Ancient civilizations in Mexico
The Pyramid of the Niches at El Tajin is known for its 365 "niches" carved in and around the pyramid to symbolize the days of the year.Photo: Vasakkohaline, Shutterstock During the Danza de los Voladores de Papantla, four voladores (birdmen), one each for the gods of sun, wind, earth and water, swing from a rope tethered to their ankle around a pole as high as 100 feet and gradually descend to the ground. lessDuring the Danza de los Voladores de Papantla, four voladores (birdmen), one each for the gods of sun, wind, earth and water, swing from a rope tethered to their ankle around a pole as high as 100 feet and ... morePhoto: Rui Vale De Sousa, Shutterstock
Inspired by Olmec culture, the city of Teotihuacan, about 25 to 30 miles northeast of Mexico City, is one of the country's most-visited ancient cities.Photo: Kate Connes, Shutterstock
The Tula archaeological site, 40 miles north of Mexico City, is best known for its nearly 15-foot stone warrior figures that once served as columns supporting a pyramid.Photo: Amybbb, Shutterstock
The city's most impressive structures are the magnificent Temple of the Feathered Serpent, the Pyramid of the Sun and the Pyramid of the Moon, all lining the central thoroughfare, the Avenue of the Dead.Photo: Ian D Walker, Shutterstock
The Totonacs' Danza de los Voladores de Papantla, a religious ceremony for communicating with nature and the gods, is still performed at El Tajin, one of their major cities.Photo: Rui Vale De Sousa, Shutterstock
A malachite stone carved figure from Monte Alban in Mexico.Photo: Deborah McCague, Shutterstock
The Juego de Pelota or Ball Court, Monte Alban, Oaxaca, Mexico.Photo: James Harrison, Shutterstock
A jaguar sculpture a the city of Teotihuacan, about 25 to 30 miles northeast of Mexico City.Photo: Dmitry Rukhlenko, Shutterstock
The Mixtec's considerable influence on other cultures is especially evident at Mitla, a Zapotec cities taken over by the Mixtec during an extended war.Photo: Paco Lozano, Shutterstock
Benito Juarez, shown on a 50 peso banknote circa 1981, was a Zapotec and the first full-blooded indigenous president of Mexico.Photo: Georgios Kallidas, Shutterstock
The Toltec capital of Tula, in the Valley of Mexico, was once home to 40, 000 to 60, 000 people.Photo: Colman Lerner Gerardo, Shutterstock
Warrior statues loom over visitors at Tula's Pyramid of the Morning Star.Photo: Gordon Galbraith, Shutterstock The Olmecs were the first to leave signs of their culture for succeeding civilizations to contemplate, but the colossal stone heads, each carved from basalt rock weighing as much as 30 tons procured from hundreds of miles away, raise more questions than they answer. lessThe Olmecs were the first to leave signs of their culture for succeeding civilizations to contemplate, but the colossal stone heads, each carved from basalt rock weighing as much as 30 tons procured from ... morePhoto: Naaman Abreu, Shutterstock
It always strikes me when I travel in Mexico how many foreign visitors don't know the Olmecs from the Toltecs, never mind the Totonacs. Most of what we've learned about Mexico's ancient cultures begins and ends with the Aztecs and the Maya. Those justly renowned civilizations arose relatively late in the country's history, building on traditions that came before and incorporating influences from other peoples near and far.
Mesoamerica at its height was home to more than 25 million people. The 280 languages still spoken in Mexico today show that despite shared traditions and influences, many distinct civilizations arose because of geography, climate and contact with other cultures.
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