Early Civilizations of Middle America Presentation created by Robert L. Martinez Primary Content Source: Prentice Hall World History Images as cited. Approximately 30,000 years ago, small family groups of Paleolithic hunters and food gatherers reached North America from Asia. This great migration took place during the last ice age . nhorizon.net At that time, so much water froze into thick ice sheets that the sea level dropped, exposing a land bridge between Siberia and Alaska, in the area known as the Bering Strait. carrollton.k12.oh.us Many historians believe that hunters followed herds of bison and mammoths across this land bridge. Other migrating people may have paddled small boats and fished along the coasts. gatesofvienna.blogspot.com About 10,000 B.C.E., the Earth’s climate grew warmer. As the ice melted , water levels rose, covering the land bridge under the Bering Strait. huffingtonpost.com The global warming, or worldwide temperature increase, along with the hunting skills of the first Americans, may have killed off large game animals like the mammoth. allposters.com People adapted by hunting small animals, fishing, and gathering fruit, roots, and shellfish. These nomadic hunter-gatherers slowly migrated eastward and southward across the Americas. sott.net The Americas are made up of the two continents of North America and South America. Within these two geographic regions is a cultural region called Middle America. dreamstime.com Middle America includes Mexico and Central America and was home to several early civilizations. guatemalatourism.wordpress.com Great mountain chains form a spiny backbone down the western Americas. In North America, the Rocky Mountains split into the East and West Sierra Madre of Mexico. home.comcast.net worldmapsonline.com The towering Andes run down the length of South America. The continents are drained by two of the world’s longest rivers, the Amazon of South America and the Mississippi of North America. cyclelifeonline.com The greatest adaption by early Americans was the cultivation of plants and domestication of animals. It is believed that farming was partly a response to the disappearance of large mammals. fresnoolv.org With fewer animals to hunt, people came to depend more on other food sources. Neolithic people began cultivating a range of crops, from corn and beans to sweet potatoes, peppers, tomatoes, and squash. foodsovereigntytours.org Early American farmers domesticated animals. In South America, domesticated animals include the llama valued for their wool. The lack of draft animals in the Americas, such as oxen or horses, would limit development in some areas. mobot.org In the Americas, like other continents, the Agricultural Revolution would lead to people settling in villages. Populations expanded. kidspast.com The earliest American civilization emerged in the tropical forests along the Mexican Gulf Coast. The Olmec civilization lasted from about 1400 B.C.E. to 500 B.C.E. blogs.uww.edu Archeologists know very little about the Olmecs. However, rich tombs and temples suggest that a powerful class of priests and aristocrats stood at the top of Olmec society. The Olmecs did not build true cities. ancientx.com Rather, they built ceremonial centers made up of pyramid-shaped temples and other buildings. People came from nearby farming villages to work on the temples or attend religious ceremonies. imakenews.com The most dramatic remains of the Olmec civilization are the giant carved stone heads found in the ruins of a religious center at La Venta. No one knows how the Olmecs moved these colossal 40-ton stones from distant quarries without wheeled vehicles or draft animals. The Olmecs invented a calendar and used carved inscriptions as a form of writing. But their most important legacy may have been the tradition of priestly leadership and religious devotion that became a basic part of later Middle American civilizations. mayaworld.com Among the peoples influenced by the Olmecs were the Mayas. Between 300 and 900 C.E. Mayan city-states flourished from the Yucatan in southern Mexico through much of Central America. fresnoolv.org Scientists have determined how Mayan farming methods allowed them to thrive in the tropical environment. Mayan farmers cleared the dense rain forests and then built raised fields that caught and held rainwater. fresnoolv.org They also built channels that could be opened to drain excess water. This complex system produced enough native corn, called maize, and other crops to support rapidly growing cities. i-akumal.blogspot.com Towering pyramid temples dominated the largest Mayan city of Tikal, in present-day Guatemala. Priests climbed steep temple stairs to perform sacrifices on high platforms, while ordinary people watched from the plazas below. greentravelerguides.com Some temples served as burial places for nobles and priests. foxnews.com Tikal boasted large palaces and huge stone pillars covered with elaborate carvings. The carvings, which usually record events in Mayan history, preserve striking images of aristocrats, warriors in plumed headdresses, and captives to be sacrificed to the gods. divinetravels.com Much of the wealth of Tikal and the other Mayan cities came from trade. Along roads made of parked earth, traders carried valuable cargoes of honey, cocoa, cotton cloth, and feathers to exchange with other people across Middle America. Each Mayan city had its own ruling chief. He was surrounded by nobles who served as military leaders and officials who managed public works, collected taxes, and enforced laws. picstopin.com Priests held great power because only they could conduct the elaborate ceremonies needed to ensure good harvests and success in war. belch.com Most Mayans were farmers. They grew corn, beans, and squash, the basic food crops of Middle America, as well as fruit trees, and cotton. Men usually cultivated the crops, while women turned them into food. twipa.blogspot.com To support the cities, farmers paid taxes in food and helped build the temples. earthsky.org The Mayas made impressive advances in learning. They developed a hieroglyphic writing system, which has only recently been deciphered. Mayan scribes kept their sacred knowledge in books made of bark. www.shutterstock.com Mayan priests needed to measure time accurately in order to hold ceremonies at the correct moment. As a result, many priests became expert mathematicians and astronomers. div-35-ancient-civilization They developed an accurate 365 day solar calendar, as well as a 260 day calendar based on the orbit of the planet Venus. Mayan priests also invented a numbering system and understood the concept of zero. fearthex.blogspot.com About 900 C.E., the Mayas abandoned their cities, leaving their great stone palaces and temples to be swallowed up the jungle. rutahsa.com No one knows for sure why Mayan civilization declined. Possibly, frequent warfare forced the Mayas to abandon their cities. Or overpopulation may have led to over-farming, which in turn exhausted the soil. Heavy taxes to finance wars and temple building may have sparked rebellions. neatorama.com Still, remnants of Mayan culture have survived. Today, millions of people in Guatemala and southern Mexico speak Mayan languages and are descended from the builders of this early American civilization. airlineamb.org Long before Mayan cites rose to the south, the city of Teotihuacan had emerged in the Valley of Mexico. The Valley of Mexico is a huge oval basin ringed by snowcapped volcanoes, located in the high plateau of central Mexico. From 100 t0 750 C.E., Teotihuacan dominated this large area. worldend.info The city of Teotihuacan was well planned, with wide roads, massive temples, and large apartment buildings. Along the main avenue, the Pyramid of the Sun and the Pyramid of the Moon rose majestically toward the sky. jqjacobs.ne t Citizens of Teotihuacan worshiped a powerful nature goddess and rain god, whose images appear on public buildings and on everyday objects. Teotihuacan eventually fell to invaders, but its culture influenced later peoples, especially the Aztecs. en.wikipedia.org In the late 200s, bands of nomadic people, the ancestors of the Aztecs, migrated into the Valley of Mexico from the north. According to Aztec legend, the gods had told them to search for an eagle perched atop a cactus hold a snake in it beak. csmh.pbworks.com They finally saw the sign on a swampy island in Lake Texcoco. Once settled, the Aztecs shifted from hunting to farming. Slowly, they built the city of Tenochtitlan on the site of present-day Mexico City. mexicotoday.org In the 1400s, the Aztecs expanded their territory. Through a combination of conquests and alliances, they spread their rule across most of Mexico, from the Gulf of Mexico on the east to the Pacific Ocean on the west. By 1500, the Aztec empire numbered an estimated 30 million people. crystalinks.com War brought immense wealth as well as power. Tribute, or payment from conquered peoples, helped the Aztecs turn their capital into a magnificent city. aztectikihuts.com From the temples and royal palaces to its zoos and floating gardens Tenochtitlan was a city of wonders. It was also the center of a complex organized empire. pondplantgirl.com Unlike the Mayan city-states, each of which had its own king, the Aztecs had a single ruler. The emperor was chosen by a council of nobles and priests to lead in war. Below him, nobles served as officials, judges, and governors of conquered provinces. hellomagazine.com These officials enjoyed privileges such as wearing luxurious feathered cloaks and gold jewelry. Next came the warriors, who could rise to noble status by killing or capturing enemy soldiers. The majority of people were commoners who farmed the land. mexicolore.co.uk At the bottom of society were the slaves, mostly criminals or prisoners of war. Despite their low status, slaves’ rights were clearly spelled out by law. For example, slaves could own land and buy their clio.missouristate.edu freedom. Protected by Aztec power, a class of longdistance traders ferried goods across the empire. From the highlands, they took goods such as weapons, tools, and rope to barter for tropical products such as jaguar skins and cocoa beans. They also served as spies, locating new areas for trade and conquest. angelfire.com The priests were a class apart. They performed rituals they believed pleased the gods and prevented droughts or other disasters. The chief Aztec god was Huitzilopochtli the sun god. His pyramidtemple towered above all. el-walrok.deviantart.com Huitzilopochtli, the Aztecs believed, battled the forces of darkness each night and was reborn each morning. As the Legend of the Suns shows, there was no guarantee that the sun would always win. To give the sun strength to rise each day, the Aztecs offered human sacrifices. latinamericanstudies.org Priests offered the hearts of tens of thousands of victims to Huitzilopochtli and other Aztec gods. Most of the victims were prisoners of war, but sometimes a noble family gave up one of its own members to appease the gods. plu.edu Other cultures, such as the Olmecs and the Mayas, had practiced human sacrifice, but not on the massive scale of the Aztecs. The Aztecs carried on almost continuous warfare, using the captured enemy soldiers for a regular source of sacrificial victims. news.nationalgeographic.com Among the conquered peoples, discontent festered and rebellion often flared up. When the armies from Spain later arrived, they found allies among peoples who were ruled by the Aztec empire. dipity.com Priests were the keepers of Aztec knowledge. They recorded laws and historical events. Some ran schools for the sons of nobles. Others used their knowledge of astronomy and mathematics to foretell the future. The Aztecs, like the Mayas, had an accurate calendar. texasbeyondhistory.net mexicolore.co.uk Like many other peoples, the Aztecs believed that illness was a punishment from the gods. Still, Aztec priests used herbs and other medicines to treat fevers and wounds. Aztec physicians could set broken bones and treat dental cavities.