Pre-Columbian Civilizations I

I. Major Periods

  1. Archaic - up to 2500 BCE
    1. Traditionally believed to be descended from major migration c.10,000 BCE
    2. Good but inconclusive evidence for earlier waves, perhaps 20,000 BCE or earlier
    3. Inuit arrive 4000 BCE and later
    4. Slow development of agriculture, domestication of corn, potato, beans, etc.
  2.  Formative/Pre-Classic - 2000 BCE to 250 CE
    1. Emergence of early cities in Mesoamerica, Andean regions
    2. Olmecs appear in Mesoamerica; establish many key cultural traits of region
  3.  Classic 250-900 CE
    1. First major period of Mayan prominence
    2. Teotihuacan dominates central Mexico till 650 CE
    3. Several major Andean cultures, notably Tiahuanaco
  4.  Post Classic 900-1521 CE
    1. In Mexico, dominance of militaristic Toltecs centered at Tula
    2. Toltec influence eroded as Nahuatl speakers migrate into central Mexico; Tula abandoned by 1200 CE
    3. Maya re-emerge to prominence in Yucatan until collapse, c.1450
    4. Series of local mini-empires (notable Chimu) and city states in Andes until rise of Inca in mid-1400s
II. Mayans
  1. Occupied lower Mesoamerica (Yucatan, Chiapas, Guatemala, El Salvador, Belize.)
    1. Notable for lack of major rivers
    2. During Classic period, inhabited primarily the tropical lowlands
    3. After Classic-era collapse. major centers re-emerge in Yucatan, c.1200-1450
  2.  Myths of the peaceful Maya and the ceremonial cities.
    1. Archaeologists long held Mayan were without war, used cities only for ceremonies.
    2.  New research proves this is nonsense - very warlike, large, overpopulated cities
  3.  Society based on city-states ruled by hereditary king
    1. Nobility/priesthood divided from peasantry
    2.  King paid for prominence with own blood
    3.  Ritual bloodletting by king thought to be crucial for society to survive
    4.  These rituals used to reinforce power -- without king, city dies
    1.  Tikal one of the most important - founded 292 AD
  4.  Society depended on intensive corn agriculture
    1. Primary food stuff
    2.  One creation myth held that humans were born of corn.
    3. Intensive agriculture in the rain forest may have led to severe environmental degradation, contributing to collapse
  5. H. Economy depended on long distance trade (Spaniards encountered canoes).
  6. J. Religion focused on flow of cyclical time and calendrics
    1. Fusion of observed/unobservable, earthly/celestial, time/space - no distinction
    2.  Orderly universe - basic unit of organization is the day (kin)
    3.  The day itself is the basic unit/building block of the universe
    4.  Hero Twins - sacrifice and rebirth
      1. One of the best-preserved creation stories involves the Hero Twins
      2.  champion ball players
      3.  sacrificed themselves in order to defeat the gods of death in ball game
      4.  Are reborn, decapitate the death gods
      5.  become sun and Venus - their death and rebirth seen each day
      6.  represents several central ideas in Mayan belief
        1.  that rebirth comes only from sacrifice
        2. that there is a continual struggle between good and evil
        3.  that extraordinary humans could outwit the gods of death
        4.  also a metaphor for the power of the greatest life force - the sun
    5. 5. Flow of time sacred, seen a a grand series of cycles
      1. a. series of worlds had been destroyed in floods
      2. b. current world is at least the fourth, though some information lost
  7. K. Emphasis on time produces emphasis on calendars -- highly advanced
    1. "Calendar Round" balanced a 260 day sacred calendar with a 360 day calendar
    2.   Historical dates depended on the Long Count
      1. days counted from a starting date, most likely August 11, 3114 BCE
      2. Used base-20 system
      3. Graphical Mayan calendar converter
      4. This system required use of zero, making Mayans one of two independent inventors of zero (Hindus being the other)