Maya Aztecs and Incas
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Humans may have lived in the western hemisphere more than fifty thousand years ago as indicated by legends of ancient Lemuria or Mu and Atlantis. A land bridge from Asia to North America was apparently used by migrating hunters between 40, 000 and 8, 000 BC. The oldest physical evidence by radiocarbon dating is from southern Chile about 33, 000 years ago, though some archaeologists dispute this is human evidence. Generally accepted radiocarbon dating goes back about 19, 000 years. Paleo-Indian hunting peoples pursued large game between 30, 000 and 8, 000 BC. Stone artifacts have been found from about 15, 000 years ago. Stone spear points indicate that the Clovis people in the New Mexico area were hunting mammoths about 11, 000 BC. About 9, 000 BC as the glaciers were melting, the climate became warmer and drier. Mexica culture began developing about 7, 000 BC. The Mexico area cultivated maize (corn) by 5, 000 BC and beans by 4, 000 BC. These and squash became the staple foods. Chili peppers and avocados were also domesticated.
Another ancient culture developed between the Andes mountains and the Pacific coast in what is now Ecuador, Peru, and northern Chile. By 4000 BC settlers had established villages cultivating squash, gourds, kidney and lima beans, and cotton. Coincidental with similar activity in Egypt, pyramids were built between 2800 and 2600 BC by progressively filling in the lower rooms of the mounds. These pyramids indicate that there must have been a hierarchy of power, probably associated with religion, that could get workers to construct increasingly large public buildings. Irrigation must have been mastered to support communities in such arid country. About 2000 BC U-shaped buildings were built on top of the mounds at La Galgada. In the second millennium BC pottery became very refined, and intensive farming with corn (maize) developed with an improved variety used in the ninth century BC. Religion became even more important. Burials were deep in the ground with accompanying objects of art, and temples became larger.
The Chavin people apparently worshipped a feline symbol representing a jaguar or puma. Evidence of bows and arrows have been found, but the primary weapons were the spear and spear-thrower. To these people religion seems to have been much more important than war or widespread trade. Coca plants were grown, and an oracle was established at Pachacamac and other sites. Trade and communication seems to have been good along the central Peruvian coast. The Chavin culture spread from the northern highlands south and, after a devastating tidal wave inundated the coastal area about 500 BC, into that region following its climatic deterioration. However, after about two centuries of intensive influence in most areas the Chavin culture began to fade away. Unfortunately there is no writing describing this religious movement.
The Olmec culture developed civilization about 1500 BC. These people lived on the southern shore of the Gulf of Mexico where they practiced slash-and-burn farming. They supplemented their diet with deer, wild pigs, and fish. They built with adobe bricks, creating mounds and platforms for the dwellings of the elite who ruled. The Olmecs provided for most of their own needs but traded for obsidian to make cutting blades. They carved jade and stones and are perhaps best known for the colossal heads between five and ten feet tall. These heads, which seemed to be fitted with helmets, remind us today of football helmets, and they may have been used for a ball game that they played as well as for war. Respect for the jaguars of the jungle somehow developed into a powerful religious symbol, and the Olmecs may have been called the people of the jaguar. The terraced platforms eventually became large pyramids.
During the final centuries BC the Olmec culture gradually influenced and became absorbed by other people living nearby. The Izapa lived in the Pacific plain where the prized cacao grew. Izapan art depicts jaguars captured and used in human rituals, bird gods flying, gods in canoes on waves with fish beneath, gods descending headfirst, seated humans tending incense, and a warrior decapitating an enemy.
Pyramids were built in the Chiapas area in the sixth century BC. Pottery found there indicates a diversity of trading partners. A link between the Olmecs and the Maya seems to be the Zoque people who lived there and spoke a Mixe-Zoquean language that has a common origin with Mayan language. As population increased and spread, agricultural land became more valuable. Eventually elite groups of people formed to protect and manage the best land, as indicated by larger temples and funerary constructions. In the south Kaminaljuyu controlled the highland products such as obsidian and jade. Nakbe became a trading center by controlling the ports of the river routes at the base of the Yucatan peninsula in the lowlands. Colha provided quartz chert and Komchen salt. Gradually the Mayans absorbed or replaced the Mixe-Zoqueans and established their authoritarian political institutions with hereditary rulers, who began to commemorate themselves with dates and hieroglyphic texts in the first century BC.
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