through death and returns to the gods, who are then able to create more life. Secondly, it justifies war, since the most valuable sacrifices are obtained through conflict. The death of the warrior is the greatest sacrifice and gives the gods the energy to go about their daily activities, such as the bringing of rain. Warfare and capturing prisoners became a method of social advancement and a religious cause. Finally, it justifies the control of power by the two ruling classes, the priests and the warriors. The priests controlled the religious ideology, and the warriors supplied the sacrifices. The Mesoamerican ballgame was a sport with ritual associations played for over 3000 years by nearly all pre-Columbian peoples of Mesoamerica. The sport had different versions in different places during the millennia, and a modern version of the game, ulama, continues to be played in a few places. Over 1300 ballcourts have been found throughout Mesoamerica. They vary considerably in size, but they all feature long narrow alleys with side-walls to bounce the balls against. The rules of the ballgame are not known, but it was probably similar to volleyball, where the object is to keep the ball in play. In the most well-known version of the game, the players struck the ball with their hips, although some versions used forearms or employed rackets, bats, or handstones. The ball was made of solid rubber, and weighed up to 4 kilograms (9 pounds) or more, with sizes that differed greatly over time or according to the version played. While the game was played casually for simple recreation, including by children and perhaps even women, the game also had important ritual aspects, and major formal ballgames were held as ritual events, often featuring human sacrifice. Mesoamerican astronomy included a broad understanding of the cycles of planets and other celestial bodies. Special importance was given to the sun, moon, and Venus as the morning and evening star. Observatories were built at some sites, including the round observatory at Ceibal and the “Observatorio” at Xochicalco. Often, the architectural organization of Mesoamerican sites was based on precise calculations derived from astronomical observations. Well-known examples of these include the El Castillo pyramid at Chichen Itza and the Observatorio at Xochicalco. A unique and common architectural complex found among many Mesoamerican sites are E-Groups, which are aligned so as to serve as astronomical observatories. The name of this complex is based on Uaxactun’s “Group E,” the first known observatory in the Maya area. Perhaps the earliest observatory documented in Mesoamerica is that of the Monte Alto culture. This complex consisted of three plain stelae and a temple oriented with respect to the Pleiades. It has been argued that among Mesoamerican societies the concepts of space and time are associated with the four cardinal compass points and linked together by the calendar. Dates or events were always tied to a compass direction, and the calendar specified the symbolic geographical characteristic peculiar to that period. Resulting from the significance held by the cardinal directions, many Mesoamerican architectural features, if not entire settlements, were planned and oriented with respect to directionality. In Maya cosmology, each cardinal point was assigned a specific color and a specific jaguar deity (Bacab). They are as follows: Hobnil, Bacab of the East, associated with the color red and the Kan years; Can Tzicnal, Bacab of the North, assigned the color white and the Muluc years; 'Zac Cimi, Bacab of the West, associated with the color black and the Ix years; Hozanek, Bacab of the South, associated with the color yellow and the Cauac years. Later cultures such as the Kaqchikel and K'iche' maintain the association of cardinal directions with each color, but utilized different names. Among the Aztec, the name of each day was associated with a cardinal point (thus conferring symbolic significance), and each cardinal direction was associated with a group of symbols. Below are the symbols and concepts associated with each direction: East: crocodile, the serpent, water, cane, and movement. The East was linked to the world priests and associated with vegetative fertility, or, in other words, tropical exuberance. North: wind, death, the dog, the jaguar, and flint (or chert). The north contrasts with the east in that it is conceptualized as dry, cold, and oppressive. It is considered to be the nocturnal part of the universe and includes the dwellings of the dead. The dog (xoloitzcuintle) has a very specific meaning, as it accompanies the deceased during the trip to the lands of the dead and helps them cross the river of death that leads into nothingness. West: the house, the deer, the monkey, the eagle, and rain. The west was associated with the cycles of vegetation, specifically the temperate high plains that experience light rains and the change of seasons. South: rabbit, the lizard, dried herbs, the buzzard, and flowers. It is related on the one hand to the luminous Sun and the noon heat, and on the other with rain filled with alcoholic drink. The rabbit, the principal symbol of the west, was associated with farmers and with pulque. Mesoamerican artistic expression was conditioned by ideology and generally focused on themes of religion and/or sociopolitical power. This is largely based on the fact that most works that survived the Spanish conquest were public monuments. These monuments were typically erected by rulers who sought to visually legitimize their sociocultural and political position; by doing so, they intertwined their lineage, personal attributes and achievements, and legacy with religious concepts. As such, these monuments were specifically designed for public display and took many forms, including stele, sculpture, architectural reliefs, and other types of architectural elements (e.g., roofcombs). Other themes expressed include tracking time, glorifying the city, and veneration of the gods – all of which were tied to explicitly aggrandizing the abilities and the reign of the ruler who commissioned the artwork. [Wikipedia]. THE “BALL GAME”: The sport known simply as the Ball Game was popular across Mesoamerica and played by all the major civilizations from the Olmecs to the Aztecs. The impressive stone courts became a staple feature of a city’s sacred complex and there were often several playing courts in a single city. More than just a game, though, the event could have a religious significance and featured in episodes of Mesoamerican mythology. The contests even supplied candidates for human sacrifice, for the sport could, quite literally, be a game of life or death. The game was invented sometime in the Preclassical Period (2500-100 B.C.), probably by the Olmec, and became a common Mesoamerican-wide feature of the urban landscape by the Classical Period (300-900 A.D.). Eventually, the game was even exported to other cultures in North America and the Caribbean. In Mesoamerican mythology the game is an important element in the story of the Maya gods Hun Hunahpú and Vucub Hunahpú. The pair annoyed the gods of the underworld with their noisy playing and the two brothers were tricked into descending into Xibalba (the underworld) where they were challenged to a ball game. Losing the game, Hun Hunahpús had his head cut off; a foretaste of what would become common practice for players unfortunate enough to lose a game. In another legend, a famous ball game was held at the Aztec capital of Tenochtitlan between the Aztec king Motecuhzoma Xocoyotzin (reigned 1502-1520 A.D.) and the king of Texcoco. The latter had predicted that Motecuhzoma’s kingdom would fall and the game was set-up to establish the truth of this bold prediction. Motecuhzoma lost the game and did, of course, lose his kingdom at the hands of the invaders from the Old World. The story also supports the idea that the ball game was sometimes used for the purposes of divination. Courts were usually a part of a city’s sacred precinct, a fact which suggests the ball game was more than just a game. Early Preclassic playing courts were simple, flattened-earth rectangles but by the Late Formative Period (300 B.C. onwards) these evolved into more imposing areas which consisted of a flat rectangular surface set between two parallel stone walls. Each side could have a large vertical stone ring set high into the wall. The walls could be perpendicular or sloping away from the players and the ends of the court could be left open but defined using markers or, in other layouts, a wall closed off the playing space to create an I-shaped court. The court at Monte Albán, Oaxaca is a typical example of the I-shaped court. The length of the court could vary but the 60 meter long court at Epiclassic El Tajín (650-900 A.D.) represents a typical size. The flat court surface often has three large circular stone markers set in a line down the length of the court. Some of these markers from Maya sites have a quatrefoil cartouche indicating the underworld entrance which has led to speculation that the game may have symbolised the movement of the sun (the ball) through the underworld (the court) each night. Alternatively, the ball may have represented another heavenly body such as the moon and the court was the world. Surviving courts abound and are spread across Mesoamerica. The Epiclassic city of Cantona has an incredible 24 courts with at least 18 being contemporary. El Tajín also has a remarkable number of courts (at least 11) and it may well have been a sacred center for the sport, much like Olympia for athletics in ancient Greece. The earliest known court is from the Olmec city of San Lorenzo whilst the largest surviving stone playing court is at the Mayan-Toltec city of Chichén Itzá. With a length of 146 meters and a width of 36 meters, this court seems almost too large to be actually played in, especially with the rings set at the demanding height of 8 meters. The exact rules of the game are not known for certain and in all probability there were variations across the various cultures and different periods. However, the main aim was to get a solid rubber (latex) ball through one of the rings. This was more difficult than it seems as players could not use their hands. One can imagine that good players became highly skilled at directing the ball using their padded elbows, knees, thighs and shoulders. Teams were composed of two or three players and were male-only. There was also an alternative version, less-widespread, where players used sticks to hit the ball. The ball could be a lethal weapon in itself, as measuring anywhere from 10 to 30 centimeters in diameter and weighing from 1/2 to 3 1/2 kilograms (between 1 and 8 pounds), it could easily break bones. Remarkably, seven rubber balls have been preserved in the bogs of El Manatí near the Olmec city of San Lorenzo. These balls range from 8 to 25 centimeters in diameter and date from between 1600 and 1200 B.C. Players could be professionals or amateurs and there is evidence of betting on the outcome of important games. The game also had a strong association with warriors and war captives were often forced to play the game. Players were frequently depicted in Mesoamerican art, appearing in sculpture, ceramics and architectural decoration - the latter often decorating the courts themselves - and these depictions often show that the players wore protective gear such as belts and padding for the knees, hips, elbows and wrists. The players in these works of art also typically wear a padded helmet or a huge feathered headdress, perhaps the latter being for ceremonial purposes only. Zapotec relief stones at Dainzú also depict ball players wearing grilled helmets as well as knee-guards and gauntlets. Winners of the game received trophies, many of which have been excavated and include hachas and palmas. A hacha was a representation of the human head (early ones might have actually been heads) with a handle attached and was used as a trophy for a winning player, a piece of ceremonial equipment or as a marker in the court itself. A palma was also most likely a trophy or element of ceremonial costume worn by ball players. They are frequently represented in stone and can take the form of arms, hands, a player or a fan-tailed bird. Other trophies for game winners include stone yokes (typically u-shaped to be worn around the waist in imitation of the protective waist gear worn by players) and hand stones, often elaborately carved. All of these trophies are frequently found in graves and are reminders of the link between the sport and the underworld in Mesoamerican mythology. As games often had a religious significance the captain of the losing team, or even sometimes the entire team, were sacrificed to the gods. Such scenes are depicted in the decorative sculpture on the courts themselves. Perhaps the most famous is on the South ball court at El Tajín and at Chichén Itzá, where one relief panel shows two teams of seven players with one player having been decapitated. Another ominous indicator of the macabre turn that this sporting event could take is the presence of tzompantli (the skull racks where severed heads from sacrifices were displayed) rendered in stone carvings near the ball courts. The Classic Maya even invented a parallel game where captives, once defeated in the real game, were tied up and used as balls themselves and unceremoniously rolled down a flight of steps. [Ancient History Encyclopedia]. THE OLDEST BALL COURT: The remains of a 3,400-year-old earthen ballcourt have been found at the Early Formative period site of Paso de la Amada in the Soconusco region of Chiapas, Mexico. Dated to 1400 B.C., the ballcourt is the oldest known in Mesoamerica by some 500 years. Discovered by Warren Hill and Michael Blake of the University of British Columbia, it is 260 feet long and comprises two parallel mounds flanking a 26-foot-wide playing field. Benches eight feet deep and one foot tall, built into each of the mounds, run the length of the mounds. According to Hill, such architectural features are unique to ballcourts and changed little over the course of the ballgame's development. The court's location amid high-status residences suggests that it was reserved for elite members of society. Unlike later ballcourts, however, it was not apparently built in association with a civic ceremonial complex. Until the discovery of the Paso de la Amada ballcourt, the earliest known were those from the Middle Preclassic (ca. 900-400 B.C.) sites of Finca Acapulco, El Vergel, and San Mateo, on the right bank of Grijalva River in southern Chiapas. Waterlogged latex balls found at the Olmec site of El Manatí and representations of ballplayers painted on ceramics from San Lorenzo, however, attest that the ballgame was well established by the mid-thirteenth century B.C. [Archaeological Institute of America]. MEXICO’S ARCHAIC SOCONUSCO: Cantón Corralito is just one of many archaeological sites in the Mexican state of Chiapas, best known for its spectacular Maya ruins: the towering pyramids of Palenque and the murals at Bonampak (black-masked Subcomandante Marcos, leader of the 1994 indigenous uprising that put the plight of Mexico's Indians on the international stage, brought Chiapas fame as well). But these are hundreds of miles north of Cantón Corralito, which lies in an archaeologically rich area little visited by tourists. The Soconusco is a resource-rich region dominated by an estuary system of rivers and swamps that runs along the Pacific coast for about 350 miles to southern Guatemala, separating farmland and beach. In prehistory, it was the main travel route through the Isthmus of Tehuantepec, which connects the mainland of Mexico to the Yucatán Peninsula and Central America. While agriculture first arose in Oaxaca, the state bordering Chiapas to the northwest, and the Olmec (1250-500 B.C.) created Mesoamerica's first civilization just north, on the Gulf of Mexico, it is in the Soconusco that archaeologists have documented the earliest permanent villages, ranked societies, and sophisticated pottery in Mesoamerica, all of which arose during a period known as the Early Formative (1800-900 B.C.). The Soconusco's archaeological record has long been overshadowed by the dramatic monuments created by later Mesoamerican cultures, such as the colossal heads of the Olmec or the pyramids of the Teotihuacanos or Maya. The sticky tropical climate quickly destroys organic material, and the constantly shifting rivers often bury sites under deep alluvial deposits. Malaria and dengue fever thrive here as much as chocolate, bananas, sesame, and cotton. But its resources have drawn people for at least 9,000 years, and archaeologists have followed them. Since the early twentieth century, some have studied the region's Archaic period (7000-1800 B.C.), when nomadic populations lived in small mobile bands and relied on the swamps for fish, clams, and shrimp, while the majority have worked on the many Formative Period sites that grew along the coast from at least 1600 B.C. Much of this work has been supported by the New World Archaeological Foundation (NWAF) based at Brigham Young University, now headed by John Clark, who is considered one of the foremost authorities on this period. Recently, Clark and John Hodgson, an NWAF archaeologist and Ph.D candidate at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, revisited a Formative site called Ojo de Agua, a settlement possibly founded by people relocating from Cantón Corralito, which was flooded out about 1000 B.C. Ojo de Agua was first investigated by the NWAF decades ago but has remained largely unexcavated until now. While the research is still in beginning stages, what Hodgson found in the 2005 field season is promising. Ojo de Agua may be a planned ceremonial center in Mesoamerica with pyramids, the earliest one found so far. [Archaeological Institute of America]. AZTEC CIVILIZATION: The MesoAmerican Aztec Empire flourished between circa 1345 and 1521 A.D. and, at its greatest extent, covered most of northern Mesoamerica. Aztec warriors were able to dominate their neighboring states and permit rulers such as Motecuhzoma II to impose Aztec ideals and religion across Mexico. Highly accomplished in agriculture and trade, the last of the great Mesoamerican civilizations was also noted for its art and architecture which ranks amongst the finest ever produced on the continent. The Aztec state is actually the most well documented Mesoamerican civilization with sources including archaeology, native books (codices) and lengthy and detailed accounts from their Spanish conquerors - both by military men and Christian clergy. These latter sources may not always be reliable but the picture we have of the Aztecs, their institutions, religious practices, warfare and daily life is a rich one and it continues to be constantly expanded with details being added through the endeavors of 21st century archaeologists and scholars. Sometime around 1100 A.D. the city-states or altepetl which were spread over central Mexico began to compete with each other for local resources and regional dominance. Each state had its own ruler or tlatoani who led a council of nobles but these small urban centers surrounded by farmland soon sought to expand their wealth and influence so that by circa 1400 A.D. several small empires had formed in the Valley of Mexico. Dominant amongst these were Texcoco, capital of the Acholhua region, and Azcapotzalco, capital of the Tepenec. These two empires came face to face in 1428 A.D. with the Tepanec War. The Azcapotzalco forces were defeated by an alliance of Texcoco, Tenochtitlan (the capital of the Mexica) and several other smaller cities. Following victory a Triple Alliance was formed between Texcoco, Tenochtitlan and a rebel Tepanec city, Tlacopan. A campaign of territorial expansion began where the spoils of war - usually in the form of tributes from the conquered - were shared between these three great cities. Over time Tenochtitlan came to dominate the Alliance, its ruler became the supreme ruer - the huey tlatoque ('high king') - and the city established itself as the capital of the Aztec empire. The empire continued to expand from 1430 A.D. and the Aztec military - bolstered by conscription of all adult males, men supplied from allied and conquered states, and such elite groups as the Eagle and Jaguar warriors - swept aside their rivals. Aztec warriors wore padded cotton armour, carried a wooden or reed shield covered in hide, and wielded weapons such as a super sharp obsidian sword-club (macuahuitl), a spear or dart thrower (atlatl), and bow and arrows. Elite warriors also wore spectacular feathered and animal skin costumes and headdresses to signify their rank. Battles were concentrated in or around major cities and when these fell the victors claimed the whole surrounding territory. Regular tributes were extracted and captives were taken back to Tenochtitlan for ritual sacrifice. In this way the Aztec empire came to cover most of northern Mexico, an area of some 135,000 square kilometres. The empire was kept together through the appointment of officials from the Aztec heartland, inter-marriages, gift-giving, invitations to important ceremonies, the building of monuments and artworks which promoted Aztec imperial ideology, and most importantly of all, the ever-present threat of military intervention. Some states were integrated more than others whilst those on the extremities of the empire became useful buffer zones against more hostile neighbors, notably the Tarascan civilization. The Aztec capital of Tenochtitlan on the western shore of Lake Texcoco flourished so that the city could boast at least 200,000 inhabitants by the early 16th century A.D., making it the largest city in the Pre-Columbian Americas. These inhabitants were divided into several social strata. At the top were local rulers (teteuhctin), then came nobles (pipiltin), commoners (macehualtin), serfs (mayeque), and finally slaves (tlacohtin). The strata seem to have been relatively fixed but there is some evidence of movement between them, especially in the lower classes. Not only the political and religious capital, Tenochtitlán was also a huge trading center with goods flowing in and out such as gold, greenstone, turquoise, cotton, cacao beans, tobacco, pottery, tools, weapons, foodstuffs (tortillas, chile sauces, maize, beans, and even insects, for example) and slaves. The Spanish invaders were hugely impressed by the city's splendour and magnificent architecture and artwork, especially the Templo Mayor pyramid and massive stone sculptures. Dominating the city was the huge Sacred Precinct with its temples and monumental ball court. Tenochtitlan's water management was also impressive with large canals criss-crossing the city which was itself surrounded by chinampas - raised and flooded fields - which greatly increased the agricultural capacity of the Aztecs. There were also anti-flood dykes, artificial reservoirs for fresh water, and wonderful flower gardens dotted around the city. The whole city was designed to inspire awe in the people, especially visiting nobles who, entertained with lavish ceremonies, could see that the Mexica Aztecs truly were: "Masters of the world, their empire so wide and abundant that they had conquered all the nations and that all were their vassals. The guests, seeing such wealth and opulence and such authority and power, were filled with terror" (quoting Diego Durán, the Spanish friar). Mythology and religion, as with most ancient cultures, were closely intertwined for the Aztecs. The very founding of Tenochtitlán was based on the belief that peoples from the mythical land of plenty Aztlán (literally 'Land of White Herons' and origin of the Aztec name) in the far northwest had first settled in the Valley of Mexico. They had been shown the way by their god Huitzilopochtli who had sent an eagle sitting on a cactus to indicate exactly where these migrants should build their new home. The god also gave these people their name, the Mexica, who along with other ethnic groups, who similarly spoke Nahuatl, collectively made up the peoples now generally known as the Aztecs. The Aztec pantheon included a mix of older Mesoamerian gods and specifically Mexica deities. The two principal gods worshipped were Huitzilopochtli (the war and sun god) and Tlaloc (the rain god) and both had a temple on top of the Templo Mayor pyramid at the heart of Tenochtitlan. Other important gods were Quetzalcoatl (the feathered serpent god common to many Mesoamerican cultures), Tezcatlipoca (supreme god at Texcoco), Xipe Totec (god of Spring and agriculture), Xiuhtecuhtli (god of fire), Xochipilli (god of summertime and flowers), Ometeotl (the creator god), Mictlantecuhtli (god of the dead) and Coatlicue (the earth-mother goddess). This sometimes bewildering array of gods presided over every aspect of the human condition. The timing of ceremonies in honour of these deities was dictated by a variety of calendars. There was the 260-day Aztec calendar which was divided into 20 weeks, each of 13 days which carried names such as Crocodile and Wind. There was also a Solar calendar consisting of 18 months, each of 20 days. The 584 day period covering the rise of Venus was also important and there was a 52 year cycle of the sun to be considered. The movement of planets and stars were carefully observed (albeit not as accurately, though, as the Maya had done) and they provided the motive for the specific timing of many religious rites and agricultural practices. The sun, not surprisingly, had great significance for the Aztecs. They believed that the world went through a series of cosmic ages, each had its own sun but finally each world was destroyed and replaced by another until the fifth and final age was reached - the present day for the Aztecs. This cosmic progression was wonderfully represented in the famous Sun Stone but also crops up in many other places too. The gods were honoured with festivals, banquets, music, dancing, decoration of statues, burning of incense, the ritual burial of precious goods, penances such as blood-letting, and animal sacrifices. Humans, both adults and less often children, were also frequently sacrificed to metaphorically 'feed' the gods and keep them happy lest they become angry and make life difficult for humans by sending storms, droughts etc. or even just to keep the sun appearing every day. Victims were usually taken from the losing side in wars. Indeed, the so-called 'Flowery Wars' were specifically undertaken to collect sacrificial victims. The most prestigious offerings were those warriors who had shown great bravery in battle. The sacrifice itself could take three main forms: the heart was removed, the victim was decapitated, or the victim was made to fight in a hopelessly one-sided contest against elite warriors. There were also impersonators who dressed in the regalia of a specific god and at the climax of the ceremony were themselves sacrificed. The Aztecs were themselves appreciative of fine art and they collected pieces from across their empire to be brought back to Tenochtitlán and often ceremonially buried. Aztec art was nothing if not eclectic and ranged from miniature engraved precious objects to massive stone temples. Monumental sculptures were a particular favourite and could be fearsome monstrosities such as the colossal Coatlicue statue or be very life-like such as the famous sculpture of a seated Xochipilli. Organized in guilds and attached to the main palaces, artisans could specialise in metalwork, wood carving or stone sculpture, with materials used such as amethyst, rock crystal, gold, silver, and exotic feathers. Perhaps some of the most striking art objects are those which employed turquoise mosaic such as the famous mask of Xuihtecuhtli. Common forms of pottery vessels include anthropomorphic vases in bright colours and of special note was the finely made and highly prized Cholula ware from Cholollan. Aztec art depicted all manner of subjects but especially popular were animals, plants and gods, particularly those related to fertility and agriculture. Art could also be used as propaganda to spread the imperial dominance of Tenochtitlan. Examples such as the Sun Stone, Stone of Tizoc, and Throne of Motecuhzoma II all portray Aztec ideology and seek to closely correlate political rulers to cosmic events and even the gods themselves. Even architecture could achieve this aim, for example, the Templo Mayor pyramid sought to replicate the sacred snake mountain of Aztec mythology, Coatepec, and temples and statues bearing Aztec symbols were set up across the empire. The Aztec empire, which controlled some 11,000,000 people, had always had to deal with minor rebellions - typically, when new rulers took power at Tenochtitlan - but these had always been swiftly crushed. The tide began to turn, though, when the Aztecs were heavily defeated by the Tlaxcala and Huexotzingo in 1515 A.D.. With the arrival of the Spanish, some of these rebel states would again seize the opportunity to gain their independence. When the conquistadors finally did arrive from the Old World sailing their floating palaces and led by Hernán Cortés, their initial relations with the leader of the Aztecs, Motecuhzoma II, were friendly and valuable gifts were exchanged. Things turned sour, though, when a small group of Spanish soldiers were killed at Tenochtitlan while Cortés was away at Veracruz. The Aztec warriors, unhappy at Motecuhzoma's passivity, overthrew him and set Cuitlahuac as the new tlatoani. This incident was just what Cortés needed and he returned to the city to relieve the besieged remaining Spanish but was forced to withdraw on the 30th of June 1520 A.D. in what became known as the Noche Triste. Gathering local allies Cortés returned ten months later and in 1521 A.D. he laid siege to the city. Lacking food and ravaged by disease, the Aztecs, now led by Cuauhtemoc, finally collapsed on the fateful day of 13th of August 1521 A.D.. Tenochtitlan was sacked and its monuments destroyed. From the ashes rose the new capital of the colony of New Spain and the long line of Mesoamerican civilizations which had stretched right back to the Olmec came to a dramatic and brutal end. [Ancient History Encyclopedia]. TENOCHTITLAN, AZTEC CAPITAL: Tenochtitlan, located on an island near the western shore of Lake Texcoco in central Mexico, was the capital city and religious center of the Aztec civilization. The traditional founding date of the city was 1345 A.D. and it remained the most important Aztec center until its destruction at the hands of the conquering Spanish led by Hernán Cortés in 1521 A.D., which led to the final collapse of the Aztec Empire. At the heart of the city was a large sacred precinct dominated by the huge pyramid, known as the Temple Mayor, which honored the gods Huitzilopochtli and Tlaloc. The site, now Mexico City, continues to be excavated and has yielded some of the greatest treasures of Aztec art such as the celebrated Sun Stone as well as art objects the Aztecs themselves collected from the other great civilizations of Mesoamerica. In Aztec mythology the founders of the city migrated from the legendary Aztlán cave in the northwest desert which involved a protracted journey that eventually led to Lake Texcoco. During this migration priests had carried a huge idol of the god Huitzilopochtli, who whispered directions, gave the Méxica their name and promised great wealth and prosperity if he was suitably worshipped. Along the way the Méxica settled at different spots, none of which really suited their purpose. A decisive event in the migration was the rebellion incited by Copil, son of Huitzilopochtli’s sister Malinalxochitl. This was in revenge for the goddess’ abandonment by the Méxica but with Huitzilopochtli’s help Copil was killed. The great war god instructed that the rebel’s heart be thrown as far as possible into Lake Texcoco and where it landed would indicate the place the Méxica should build their new home, the precise spot being marked by an eagle sitting on a prickly-pear cactus (nopal) and devouring a snake. This is exactly what came to pass and the new capital of Tenochtitlan was built, the traditional date being 1345 A.D. The name of the city derives from tetl meaning rock, nochtli, the prickly-pear cactus and tlan, the locative suffix. Of similar origin is the term Tenocha which the Méxica sometimes called themselves and the name of their quasi-legendary priest-leader Tenoch. Although the city was destroyed and over the following centuries extensively built over, the chroniclers of the 16th century A.D., fortunately, recorded in great detail the buildings and works of art that had once made Tenochtitlan one of the greatest cities in Mesoamerica and, with over 200,000 residents, certainly the most populous. These records and the extensive and continuing archaeology at the site mean that we know more about Tenochtitlan than any other city from the great Mesoamerican civilizations. As Bernal Diaz del Castillo, one of Cortés’ men put it on first seeing the city: "It was like the enchantments in the book of Amadis, because of high towers, rues [pyramids] and other buildings, all of masonry, which rose from the water. Some of the soldiers asked if what they saw was not a dream." Tenochtitlan covered, at its greatest extent, some 12-14 km² and was connected to the western shore of the lake and surrounding countryside by three causeways (running north, east and west) which included gaps traversed by removable bridges. The gaps allowed boats to pass, and could be taken down in case of an attack on the city (something which never occurred until the Spanish arrived). There was also a stone aqueduct which brought fresh water to the city from springs near the Chapultepec Hill. The lake provided an important source of food but good agricultural land was scarce and this fact would necessitate reclaiming land from the lake and, eventually, military conquest to take land by force from neighbouring states. The surrounding chinampa or ‘floating gardens’ (mud rafts secured with willow trees) of their immediate neighbours were, therefore, seized and developed to meet the needs of the growing population in the city. The city itself was laid out in a grid pattern with many canals permeating through the city. Besides the four main thoroughfares dissecting the city along the cardinal directions, most streets and canals were narrow, especially as there were no wheeled vehicles or beasts of burden so that goods were transported by porter or small boats and canoes. The canals, along with the many willow trees, flower gardens and white-plastered monuments gleaming in the sunlight, must have made for a picturesque city. As one Nahuatl poem describes: "The city is spread out in circles of jade; radiating flashes of light like quetzal plumes; besides it the lords are borne in boats; over them extends flowery mist." The heart of the city was the walled ceremonial precinct with its three entrances, impressive temples and pyramids from which the city spread out into four principal residential quarters. These had sometimes vast palaces such as Motecuhzoma I’s old residence and the palace of Axayacatl, smaller flat-roofed stone residences for nobles and officials, huge market places (where all manner of basic and luxury goods could be purchased such as jade, chocolate and vanilla), judicial chambers, treasure houses, store-rooms, structures such as the Dance House and the Aviary, and closely packed areas of workshops (working especially metal and obsidian but also basketry using the local reeds) and small adobe brick and reed homes where the lower classes lived, although these too could be interspersed with small gardens. The sacred precinct at the heart of Tenochtitlan contained, according to one eye-witness, 78 separate structures. Amongst the most important were the Temple Mayor of Tlaloc and Huitzilopochtli, which was flanked by the Eagle’s House (named after its stone decoration) on one side and the pyramid of Tezcatlipoca on the other. In front of the Temple Mayor stood the gladiator stone (where sacrificial victims were bound and attacked by ‘knights’), a stone tzompantli (skull rack) and an I-shaped ball court. In the south west corner stood the Sun Temple of Tonatiuh and a temple to Quetzalcoatl. There was also a temple to the earth goddess Tonantzin and the Coateocalli building which housed, and in a sense spiritually captured, the statues of gods and various other artworks captured from conquered enemies. Finally, on the Tlaloc side of the Temple Mayor excavations have revealed a man-made mountain made of offerings and deposits which was designed to imitate Tlaloc’s sacred mountain. The Great Temple or Temple Mayor (called Hueteocalli by the Aztecs) takes center stage in the sacred precinct. On top of the 60 meter high pyramid platform, reached by two flights of steps, were two twin temples. The north side shrine was dedicated to Tlaloc, the god of rain and the other, on the south side, was dedicated to Huitzilopochtli, the god of war. The temple to Tlaloc marked the summer solstice (symbolic of the wet season) whilst Huitzilopochtli’s marked the winter solstice (symbolic of the dry season and a time for warfare). The monumental steps leading to Tlaloc’s temple were painted blue and white, the former color representing water, the element so strongly associated with the god. In contrast, the steps leading to Huitzilopochtli’s temple were painted bright red to symbolize blood and war. Sacrifices, including human ones, were carried out at both temples to feed and honor the gods. A typical sacrifice involved the victim having their heart ripped out, being skinned, decapitated and then dismembered. Following all that the corpse was flung down the steps of the pyramid to land at the base where a massive round stone depicted Coyolxauhqui, the goddess who was similarly treated by Huitzilopochtli in mythology. When the Spanish arrived at Tenochtitlan, their leader Cortés had only 500 men and fewer than 20 horses at his disposal. However, by recruiting allies such as the Tlaxcalans, he was able to lay siege to the city which would eventually fall on the 13th of August 1521 A.D. The great monuments were sacked and looted, works of art and precious objects were melted down and the Aztec civilization collapsed. What was left of the city was made into the capital of New Spain, as the Spanish called their new colony. Excavations within the temples and buildings of Tenochtitlan began in the 20th century and have revealed the true complexity of the site’s history. There is evidence, for example, that the sacred precinct was built over much earlier structures, that the temples themselves were reconstructed and added to many times and within them were buried offerings, for example, the coral, shells and sea-life interred deep within the Temple Mayor. The city was stripped of anything of value following its collapse but, nevertheless, several stunning works of art have been, almost miraculously, recovered from Tenochtitlan. These include the iconic Sun Stone (aka Calendar Stone), the great stone sculpture of Coatlicue, the Tizoc stone, the huge round stone depicting Coyolxauhqui which rested at the foot of the Temple Mayor, the Temple Stone - a stone throne probably used by Motecuhzoma II and decorated with gods and a sun disk, and finally, the blue ceramic anthropomorphic vessel depicting Tlaloc. In addition to these magnificent works of Aztec art, excavation of the temples has revealed caches of art from many earlier Mesoamerican civilizations as far back as the Olmecs, illustrating that the Aztecs were appreciative and even reverent art collectors. Many richly decorated and finely made ceramic vessels have also been excavated which show that the Aztec artist was perhaps more skilled than had first been appreciated. The vast majority of these finds form part of the breathtaking collection of the National Museum of Anthropology in Mexico City, which has been, of course, constructed on top of the ancient site of Tenochtitlán. [Ancient History Encyclopedia]. MESO-AMERICAN INCA: The MesoAmerican Inca civilization flourished in ancient Peru between circa 1400 and 1533 A.D., and their empire eventually extended across western South America from Quito in the north to Santiago in the south, making it the largest empire ever seen in the Americas and the largest in the world at that time. Undaunted by the often harsh Andean environment, the Incas conquered people and exploited landscapes in such diverse settings as plains, mountains, deserts, and tropical jungle. Famed for their unique art and architecture, they constructed finely-built and imposing buildings wherever they conquered, and their spectacular adaptation of natural landscapes with terracing, highways, and mountaintop settlements continues to impress modern visitors at such world famous sites as Machu Picchu. As with other ancient Americas cultures, the historical origins of the Incas are difficult to disentangle from the founding myths they themselves created. According to legend, in the beginning, the creator god Viracocha came out of the Pacific Ocean, and when he arrived at Lake Titicaca, he created the sun and all ethnic groups. These first people were buried by the god and only later did they emerge from springs and rocks (sacred pacarinas) back into the world. The Incas, specifically, were brought into existence at Tiwanaku (Tiahuanaco) from the sun god Inti, hence, they regarded themselves as the chosen few, the 'Children of the Sun', and the Inca ruler was Inti's representative and embodiment on earth. In another version of the creation myth, the first Incas came from a sacred cave known as Tampu T'oqo or 'The House of Windows', which was located at Pacariqtambo, the 'Inn of Dawn', south of Cuzco. The first pair of humans were Manco Capac (or Manqo Qhapaq) and his sister (also his wife) Mama Oqllu (or Ocllo). Three more brother-sister siblings were born, and the group set off together to found their civilization. Defeating the Chanca people with the help of stone warriors (pururaucas), the first Incas finally settled in the Valley of Cuzco and Manco Capac, throwing a golden rod into the ground, established what would become the Inca capital, Cuzco. More concrete archaeological evidence has revealed that the first settlements in the Cuzco Valley actually date to 4500 B.C. when hunter-gather communities occupied the area. However, Cuzco only became a significant center sometime at the beginning of the Late Intermediate Period (1000-1400 A.D.). A process of regional unification began from the late 14th century A.D., and from the early 15th century A.D., with the arrival of the first great Inca leader Pachacuti Inca Yupanqui ('Reverser of the World') and the defeat of the Chanca in 1438 A.D., the Incas began to expand in search of plunder and production resources, first to the south and then in all directions. They eventually built an empire which stretched across the Andes, conquering such peoples as the Lupaka, Colla, Chimor, and Wanka civilizations along the way. Once established, a nationwide system of tax and administration was instigated which consolidated the power of Cuzco. The rise of the Inca Empire was spectacularly quick. First, all speakers of the Inca language Quechua (or Runasimi) were given privileged status, and this noble class then dominated all the important roles within the empire. Thupa Inca Yupanqui (also known as Topa Inca), Pachacuti's successor from 1471 A.D., is credited with having expanded the empire by a massive 4,000 km (2,500 miles). The Incas themselves called their empire Tawantinsuyo (or Tahuantinsuyu) meaning 'Land of the Four Quarters' or 'The Four Parts Together'. Cuzco was considered the navel of the world, and radiating out were highways and sacred sighting lines (ceques) to each quarter: Chinchaysuyu (north), Antisuyu (east), Collasuyu (south), and Cuntisuyu (west). Spreading across ancient Ecuador, Peru, northern Chile, Bolivia, upland Argentina, and southern Colombia and stretching 5,500 km (3,400 miles) north to south, 40,000 Incas governed a huge territory with some 10 million subjects speaking over 30 different languages. The Incas kept lists of their kings (Sapa Inca) so that we know of such names as Pachacuti Inca Yupanqui (reign circa 1438-63 A.D.), Thupa Inca Yupanqui (reign circa 1471-93 A.D.), and Wayna Qhapaq (the last pre-Hispanic ruler, reign circa 1493-1525 A.D.). It is possible that two kings ruled at the same time and that queens may have had some significant powers, but the Spanish records are not clear on both points. The Sapa Inca was an absolute ruler, and he lived a life of great opulence. Drinking from gold and silver cups, wearing silver shoes, and living in a palace furnished with the finest textiles, he was pampered to the extreme. He was even looked after following his death, as the Inca mummified their rulers. Stored in the Coricancha temple in Cuzco, the mummies (mallquis) were, in elaborate ceremonies, regularly brought outside wearing their finest regalia, given offerings of food and drink, and 'consulted' for their opinion on pressing state affairs. Inca rule was, much like their architecture, based on compartmentalised and interlocking units. At the top was the ruler and ten kindred groups of nobles called panaqa. Next in line came ten more kindred groups, more distantly related to the king and then, a third group of nobles not of Inca blood but made Incas as a privilege. At the bottom of the state apparatus were locally recruited administrators who oversaw settlements and the smallest Andean population unit the ayllu, which was a collection of households, typically of related families who worked an area of land, lived together and provided mutual support in times of need. Each ayllu was governed by a small number of nobles or kurakas, a role which could include women. Local administrators reported to over 80 regional-level administrators who, in turn, reported to a governor responsible for each quarter of the empire. The four governors reported to the supreme Inca ruler in Cuzco. To ensure loyalty, the heirs of local rulers were also kept as well-kept prisoners at the Inca capital. The most important political, religious, and military roles within the empire were, then, kept in the hands of the Inca elite, called by the Spanish the orejones or 'big ears' because they wore large earspools to indicate their status. To better ensure the control of this elite over their subjects, garrisons dotted the empire, and entirely new administrative centers were built, notably at Tambo Colorado, Huánuco Pampa and Hatun Xauxa. For tax purposes censuses were taken and populations divided up into groups based on multiples of ten (Inca mathematics was almost identical to the system we use today). As there was no currency in the Inca world, taxes were paid in kind - usually foodstuffs, precious metals, textiles, exotic feathers, dyes, and spondylus shell - but also in laborers who could be shifted about the empire to be used where they were most needed, known as mit'a service. Agricultural land and herds were divided into three parts: production for the state religion and the gods, for the Inca ruler, and for the farmers own use. Local communities were also expected to help build and maintain such imperial projects as the road system which stretched across the empire. To keep track of all these statistics, the Inca used the quipu, a sophisticated assembly of knots and strings which was also highly transportable and could record decimals up to 10,000. Although the Incas imposed their religion and administration on conquered peoples, extracted tribute, and even moved loyal populations (mitmaqs) to better integrate new territories into the empire, the Incas also brought certain benefits such as food redistribution in times of environmental disaster, better storage facilities for foodstuffs, work via state-sponsored projects, state-sponsored religious feasts, roads, military assistance and luxury goods, especially art objects enjoyed by the local elite. Most splendid were the temples built in honor of Inti and Mama Kilya - the former was lined with 700 2kg sheets of beaten gold. The Inca capital of Cuzco (from qosqo, meaning 'dried-up lake bed' or perhaps derived from cozco, a particular stone marker in the city) was the religious and administrative center of the empire and had a population of up to 150,000 at its peak. Dominated by the sacred gold-covered and emerald-studded Coricancha complex (or Temple of the Sun), its greatest buildings were credited to Pachacuti. Most splendid were the temples built in honor of Inti and Mama Kilya - the former was lined with 700 2kg sheets of beaten gold, the latter with silver. The whole capital was laid out in the form of a puma (although some scholars dispute this and take the description metaphorically) with the imperial metropolis of Pumachupan forming the tail and the temple complex of Sacsayhuaman (or Saqsawaman) forming the head. Incorporating vast plazas, parklands, shrines, fountains, and canals, the splendor of Inca Cuzco now, unfortunately, survives only in the eye-witness accounts of the first Europeans who marvelled at its architecture and riches. The Inca had great reverence for two earlier civilizations who had occupied much the same territory - the Wari and Tiwanaku. As we have seen, the sites of Tiwanaku and Lake Titicaca played an important part in Inca creation myths and so were especially revered. Inca rulers made regular pilgrimages to Tiwanaku and the islands of the lake, where two shrines were built to Inti the Sun god and supreme Inca deity, and the moon goddess Mama Kilya. Also in the Coricancha complex at Cuzco, these deities were represented by large precious metal artworks which were attended and worshipped by priests and priestesses led by the second most important person after the king: the High Priest of the Sun (Willaq Umu). Thus, the religion of the Inca was preoccupied with controlling the natural world and avoiding such disasters as earthquake, floods, and drought, which inevitably brought about the natural cycle of change, the turning over of time involving death and renewal which the Inca called pachakuti. Sacred sites were also established, often taking advantage of prominent natural features such as mountain tops, caves, and springs. These huacas could be used to take astronomical observations at specific times of the year. Religious ceremonies took place according to the astronomical calendar, especially the movements of the sun, moon, and Milky Way (Mayu). Processions and ceremonies could also be connected to agriculture, especially the planting and harvesting seasons. Along with Titicaca's Island of the Sun, the most sacred Inca site was Pachacamac, a temple city built in honor of the god with the same name, who created humans, plants, and was responsible for earthquakes. A large wooden statue of the god, considered an oracle, brought pilgrims from across the Andes to worship at Pachacamac. Shamans were another important part of Inca religion and were active in every settlement. Cuzco had 475, the most important being the yacarca, the personal advisor to the ruler. Inca religious rituals also involved ancestor worship as seen through the practice of mummification and making offerings to the gods of food, drink, and precious materials. Sacrifices - both animals and humans, including children - were also made to pacify and honor the gods and ensure the good health of the king. The pouring of libations, either water or chicha beer, was also an important part of Inca religious ceremonies. The Incas imposed their religion on local populations by building their own temples and sacred sites, and they also commandeered sacred relics from conquered peoples and held them in Cuzco. Stored in the Coricancha, they were perhaps considered hostages which ensured compliance to the Inca view of the world. Master stone masons, the Incas constructed large buildings, walls and fortifications using finely-worked blocks - either regular or polygonal - which fitted together so precisely no mortar was needed. With an emphasis on clean lines, trapezoid shapes, and incorporating natural features into these buildings, they have easily withstood the powerful earthquakes which frequently hit the region. The distinctive sloping trapezoid form and fine masonry of Inca buildings were, besides their obvious aesthetic value, also used as a recognizable symbol of Inca domination throughout the empire. One of the most common Inca buildings was the ubiquitous one-room storage warehouse the qollqa. Built in stone and well-ventilated, they were either round and stored maize or square for potatoes and tubers. The kallanka was a very large hall used for community gatherings. More modest buildings include the kancha - a group of small single-room and rectangular buildings (wasi and masma) with thatched roofs built around a courtyard enclosed by a high wall. The kancha was a typical architectural feature of Inca towns, and the idea was exported to conquered regions. Terracing to maximise land area for agriculture (especially for maize) was another Inca practice, which they exported wherever they went. These terraces often included canals, as the Incas were expert at diverting water, carrying it across great distances, channelling it underground, and creating spectacular outlets and fountains. Goods were transported across the empire along purpose-built roads using llamas and porters (there were no wheeled vehicles). The Inca road network covered over 40,000 km and as well as allowing for the easy movement of armies, administrators, and trade goods, it was also a very powerful visual symbol of Inca authority over their empire. The roads had rest stations along their way, and there was also a relay system of runners (chasquis) who carried messages up to 240 km in a single day from one settlement to another. Although influenced by the art and techniques of the Chimu civilization, the Incas did create their own distinctive style which was an instantly recognizable symbol of imperial dominance across the empire. Inca art is best seen in highly polished metalwork (in gold - considered the sweat of the sun, silver - considered the tears of the moon, and copper), ceramics, and textiles, with the last being considered the most prestigious by the Incas themselves. Designs often use geometrical shapes, are technically accomplished, and standardized. The checkerboard stands out as a very popular design. One of the reasons for repeated designs was that pottery and textiles were often produced for the state as a tax, and so artworks were representative of specific communities and their cultural heritage. Just as today coins and stamps reflect a nation's history, so, too, Andean artwork offered recognizable motifs which either represented the specific communities making them or the imposed designs of the ruling Inca class ordering them. Works using precious metals such as discs, jewellery, figures, and everyday objects were made exclusively for Inca nobles, and even some textiles were restricted for their use alone. Goods made using the super-soft vicuña wool were similarly restricted, and only the Inca ruler could own vicuña herds. Ceramics were for wider use, and the most common shape was the urpu, a bulbous vessel with a long neck and two small handles low on the pot which was used for storing maize. It is notable that the pottery decoration, textiles, and architectural sculpture of the Incas did not usually include representations of themselves, their rituals, or such common Andean images as monsters and half-human, half-animal figures. The Inca produced textiles, ceramics, and metal sculpture technically superior to any previous Andean culture, and this despite stiff competition from such masters of metal work as the expert craftsmen of the Moche civilization. Just as the Inca imposed a political dominance over their conquered subjects, so, too, with art they imposed standard Inca forms and designs, but they did allow local traditions to maintain their preferred colours and proportions. Gifted artists such as those from Chan Chan or the Titicaca area and women particularly skilled at weaving were brought to Cuzco so that they could produce beautiful things for the Inca rulers. The Inca Empire was founded on, and maintained by, force, and the ruling Incas were very often unpopular with their subjects (especially in the northern territories), a situation that the Spanish conquistadores, led by Francisco Pizarro, would take full advantage of in the middle decades of the 16th century A.D.. The Inca Empire, in fact, had still not reached a stage of consolidated maturity when it faced its greatest challenge. Rebellions were rife, and the Incas were engaged in a war in Ecuador where a second Inca capital had been established at Quito. Even more serious, the Incas were hit by an epidemic of European diseases, such as smallpox, which had spread from central America even faster than the European invaders themselves, and the wave killed a staggering 65-90% of the population. Such a disease killed Wayna Qhapaq in 1528 A.D. and two of his sons, Waskar and Atahualpa, battled in a damaging civil war for control of the empire just when the European treasure-hunters arrived. It was this combination of factors - a perfect storm of rebellion, disease, and invasion - which brought the downfall of the mighty Inca Empire, the largest and richest ever seen in the Americas. The Inca language Quechua lives on today and is still spoken by some eight million people. There are also a good number of buildings, artefacts, and written accounts which have survived the ravages of conquerors, looters, and time. These remains are proportionally few to the vast riches which have been lost, but they remain indisputable witnesses to the wealth, ingenuity, and high cultural achievements of this great, but short-lived civilization. [Ancient History Encyclopedia]. MESO-AMERICAN MAYA: The MesoAmerican Maya are an indigenous people of Mexico and Central America who have continuously inhabited the lands comprising modern-day Yucatan, Quintana Roo, Campeche, Tabasco, and Chiapas in Mexico and southward through Guatemala, Belize, El Salvador and Honduras. The designation Maya comes from the ancient Yucatan city of Mayapan, the last capital of a Mayan Kingdom in the Post-Classic Period. The Maya people refer to themselves by ethnicity and language bonds such as Quiche in the south or Yucatec in the north (though there are many others). The `Mysterious Maya’ have intrigued the world since their `discovery’ in the 1840's by John Lloyd Stephens and Frederick Catherwood but, in reality, much of the culture is not that mysterious when understood. Contrary to popular imagination, the Maya did not vanish and the descendants of the people who built the great cities of Chichen Itza, Bonampak, Uxmal and Altun Ha still exist on the same lands their ancestors did and continue to practice, sometimes in a modified form, the same rituals which would be recognized by a native of the land one thousand years ago. The history of Mesoamerica is usually divided into specific periods which, taken together, reveal the development of culture in the region and, for the purposes of this definition, the emergence and cultivation of the Maya Civilization. The Archaic Period: 7000-2000 B.C. – During this time a hunter-gatherer culture began to cultivate crops such as maize, beans and other vegetables and the domestication of animals (most notably dogs and turkeys) and plants became widely practiced. The first villages of the region were established during this period which included sacred spots and temples dedicated to various gods. The villages excavated thus far are dated from 2000-1500 B.C. The Olmec Period: 1500-200 B.C. – This era is also known as the Pre-Classic or Formative Period when the Olmecs, the oldest culture in Mesoamerica, thrived. The Olmecs settled along the Gulf of Mexico and began building great cities of stone and brick. The famous Olmec heads strongly suggest highly sophisticated skill in sculpture and the first indications of Shamanic religious practices date from this period. The enormous size and scope of Olmec ruins gave birth to the idea that the land was once populated by giants. Though no one knows where the Olmecs came from, nor what happened to them, they lay the foundation for all the future civilizations in Mesoamerica. The Zapotec Period: 600 B.C.-800 A.D. – In the region surrounding modern-day Oaxaca, the cultural center now known as Monte Alban was founded which became the capital of the Zapotec kingdom. The Zapotecs were clearly influenced by (or, perhaps, related to) the Olmecs and, through them, some of the most important cultural elements of the region were disseminated such as writing, mathematics, astronomy and the development of the calendar; all of which the Maya would refine. The Teotihuacan Period: 200-900 A.D. – During this era the great city of Teotihuacan grew from a small village to a metropolis of enormous size and influence. Early on, Teotihuacan was a rival of another city called Cuicuilco but, when that community was destroyed by a volcano circa 100 A.D., Teotihuacan became dominant in the region. Archaeological evidence suggests that Teotihuacan was an important religious center which was devoted to the worship of a Great Mother Goddess and her consort the Plumed Serpent. The Plumed Serpent god Kukulkan (also known as Gucamatz) was the most popular deity among the Maya. Like many of the cities which now lie in ruin throughout the southern Americas, Teotihuacan was abandoned sometime around 900 A.D. The El Tajin Period: 250-900 A.D. – This period is also known as the Classic Period in Mesoamerican and Mayan history. The name `El Tajin’ refers to the great city complex on the Gulf of Mexico which has been recognized as one of the most important sites in Mesoamerica. During this time the great urban centers rose across the land and the Maya numbered in the millions. The very important ball game which came to be known as Poc-a-Toc was developed and more ball courts have been found in and around the city of El Tajin than anywhere else in the region. Who, precisely, the people were who inhabited El Tajin remains unknown as there were over fifty different ethnic groups represented in the city and dominance has been ascribed to both the Maya and the Totonac. The Classic Maya Period: 250-950 A.D. – This is the era which saw the consolidation of power in the great cities of the Yucatec Maya such as Chichen Itza and Uxmal. Direct cultural influences may be seen, in some sites, from the Olmecs and the Zapotecs and the cultural values of Teotihuacan and El Tajin but, in others, a wholly new culture seems to have emerged (such as at Chichen Itza where, though there is ample evidence of cultural borrowing, there is a significantly different style to the art and architecture). This period was the height of the Maya civilization in which they perfected mathematics, astronomy, architecture and the visual arts and also refined and perfected the calendar. The oldest date recorded in this era is on Stele 29 in the city of Tikal (292 A.D.) and the latest is from an inscription on the Stele at the site of Tonina (909 A.D.). The city-states of the Mayan civilization stretched from Piste in the north all the way down to modern-day Honduras. The Post-Classic Period: 950-1524 A.D. – At this time the great cities of the Maya were abandoned. Thus far, no explanation for the mass exodus from the cities to outlying rural areas has been determined but climate change and over population have been strongly suggested among other possibilities. The Toltecs, a new tribe in the region, took over the vacant urban centers and re-populated them. At this time, Tula and Chichen-Itza became dominant cities in the region. The widely popular conception that the Maya were driven from their cities by the Spanish Conquest is erroneous as the cities were already vacant by the time of the Spanish invasion (in fact, the Spanish conquerors had no idea the natives they found in the region were responsible for the enormous complexes of the cities). The Quiche Maya were defeated at the Battle of Utatlan in 1524 A.D. and this date traditionally marks the end of the Maya Civilization. The height of the Maya Civilization in the Classic Period produced the incredible cultural advances for which they are well known. The Maya believed deeply in the cyclical nature of life – nothing was ever `born’ and nothing ever `died’ – and this belief inspired their view of the gods and the cosmos. Their cosmological views, in turn, encouraged their imaginative efforts in architecture, mathematics, and astronomy. Beneath the earth was the dark realm of Xibalba (pronounced `shee-Bal-ba’ and translated as `place of fear’) from whence grew the great Tree of Life which came up through the earth and towered into the heavens, through thirteen levels, to reach the paradise of Tamoanchan (`place of the misty sky’) where beautiful flowers bloomed. In Mayan belief, however, one did not die and go to a `heaven’ or a `hell’ but, rather, embarked on a journey toward Tamoanchan. This journey began in the dark and treacherous underworld of Xibalba where the Xibalbans who lived there were more apt to trick and destroy a soul than help one. If one could navigate through Xibalba, however, one could then find the way to ascend through the nine levels of the underworld, and the thirteen levels of the higher world, to paradise. The only ways in which a soul could by-pass Xibalba and travel instantly to Tamoanchan were through death in childbirth, as a sacrificial victim, in warfare, on the ball court, or by suicide (the Maya had a special goddess of suicide named Ixtab who was depicted as the rotting corpse of a woman hanging by a noose in the heavens). Once one reached Tamoanchan there was eternal happiness but, it must be noted, this paradise was not thought to actually exist in the sky but on the earth. After ascending through the thirteen levels, one did not live in the air but, rather, on a mystical mountain back on the planet. It was because of this cyclical view that the Maya did not believe there was anything wrong with human sacrifice. Those people who were offered to the gods did not `die' but simply moved on. This cosmological belief influenced every aspect of the Mayan civilization and rituals were performed regularly in caves, evoking the darkness of Xibalba, and on hills or high temples which symbolized the heights of Tamoanchan. The great pyramids which characterize so many Mayan sites are replicas of the great mountain of the gods known as the Witzob. The cyclical nature of human existence is mirrored in the famous Maya calendar. The depictions of the many gods and goddesses all go toward their function in helping one through the cycles of life or hindering. The great religious book of the Quiche Maya, the Popol-Vuh, tells precisely this story of the cyclical nature of life through the tale of the Hero Twins Hunahpu and Xbalanque and their victory over the forces of chaos and darkness symbolized by the Lords of Xibalba. The game the twins are famous for playing, Poc-a-Toc, serves the same purpose. Poc-a-Toc was the most popular game among the Maya and was far more than `just a game’ as it symbolized the human struggle and reflected the way the Maya viewed existence. Two opposing teams of seven men each would face each other on a ball court and try to score a small rubber ball through a vertical hoop affixed to a wall (sometimes as high as twenty feet in the air, sometimes higher) while defending their own goal. What makes the game even more impressive is that a player could not use the hands or the feet, only the hips, shoulders, head and knees. The Spanish bishop Diego de Landa wrote that watching the Maya play Poc-a-Toc was like watching lightning strikes, they moved so quickly. It has long been believed that the losing team (or the captain of the losing team) would be killed at the end of the match but recent advances in deciphering the Mayan glyphs, together with archaeological evidence, suggests it may have been the winning team or the winning captain who was given the honor of a quick death and instant passage to paradise. The game is thought to have been symbolic, not only of the victory of the hero twins over darkness, but of the cyclical nature of life. The Mayanists Schele and Matthews claim, "Many modern myths have grown up about the ballgame. The most popular says that the Maya sacrificed the winners so as to give a perfect gift to the gods. There is no evidence for this interpretation in any of the ancient or historical sources" (210). This is not quite correct, however, as glyphs at many ball courts, Chichen Itza to name only one, could be interpreted as showing the winning team or captain being sacrificed. Modern Mayan daykeepers at both Altun Ha in Belize and Chichen Itza in the Yucatan point to the hope of escape from the darkness of Xibalba as the reason for the winners being executed. Whichever team was chosen to die, and under what circumstances (since teams could not have been continually sacrificed as there is evidence of `star' teams) the ball game was deeply meaningful to the Maya as more than just a spectator sport. More information on the particulars of the game, and the life of the ancient Maya in general, comes to light as more heiroglyphics are discovered and interpreted. The modern day difficulty in deciphering the Mayan hieroglyphics stems from the actions of the same man who, inadvertently, preserved so much of what we know of the Maya Civilization: Bishop Diego de Landa. Appointed to the Yucatan following the Spanish conquest of the north, Landa arrived in 1549 A.D. and instantly set himself to the task of routing out heathenism from among the Mayan converts to Christianity. The concept of a god who dies and comes back to life was very familiar to the Maya from their own deity The Maize God and they seem to have accepted the story of Jesus Christ and his resurrection easily. Even so, Landa believed that there was a subversive faction growing among the Maya which was seducing them `back to idolatry’ and, having failed to crush this perceived rebellion through the avenues of prayer and admonition, chose another more direct method. On 12 July 1562 A.D., at the church at Mani, Landa burned over forty Mayan Codices (books) and over 20,000 images and stele. In his own words, “We found many books with these letters, and because they contained nothing that was free from superstition and the devil’s trickery, we burnt them, which the Indians greatly lamented.” Landa went further, however, and resorted to torture to extricate the secrets of the subversives among the natives and bring them back to what he saw as the true path of the church. His methods were condemned by the other priests and he was called back to Spain to explain his actions. Part of his defense was his 1566 A.D. work Relacion de las Cosas de Yucatan which has preserved much of the culture Landa tried to destroy and has proved to be a valuable asset in understanding ancient Maya culture, religion, and language. Only three books of the Maya escaped the conflagration at Mani: The Madrid Codex, The Dresden Codex, and The Paris Codex (so named for the cities where they were found many years after they were brought back from the Yucatan) which have provided scholars with a great deal of information on the beliefs of the Maya and, especially, on their calendar. The codices were created by scribes who made careful observations in astronomy (the Dresden Codex alone devotes six pages to accurately calculating the rising and positions of Venus) and their interpretations of the planets and the seasons exhibit a precision unmatched by other ancient civilizations. So important were their stories and books to the Maya that the Legend of Zamna and the Hennequen Plant describes the great goddess telling the prophet Zamna: "I want you to choose a group of families from my kingdom, and three of the wisest Chilames, to carry the writings which tell the story of our people, and write what will happen in the future. You will reach a place that I will indicate to you and you will found a city. Under its main temple you will guard the writings and the future writings." The city of Izamal was founded, according to this legend, by Zamna (associated with the deity Itzamna) of the Itzas who placed the sacred writings under the central temple. Izamal became known as the most important pilgrimage site in the Classical Period besides Chichen Itza. Shamans (known as Daykeepers) would interpret the particular energy of the day or month for the people by consulting with the gods presiding over the various months of the Maya calendar. There are two calendars at work simultaneously in the Maya system: the Haab, or civil calendar of 365 days in an 18 month period of 20 days each, and the Tzolkin, or sacred calendar, of 260 days divided into three groups of months of 20 days. The Haab and the Tzolkin work together, like gears interlocking in a machine, to create what is known as the Calendar Round but cannot account for dates farther in the future than 52 days. For longer calculations, the Maya devised what is known as the Long Count Calendar and is this which has attracted so much international attention in recent years regarding the end of the world on 21 December 2012 A.D. As the long count calendar begins 11 August 3114 B.C., it goes into its next cycle (known as a Baktun) on 21 December 2012 A.D. There is nothing in the extant writings of the Maya to suggest any kind of cataclysm accompanies this transition. On 10 May 2012 A.D. it was reported that Boston University archaeologist William Saturno and Boston University student Maxwell Chamberlain, excavating at the Maya site of Xultun in Guatemala, discovered a 6x6 foot room dating to 800 A.D. which seems conclusively to have been a calendar workshop for Mayan scribes. The paintings and inscriptions on the walls of the room show the Maya calendar extending well beyond the year 2012 A.D. and that future Baktuns were understood to already be underway in the great cyclic dance of time. According to David Stuart, an expert on Maya hieroglyphs at the University of Texas at Austin, "Baktun 14 was going to be coming, and Baktun 15 and Baktun 16...The Maya calendar is going to keep going, and keep going for billions, trillions, octillions of years into the future." The months of the years of the Mayan calendars were governed over each by a specific god and, as these gods were eternal, they assured the continuance of the energy of their particular month. As all of life was considered one eternal cycle, the western concept of an `end of the world’, so popular in Christian ideology, would have been a completely foreign concept to a Maya scribe. In the modern age the Maya still farm the same lands and travel the same rivers as their ancestors did from the north in the Yucatan down to Honduras. The claim that the Maya somehow vanished, simply because their cities were found abandoned, is not only inaccurate but insulting to the over six million Maya who carry on the traditions of their ancestors. Though the region was Christianized in the 16th century A.D. conquest and inquisition, the old ways are still observed in a hybrid between European Catholicism and Mayan mysticism. The Daykeeper of a village still interprets the energy of a day and rituals are still performed in caves and on hills. On the island of Cozumel shrines to the Virgin Mary and the goddess Ixchel are interchangeable and, often, one and the same. A great deal has been learned about the Maya since the days when Stephens and Catherwood explored and documented the ancient ruins but, for the Maya living today, nothing of importance has ever been forgotten and the cycle of life continues on. [Ancient History Encyclopedia]. MESO-AMERICAN TOLTEC: The MesoAmerican Toltec civilization flourished in central Mexico between the 10th and mid-12th centuries A.D. Continuing the Mesoamerican heritage left to them by the earlier Olmec, Teotihuacano, Maya and others, the Toltecs would build an impressive capital at Tollan and, ultimately, pass on that heritage to later civilizations such as the Aztecs, who regarded the Toltecs as a great and prosperous civilization, even claiming descent from this once great civilization. Most information on the Toltec comes from Aztec and Post-colonial texts documenting earlier oral traditions. However, these are by no means complete, and information can be coloured by the Aztec’s particular reverence for all things Toltec and their delight in merging myth with fact to help establish a lineage with these old masters. Nevertheless, a careful comparison with earlier Mayan texts and the surviving archaeological record does allow for at least the main elements of this civilization to be outlined. The Toltecs had roots in the Tolteca-Chichimeca people, who, during the 9th century A.D., had migrated from the deserts of the north-west to Culhuacan in the Valley of Mexico. According to the Aztecs, the first Toltec leader was Ce Técpatl Mixcoatl (One Flint Cloud Serpent, i.e. the Milky Way), and his son Ce Acatl Topiltzin (One Reed Sacrificer, born in either 935 or 947 A.D.) would go on to gain fame as a great ruler and acquire the name of the great god Quetzalcoatl (‘Feathered Serpent’) amongst his titles. The first settlement of the Toltecs was at Culhuacan, but they later established a capital at Tollan (or Tula, meaning ‘place of reeds’, a general Mesoamerican phrase to apply to all large settlements). The city grew to an area of 14 km² and acquired a population of between 30,000 and 40,000. The heart of the city was laid out in a grid pattern and it is remarkably similar to the Mayan city of Chichen Itza. Intriguingly, the Maya also had a version of a cultural hero known as the ‘Feathered Serpent’, translated as Kukulcan and contemporary with the Toltec Quetzalcóatl; this and architectural similarities, suggest that there was a close cultural link between the two civilizations. The Tollan of Aztec mythology was renowned for its sumptuous palaces and awe-inspiring buildings made from gold, jade, turquoise, and quetzal feathers. The city was also thought to have been flooded with wealth generated by the gifted Toltec craftsmen, highly skilled in metallurgy and pottery - so much so that their potters were said to have ‘taught the clay to lie’ (Coe, 156) and later Aztec metal-workers and jewellers were even known as tolteca. The Toltecs were also credited with mastering nature and producing huge maize crops and natural coloured cotton of red, yellow, green, and blue. Unsurprisingly, following centuries of looting, no artefacts survive to attest this material wealth except indications that the Toltecs did do a major trade in obsidian (used for blades and arrow heads) which was mined from nearby Pachuca. The archaeological site of Tollan, sitting on a limestone promontory, although not quite as splendid as the legend, nevertheless, has an impressive number of surviving monuments. These include two large pyramids, a collonaded walkway, a large palace building, and two ball-courts, all surrounded by a dense area of urban housing. The domestic housing is arranged in groups of up to five flat-roofed residences with each group centerd on a courtyard with a single altar and the whole surrounded by a wall. Surviving architectural sculpture on the pyramids includes large columns, each consisting of four drums, carved as warriors standing atop the five tiers of the 10 m high Pyramid B. The warriors would once have held up a roof structure. The warriors are dressed ready for battle with a drum headdress and butterfly pectoral and each holds an atlatl or spear-thrower at their side. In addition, feathered-snake columns survive from the original doorway. The warrior columns are near-identical and suggest sophisticated workshops capable of mass production. Friezes run around the pyramids and a free-standing 40 m long L-shaped wall (known as a coatepantli and a Toltec innovation). They show scenes with animals such as the jaguar, wolf, and coyote (symbols associated with a warlike people like the Toltecs), and sacrifice (especially rattlesnakes and skeletons intertwined). There are also images of feathered creatures (perhaps jaguars) and eagles with hearts in their mouths. Tollan also provides the first examples of chacmools, the reclining stone warriors clutching a vessel on their stomach to receive sacrificial offerings for the gods. These would become a common feature of temples in Mesoamerica. At Tollan they are positioned beside bench-thrones atop the pyramid temple. What ended the Toltec civilization’s regional dominance is not known. A warlike people, no doubt conquering surrounding tribes and imposing tribute without any concern for integration into the Toltec political and religious culture, the ‘empire’ may well have simply disintegrated when put under the strain of such natural phenomena as a sustained drought. Internal disputes may also have led to the break up of the power structure, and this is hinted at in the legendary stories of battles between the gods Quetzalcoatl and Tezcatlipoca, intertwined with historical figures. What is more certain is that in the mid-12th century A.D., Tollán shows signs of violent destruction; many architectural columns and statues were burnt and purposely buried and the site was systematically looted by the Aztecs. Led by the final Toltec leader Huemac, the remnants of the Toltec people re-settled at Chapultepec on the west banks of Lake Texcoco, an event traditionally dated either 1156 or 1168 A.D. The Toltec name carried a certain prestige and they were very highly regarded by the Maya and the Aztecs, in particular, who seem to have copied many aspects of Toltec religious practices and art and looked on the Toltec period as a golden era when such wonders as writing, medicine, and metallurgy were invented. These may well have been invented earlier and by others but more certain is the Toltec influence on architecture and sculpture. Images of recognizable deities at Tollan which would later appear in the Aztec pantheon include Centeotl, Xochiquetzal, Tlahuizcalpantecuhtli and the feathered serpent identified with Quetzalcoatl. Stone carvings of cuauhxicalli vessels and chacmools used in sacrifices and also tzompantli (skull racks) all attest to the influence the Toltecs would have on their more famous successors. In any case, whatever the actual legacy of the people of Tollan, for the Aztecs it was the Toltecs and no other that they sought to claim descent from, and the magnitude of their reverence and respect is evidenced in the Aztec expression Toltecayotl or ‘to have a Toltec heart’ which meant to be worthy and to excel in all things. [Ancient History Encyclopedia]. MESO-AMERICAN ZAPOTEC: The Zapotecs, known as the 'Cloud People', dwelt in the southern highlands of central Mesoamerica, specifically, in the Valley of Oaxaca, which they inhabited from the late Preclassic period to the end of the Classic period (500 B.C. - 900 A.D.). Their capital was first at Monte Albán and then at Mitla, they dominated the southern highlands, spoke a variation of the Oto-Zapotecan language, and profited from trade and cultural links with the Olmec, Teotihuacan and Maya civilizations. The Zapotecs grew from the agricultural communities which grew up in the valleys in and around Oaxaca. In the Preclassic period they established fruitful trade links with the Olmec civilization on the Gulf Coast which allowed for the construction of an impressive capital site at Monte Albán and for the Zapotec to dominate the region during the Classic period. The city, strategically placed overlooking the three main valleys, evolved over centuries, beginning around 500 B.C. and remaining the cultural center until the demise of the civilization around 900 A.D. The Zapotec had other significant settlements besides the capital and over 15 elite palaces have been identified in the surrounding valleys. Indeed, the Zapotec may be divided into three distinct groups: the Valley Zapotec (based in the Valley of Oaxaca), the Sierra Zapotec (in the north), and the Southern Zapotec (in the south and east, nearer the Isthmus of Tehuantepec). The major Zapotec sites, spread across the Y-shaped Valley of Oaxaca, include the capital Monte Albán, Oaxaca, Huitzo, Etla, San Jose Mogote, Zaachila, Zimatlan, Ocotlan, Abasolo, Tlacolula, and Mitla. The latter would become the most important Zapotec city from circa 900 A.D. and is notable for its buildings arranged around plazas which are richly decorated with reliefs of geometrical designs. By the late Preclassic period Zapotec cities show a high level of sophistication in architecture, the arts, writing and engineering projects such as irrigation systems. For example, at Hierve el Agua there are artificially terraced hillsides irrigated by extensive canals fed by natural springs. Evidence of contact with other Mesoamerican cultures can be seen, for example, at the site of Dainzu, which has a large stone-faced platform with reliefs showing players of the familiar Mesoamerican ball game wearing protective headgear. We also know of very close relations between the Zapotec and the peoples based at Teotihuacan in the Basin of Mexico. Indeed, at Teotihuacan there was even a quarter of the city specifically reserved for the Zapotec community. The Zapotec pantheon is as rich and bewildering as any other Mesoamerican religion is to modern eyes with the standard deities for such important agencies on the human condition as rain, sun, wind, earth, and war. Some of the most important gods were the Bat-god - the god of corn and fertility, Beydo - god of seeds and wind, Cocijo (who had a human body with jaguar and serpent features with a forked tongue) - the rain and lightning god, Pitao Cozobi - the corn god, Copijcha (symbolised by the macaw) - the god of the sun and war, Coquebila - god of the earth's center, Huechaana - a mother goddess also associated with hunting and fishing, Kedo - god of justice, Ndan - the androgynous god of the oceans, Pixee Pecala the god of love, and Coqui Xee - the creator god who represented infinity. In addition, individual cities often had their own patron deities, for example, Coquenexo ('Lord of Multiplication') patron of Zoquiapa, Coqui Bezelao and Xonaxi Quecuya (gods of death and the underworld) patrons of Mitla and Teocuicuilco, and Cozicha Cozee (another war god) patron of Ocelotepec. Offerings, prayers and sacrifices were offered to these deities in the hope of their favorable intervention in human affairs, for example, to bring rain vital for crops, to end droughts or bring fertility to the land and its population. Also, in common with other Mesoamerican cultures, the Zapotec had 20 day names represented by various glyphs such as Chilla (crocodile), Pija (drought) and Xoo (earthquake); once again they often represent the fundamental elements that could drastically affect daily life. Built on a series of mountain plateau at an altitude of 400 m, the city of Monte Albán was the residential, ritual and economic center of the Zapotec civilization. It replaced, between 500 and 450 B.C., San José Mogote as the most important settlement in the Valley. It also became the burial site of Zapotec kings for over a thousand years. The city particularly flourished in the late Preclassic period when its population was as high as 20,000 people and again between 400 and 700 A.D. when the population rose to 25,000 and the city ruled over some 1,000 settlements spread across the Valley. The majority of the structures visible today on the main plaza date to the Classic period with the notable exception of the Temple of the Danzantes, a stone platform structure which was constructed when the site was first occupied (Monte Alban I). The name Danzantes derives from the dancing relief figures decorating the platform. 300 figures are identifiable, some seem to be old, single-toothed males, some have been mutilated, whilst still others seem to be almost swimming - who they represent is not known. Other relief stones from the temple also provide the first certainly identified written texts in Mexico showing an alphabet with semantic and phonetic elements (as yet undeciphered). There is also a system of numbers represented by dots and bars and glyphs for the 260-day year based on 20 day names and 13 numbers with the 52-year cycle of the Calendar Round. Finds at the site of Danzantes, Monte Alban, from this period, include a large quantity of pottery, usually made with a fine grey clay, sometimes with incised figures similar to the Danzantes, and typically in the form of spouted vases and bowls set on a tripod. Another interesting type is the whistling jar, a jar with two chambers which when used to pour liquid, expelled air from the second chamber to create a whistling sound. The Zapotec were also skilled sculptors and single effigy figures, groups of figures and urns survive both in clay and more precious goods such as jade. The city further developed between 150 B.C. and 150 A.D. to create Monte Albán II. Dating from this phase is a large stone-faced building shaped like an arrow head (Building J) which points southwest and is aligned with the Capella star. The building is covered with carved text and reliefs which indicate regional conquests, illustrated by the upside down heads of defeated kings. In the subsequent Classic period Monte Albán III arose and, influenced by Teotihuacan, saw the construction of an I-shaped ball court and the Temple-Patio-Altar complex that would be copied at sites across the Valley. In addition, over 170 underground tombs have been excavated, many with vaults and antechambers with richly painted walls, which attest to the wealth of the city. The tombs also show signs of being regularly re-opened, illustrating the Zapotec preoccupation with ancestor worship. Quite why the city and the Zapotec civilization collapsed at Monte Albán is not known, only that there is no trace of violent destruction and that it was contemporary with the demise of Teotihuacan and a general increase in inter-state conflict. The site continued to be significant, though, as it was adopted by the later Mixtec as a sacred site and place of burial for their own kings. The Zapotecs did not disappear completely, however, for in the early Post-Classic period they established a new, smaller center at Mitla, known to them as Lyobaa or 'Place of Rest' which also had many fine buildings including the celebrated Hall of the Columns. The site continued to be occupied even up to the Spanish conquest. [Ancient History Encyclopedia]. OLMEC CIVILIZATION: The mysterious Olmec civilization prospered in Pre-Classical (Formative) Mesoamerica from circa 1200 B.C. to circa 400 B.C. and is generally considered the forerunner of all subsequent Mesoamerican cultures such as the Maya and Aztecs. Centered in the Gulf of Mexico (now the states of Veracruz and Tabasco) their influence and trade activity spread from 1200 B.C., even reaching as far south as present-day Nicaragua. Monumental sacred complexes, massive stone sculpture, ball games, chocolate drinking and animal gods were features of Olmec culture which would be passed on to all those who followed this first great Mesoamerican civilization. The Olmec civilization presents something of a mystery, indeed, we do not even know what they called themselves, as ‘Olmec’ was their Aztec name and meant ‘rubber people’. Due to a lack of archaeological evidence their ethnic origins and the location and extent of many of their settlements are not known. The Olmecs did, however, codify and record their gods and religious practices using symbols. The precise significance of this record is much debated but, at the very least, its complexity does suggest some sort of organised religion involving a priesthood. The Olmec religious practices of sacrifice, cave rituals, pilgrimages, offerings, ball-courts, pyramids and a seeming awe of mirrors, was also passed on to all subsequent civilizations in Mesoamerica until the Spanish Conquest in the 16th century A.D. Olmec prosperity was initially based on exploiting the fertile and well-watered coastal areas of the Gulf of Mexico to grow such crops as corn and beans (often twice-yearly) which allowed for an agricultural surplus. They also, no doubt, gathered the plentiful local supply of plant food, palm nuts and sea-life, including turtles and clams. By circa 1200 B.C. significant urban centers developed at San Lorenzo (the earliest), La Venta, Laguna de los Cerros, Tres Zapotes and Las Limas. San Lorenzo reached its peak of prosperity and influence between 1200 and 900 B.C. when its strategic position safe from flooding allowed it to control local trade. Typical Olmec trade goods included obsidian, jade, serpentine, mica, rubber, pottery, feathers and polished mirrors of ilmenite and magnetite. Evidence of San Lorenzo’s high culture includes the presence of mound structures, possibly an early ball court, carved basalt drains through one of the man-made mounds and the Red Palace structure with painted red floors and workshops. Around 900 B.C. the site of San Lorenzo displays evidence of systematic destruction whilst La Venta, conversely, began to flourish, and becoming the new capital, it eventually supported a population of some 18,000. The three sites of San Lorenzo, La Venta and Laguna de los Cerros all had a bilateral symmetry in their planning and at La Venta the first pyramid in Mesoamerica was constructed. It is the pre-meditated architectural layout of the religious centers of these settlements that is most striking, for example, at La Venta the buildings are placed symmetrically along a north-south axis with four colossal heads facing outwards at key points, seemingly acting as guardians to the complex. A huge ceremonial step pyramid (now a shapeless mound), sunken plaza once lined with 2 meter high basalt columns, and two smaller pyramids/mounds provide features that would be copied time and again at the major sites of later Mesoamerican cultures with whom equal attention was paid to the precise alignment of buildings. La Venta, as with San Lorenzo, suffered systematic and deliberate destruction of its monuments sometime between 400 and 300 B.C. As with other areas of Olmec culture, details of their religion are sketchy. Nevertheless, with an ever-increasing archaeological record it is possible to piece together some of the most important features of Olmec religion. The Olmecs seem to have had a particular reverence for natural places which connected with the important junctions of sky, earth and the underworld. For example, caves could lead to the underworld and mountains which had both springs and caves could offer access to all three planes. Important Olmec mountain sites were El Manatί, Chalcatzingo and Oxtotitlan. The names of the gods of the Olmec are not known other than that they often represented phenomena such as rain, the earth and especially maize. For this reason, identifiable gods from Olmec art have been given numbers instead of names (e.g. God VI). The Olmecs gave special significance to the animals present in their environment, especially those at the top of the food chain such as jaguars, eagles, caimans, snakes and even sharks, identifying them with divine beings and perhaps also believing that powerful rulers could transform themselves at will into such fearsome creatures. The Olmecs also liked to mix animals to create weird and wonderful creatures such as the were-jaguar, a cross between a human and a jaguar, which may have been their supreme deity. We also know that they worshipped a sky-dragon and that they believed four dwarves held up the sky, possibly representing the four cardinal directions which, along with other Olmec gods, became so important in later Mesoamerican religions. The most striking legacy of the Olmec civilization must be the colossal stone heads they produced. These were carved in basalt and all display unique facial features so that they may be considered portraits of actual rulers. The heads can be nearly 3 m high and 8 tons in weight and the stone from which they were worked was, in some cases, transported 80 km or more, presumably using huge balsa river rafts. 17 have been discovered, 10 of which are from San Lorenzo. The ruler often wears a protective helmet (from war or the ballgame) and sometimes show the subject with jaguar paws hanging over the forehead, perhaps representing a jaguar pelt worn as a symbol of political and religious power. The fact that these giant sculptures depict only the head may be explained by the belief in Mesoamerican culture that it was the head alone which bore the soul. Another permanent record of the Olmecs is found in rock carvings and paintings. Often made around cave entrances they most typically depict seated rulers, as for example at Oxtotitlan, where a figure wears a green bird suit and at Chalcatzingo where another ruler sits on her throne surrounded by a maize landscape. At other sites there are also paintings of cave rituals, for example, at Cacahuazqui, Juxtlahuaca and Oxtotlan. Jade and ceramic were other popular materials for sculpture and also wood, some examples of which were remarkably well preserved in the bogs of El Manati. One of the gods most commonly rendered in small sculpture was God IV, sometimes called the Rain Baby, who is a toothless human baby with an open-mouth, cleft head and headband, sometimes with the addition of strips of crinkled paper hanging at the side of his face (another feature seen in the gods of later cultures and representing the paper and rubber sap strips which were burnt during rites as the smoke was thought to propitiate rain). Perhaps the most significant jade carving is the Kunz Axe, a ceremonial axe-head now in the American Museum of Natural History in New York. The jade has been worked to represent a were-jaguar creature using only jade tools and then polished, perhaps using a jade abrasive. Animals were a popular subject, especially those most powerful ones such as jaguars and eagles. Intriguingly, the Olmecs often buried their sculptures, even larger pieces, perhaps in a ritual act of memory. The Olmecs influenced the civilizations they came into contact with across Mesoamerica, particularly in sculpture in ceramic and jade and objects featuring Olmec imagery have been found at Teopantecuanitlan, 650 km distant from the Olmec heartland. In addition, many deities featured in Olmec art and religion such as the sky-dragon (a sort of caiman creature with flaming eyebrows) and the feathered-snake god, would reappear in similar form in later religions. The snake-god especially, would be transformed into the major gods Kukulcan for the Maya and Quetzalcoatl for the Aztecs. This artistic and religious influence, along with the features of precisely aligned ceremonial precincts, monumental pyramids, sacrificial rituals and ball-courts, meant that all subsequent Mesoamerican cultures would owe a great deal to their mysterious forerunners, the Olmecs. [Ancient History Encyclopedia]. AN OLMEC GRAVE: The last section of the excavation was finished, but a few large potsherds still jutted from the side wall. I must have walked past that open pit and those tempting sherds at least a hundred times before eventually deciding to extend the excavation. Within an hour, a polished jade ax was found, then another, then another. When the dirt was cleared, what lay in front of me was a 3,000-year-old burial, the skeleton of an adolescent surrounded by 15 jade axes arranged in the shape of a giant ax. A decapitated adult was found two yards to the south, no doubt associated with the momentous event that brought the juvenile and the axes together. This extraordinary discovery typifies the archaeology of Cantón Corralito, a possible colony of Gulf Olmec people located in the Soconusco, a narrow strip of coastal Chiapas and Guatemala with some of the richest agricultural soils in Mesoamerica ("A City by the Sea"). What makes Cantón Corralito so intriguing is the incredible quantity and quality of foreign "Olmec-style" objects and its location in the center of a territory occupied for centuries by the Mokaya people, a culture with its own distinctive traditions and styles. Yet the Olmec inhabited the low-lying coastal region of southern Veracruz and western Tabasco, a 4,000-square-mile area roughly 300 miles north of Cantón Corralito that archaeologists call the "Olmec heartland." Olmec culture flourished there from approximately 1250 to 500 B.C., a time frame that can be divided into three periods--Initial Olmec (1250-1150 B.C.), Early Olmec (1150-1000 B.C.), and Late Olmec (900-500 B.C.)--based on distinctive artifacts and practices. (The dates used in this article and in "A City by the Sea" are in radiocarbon years. Calendar years are about 150 years earlier.) The most important Early Olmec period site is San Lorenzo. This 1,200-acre urban center--the first of its kind in the Americas--is famous for its colossal heads and multi-ton stone altars quarried from volcanic outcrops 40 miles away and then dragged or rafted to San Lorenzo, an incredible feat at the time considering the required organization and labor. Lesser known are the site's distinctive ceramic figurines and vessels decorated with abstract religious themes and supernatural creatures such as bird-serpents and crocodiles. These objects are also found at sites hundreds of miles away, where they were both locally made and imported from San Lorenzo. Given this distribution, archaeologists use the term "Olmec" to signify both an archaeological culture--the Olmec of the Gulf--and Mesoamerica's first widespread art style, which transcended cultural boundaries and set the stage for later developments. Where did this style emerge? How did it spread? These are two of the most fundamental and fiercely debated questions in Mesoamerican archaeology. Since there is no precedent for the grandeur of San Lorenzo, some archaeologists interpret Olmec-style artifacts found outside the Olmec heartland as evidence of San Lorenzo's influence on less complex societies. This is often called the "mother culture" interpretation. Others consider the Olmec style a visual expression of deeply rooted religious beliefs shared by numerous Mesoamerican cultures. After 1200 B.C., with increased contact between regions, these beliefs began to be depicted on pottery and other objects. According to this view--held as the "sister cultures" interpretation--the Gulf Olmec were not solely responsible for the creation and spread of the Olmec style, nor were they more advanced than the cultures they contacted. At the heart of the matter, but often sidestepped, is the extent of similarity between Olmec-style artifacts found at San Lorenzo and at distant sites. This point may seem obvious, but despite decades of research, few detailed comparative studies have appeared (see "Olmec People, Olmec Art"). Many sites in Mesoamerica are worthy candidates for this kind of investigation, but the quantity and quality of Olmec-style artifacts at Cantón Corralito demands it. If this site was an Olmec colony, it will change the perception of culture contact in early Mesoamerica and shift the tenor of this decades-old debate. [Archaeological Institute of America]. Condition: LIKE NEW. Essentially unread (perhaps flipped through once or twice) with mild shelfwear to dustjacket. See detailed condition description below., Publisher: Readers Digest (1986), Format: Oversized pictorial hardcover, Length: 320 pages, Dimensions: 11 x 9 x 1 inches; 3 pounds

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