Five hundred years ago, Spanish conquistadors searching for gold and new lands to settle stumbled on a group of independent city-states in Mesoamerica, a region extending for more than a thousand miles from the desert of northern Mexico to the rain forest of Central America. Sophisticated beyond the Spaniards’ wildest imaginings, these people were the Aztecs, the Maya, and related cultures that shared common traditions of religion, government, social organization, the arts, agriculture, engineering, and trade.
In many ways more advanced than European nations, these societies were the equal of the world’s greatest civilizations, with remarkable achievements including the following:
- Cities: The Aztec capital, Tenochtitlan, was more populous than any city in Europe and featured unprecedented public amenities, among them one of the largest public markets in the world.
- Time-keeping: The Maya created a calendar that could record their history down to the day over spans of thousands of years—a feat achieved by few other early civilizations.
- Foods: The most planted crop on Earth today, corn, was domesticated thousands of years ago in Mesoamerica, along with beans, squashes, chocolate, and other foods now consumed everywhere.
- : Maya mathematics is so complex that we don’t yet know all it can do. The system is among the first ever to use zero, which is indispensible for practical and advanced calculations.
But the ancient Mesoamericans were also deeply mystifying. Their art was filled with strange images of serpents, birds, jaguars, and humans with fantastically adorned headdresses. Their cities were dominated by ceremonial pyramids, thousands of which were built throughout the region. Their most popular rituals included a bruising ball game played to propitiate the gods. And their most notorious practice was human sacrifice, performed frequently and sometimes with hundreds of victims slaughtered in a single ceremony.
Although the Spanish eventually conquered all of Mesoamerica, much remains of the original culture. Beautiful artifacts fill museums. Impressive ruins dot the landscape. And millions of descendants of ancient Mesoamericans still live in their ancestral homes, speaking native languages and practicing time-honored traditions. It’s no wonder that Mesoamerica is a must-see destination for travelers with an urge to step into an extraordinary past.
immerses you in this epic story with 48 exhilarating half-hour lectures that cover the full scope of Mesoamerican history and culture. Your guide is Professor Edwin Barnhart, Director of the Maya Exploration Center and a noted archaeologist, explorer, and teacher, whose exploits include the discovery of a lost Maya city.
The countries from Mexico to Costa Rica include more than a dozen UNESCO World Heritage Sites related to the pre-Columbian period, plus scores of other ancient sites that are equally worth a visit. These lectures are the ideal way to plan an itinerary, prepare for a tour, or simply sit back and enjoy a thrilling virtual voyage. You will be surprised at the number of sites to explore—many more than you could possibly see in months of travel.