Daily Life in the Civilization of the Maya

Exploring some of the most important achievements of the Mayan civilization. Introduction Suppose you could fly over this entire region in just a few hours. What would you see? Beginning in Mexico and Central America, and flying south, you would see mostly rugged mountains. In the middle of the country, these highlands include volcanoes and[…]

The Toxcatl Massacre: The Beginning of the End of Aztec Supremacy

These texts excruciatingly detail the human horror and the treachery of a mass murder, now known as the Toxcatl Massacre. Competing Histories This May marks 500 years since the Toxcatl massacre, in which Indigenous people were killed during a festival that took place in the Aztec capital of Tenochtitlan (today’s Mexico City). Two competing histories[…]

The Aztec Philosophy of Happiness in the ‘Day of the Dead’

Day of the Dead rituals help people connect with their ancestors, which the Aztecs believed was key to well-being. Introduction Growing up in the United States, I remember on Halloween my mother used to say, “Honey, this is not just a day for costumes and candy. You must also remember your relatives. Know their names.”[…]

The Ancient Mesoamerican Calendar

Works of Mesoamerican art often include references to calendars and time. Introduction We think of calendars as utilitarian—as tools that we all use every day to organize our time. But calendars also tell us a great deal about how the cultures that produce and use them understand and structure their world. Before Spanish conquerors invaded[…]

‘The History of Mexico’: Diego Rivera’s Murals at the National Palace

In an overwhelming and crowded composition, Rivera represents pivotal scenes from the history of the modern nation-state. How Is History Told? Typically, we think of history as a series of events narrated in chronological order. But what does history look like as a series of images? Mexican artist Diego Rivera responded to this question when[…]

A History of Aztec Civilization

Exploring the Aztecs, a Mesoamerican people who built a vast empire in what is today central Mexico from 1428-1519 CE. Introduction The Aztec Empire flourished from 1428 C.E. until 1519 C.E., when it was destroyed by invaders from Spain. The Aztecs told a legend about the beginnings of their empire. Originally a wandering group of[…]

The Historiography of Aztec Painted Language

The Aztec painted language operated at two levels – identifying glyphs and strategic placement and presentation. Writing with Images Imagine writing a history. More than likely, you would begin by brainstorming the events you would want to include, the characters in your story, and when and where the events took place. Then, you would have[…]

Spanish Conquistadors and the Fall of Aztec Tenochtitlan

The Spanish saw nothing of value in the indigenous culture and set out to systematically destroy everything that had no monetary value. Introduction The Fall of Tenochtitlan, the capital of the Aztec Empire, came about through the manipulation of local factions and divisions by Spanish conquistador Hernán Cortés. Though numerous battles were fought between the[…]

Tenochca: A History of Aztec Civilization

Aztec civilization sustained millions of people and developed over thousands of years isolated from European and Asian cultures. Introduction The Aztecs were a Mesoamerican people of central Mexico in the fourteenth, fifteenth, and sixteenth centuries. They were a civilization with a rich cultural heritage whose capital, Tenochtitlan, rivaled the greatest cities of Europe in size[…]

El Curandero: Shamans of Mesoamerica and the Amazon

Disease is thought to be caused by intrusion or soul loss, evil spirits, sorcerers, or broken taboos. By Dr. Robert M. TorranceProfessor Emeritus of Comparative LiteratureUniversity of California, Davis Introduction In much of Middle America, from the northern borders of Mexico to the Isthmus of Panama, and especially in Mesoamerica—the large regions once dominated by[…]

Tahuantinsuyu: The Rise and Fall of the Inca Empire, 1438-1533

The main legacy of the civilization was its power to inspire, including that of later resistance groups in the area against Spanish rule. Introduction The Inca Empire (called Tawantinsuyu in modern spelling, Aymara and Quechua, or Tahuantinsuyu in old spelling Quechua), was an empire located in South America from 1438 C.E. to 1533 C.E. Over[…]

Mayan Mesoamerican Culture and Civilization

Introduction The Maya civilization is a Mesoamerican culture, noted for having the only known fully developed written language of the pre-Columbian Americas, as well as for its spectacular art, monumental architecture, and sophisticated mathematical and astronomical systems. Unfortunately, a public fascination with the morbid has meant that for many people in Europe and the Americas[…]

A History of Civilization and Culture in Central America

In pre-Columbian times, most of modern Central America was part of the Mesoamerican civilization. Introduction Central America is the region of North America located between the southern border of Mexico and the northwest border of Colombia, in South America. Some geographers classify Central America as a large isthmus, and in this geographic sense it sometimes[…]

A History of Civilization and Culture in South America

By 2000 BCE, many agrarian village communities had been settled throughout the Andes and the surrounding regions. Introduction South America is a continent of the Americas, situated entirely in the western hemisphere and mostly in the southern hemisphere. It is bordered on the west by the Pacific Ocean and on the north and east by[…]

The Late Mayan Classical Center of Yaxchilan

By Mark CartwrightHistorian Yaxchilan, located on the banks of the Usumacinta River in the Yucatán peninsula of Mexico, was an important Late Classic Maya centre. The Maya dated the founding of their city to 320 CE, but Yaxchilan flourished between c. 580 and c. 800 CE, benefitting from commerce via the Usumacinta River and trading[…]

The ‘Eagle Warrior’ from the Mexica (Aztec) Templo Mayor

The sculpture was recovered at the House of the Eagles, the meeting place of eagle and jaguar warriors. Introduction Eagle Warrior is a life-sized ceramic sculpture made by Mexica (sometimes called Aztec) artists that shows a warrior dressed in an eagle costume. Made of terracotta, a type of earthenware known for its reddish color, the[…]

An Brief Overview of Mexica (Aztec) History

The Mexica were a migrant people from the desert north who arrived in Mesoamerica in the 1300s. By the British Museum Introduction During the twelfth century C.E. the Aztec (or Mexica*) were a small and obscure tribe searching for a new homeland. Eventually they settled in the Valley of Mexico and founded their capital, Tenochtitlan, in 1345.[…]

Exploring Ancient Mosaics

We can see how the world once was and glimpse now lost landscapes, flora and fauna. By Mark CartwrightHistorian Introduction Mosaics, where designs and images are created using small pieces (tesserae) of stone or other materials, have been used to decorate floors, walls, ceilings, and precious objects since before written records began. Like pottery, mosaics have[…]

Inca Mummies

Incan mummies (mallki) which escaped looters have, in most cases, been excellently preserved. By Mark CartwrightHistorian Introduction The Inca civilization of Peru, as with many other ancient Andean cultures, mummified many of their dead and buried them with valuable materials such as precious metal jewellery, fine pottery, and sumptuous textiles. Important mummies could also be[…]

The Ancient Megalithic Funerary Art of San Agustín, Colombia

These burial places formed the centers of small-scale chiefdoms and shared a set of sculptural motifs and styles. By Benjamin OswaldHistorian Introduction Beginning approximately 2000 years ago, in a rugged stretch of southwestern Colombia where the Andes split into multiple ranges and the mighty Magdalena River is born, a people created a collection of magnificent[…]

A Rock, a Human, a Tree: All Were Persons to the Classic Maya

While the social category of ‘persons’ is found in multiple cultural contexts, who or what is recognized as a person can differ. For the Maya of the Classic period, who lived in southern Mexico and Central America between 250 and 900 CE, the category of ‘persons’ was not coincident with human beings, as it is[…]

The Role of Smallpox in the Spanish Conquest of the Aztecs 500 Years Ago

Hernán Cortés owed his conquest of the Aztecs to his expedition’s unknown, unseen secret weapon: the smallpox virus. Disease epidemics can set the course of human history. Recent outbreaks in the U.S. have drawn attention to the dangers of measles. The Democratic Republic of Congo is fighting a deadly outbreak of Ebola that has killed hundreds. Epidemics are[…]

Astronomy in Pre-Columbian Mesoamerica

The observation of the sky was of considerable importance to the Maya, Aztecs and other prehisanic peoles of Mesoamerica. Overview The observation of the sky was of considerable importance to the Maya, Aztecs and other prehispanic peoles of Mesoamerica. Their familiarity with the regularities of the apparent motion of the Sun, the Moon and bright[…]

Ancient Cosmologies: Understanding Ancient Skywatchers, Mayas, and their Worldviews

Since the beginning of humankind, the fascination with the celestial vault has been regarded as an important element in human life, their future, and history. Overview Ancient and pre-modern worldviews of the cosmos originated in practical lifeworld structures and experiences and therefore cannot be analyzed in the same manner as modern cosmologies are. Being embedded[…]

Women’s Voices in a Male World: Actions, Bodies, and Spaces among the Ancient Maya

A greater focus on female activities such as food processing and weaving can provide valuable information on macro-scale social dynamics. Abstract Feminist archaeology has prompted scholars to reconsider gender roles in ancient Mesoamerica.Current research, however, tends to focus on elite women, classes and sites. Although I do not ignore the potential of these sources, in[…]

Investigations into Ancient Maya Domestic and Ritual Activities

Gaining an understanding of the particular social processes involved in the transitional Terminal Classic period in this area of the Maya world. Introduction A fifth season of excavations was conducted between June and September 2005 at the ancient Maya site of Pook’s Hill, Belize (Helmke 2006a). The excavations were conducted as part of the Belize[…]

How Climate Change Put a Damper on the Maya Civilization

Thousands of years before their collapse, severely soggy conditions lasting for many centuries likely inhibited the civilization’s development. By Olivia Trani More than 4,000 years ago, when the Great Pyramid of Giza and Stonehenge were being built, the Maya civilisation emerged in Central America. The indigenous group prospered for thousands of years until its fall[…]