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Mesoamerica

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Mesoamerica

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Definition:

From the Latin, meaning "Middle America."

The term Mesoamerica refers to a geographical and cultural area which extends from central Mexico down through Central America, including Guatemala, Belize, Honduras and El Salvador. Many important ancient civilizations developed in this area, including the Olmecs, Zapotecs, Teotihuacanos, Mayas and Aztecs. These cultures developed complex societies, reached high levels of technological evolution, built monumental constructions, and shared many cultural concepts.

Shared features of these ancient civilizations:

  • diet based on corn, beans and squash
  • similar myths of origin
  • calendar system
  • writing systems
  • ball game played with a rubber ball
The history of Mesoamerica is divided into three great periods.

The Preclassic period stretches from 1500 B.C. to 200 A.D. During this period there was a refinement of agricultural techniques which brought larger populations, division of labor and social stratification necessary for civilizations to develop.

The Classic period, from 200 to 900 A.D., saw the development of great urban centers, including Monte Alban in Oaxaca, Teotihuacan in central Mexico and the Mayan centers of Tikal, Palenque and Copan.

The Postclassic period, from 900 A.D. to the arrival of the Spaniards in the early 1500s, was characterized by city-states and greater emphasis on war and sacrifice. This period saw the emergence of the Aztecs in the 1300s.

Learn more about Mexico's ancient civilizations, or read our tips for visiting Mexican archaeological sites.

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