Home 603 Mesoamerica Cultures

Book List

Week 1-2 Carmack

Week 3 Whisnat

Week 4 Whisnat

Week 5 Whisnat

Week 6 Nash

Week 6 Essay 1 Question

Week 6 Essay

Week 7 Nash

Week 8 Manz

Week 9 Manz

Week 10 Binford

Week 11 Binford

Week 12 Oppenheimer

Week 12 Quinnones

Week 12 Essay 2 Question

Week 12 Essay 2

Week 13 Oppenheimer

Week 13 Quinnones

Week 14 Dow

Week 15 Dow

Final Paper

Victoria Kline
Anthropology 582: Mesoamerican Cultures
September 8, 2004
Dr. Ramona Perez

Ten Thousand Years of Mesoamerican History in a Week

Chapter I is an introduction that leads into the discussion beginning with Spanish contact, observations by Columbus and Cortez, and definitions of terms that will be used in the text “The Legacy of Mesoamerica” by Robert M. Carmack, Janine Gasco, and Gary H. Gossen. The physical setting of Mesoamerica had great impact on the cultural systems that developed there and are described in terms of geographical zones of highland or lowland, and also five natural areas. On question might be: What were the different cultural landscapes created in the differing geographical zones? Or, said another way, what were the differences in the adaptations of cultures occupying differing geographical zones? It probably differs over time also.

In Chapter II the timeline for the development of Mesoamerican cultures is laid out from the earliest known habitation sometime between 20,000 and 10,000 years ago to the time of European contact in the early 16th century. Five divisions have been made in the timeline. The Paleoindian Period is marked by the earliest arrivals of mobile hunter-gatherers (20,000-10,000 years ago), then the Archaic Period from 10,000-4,000 years ago. Following these periods are the Formative, the Classic, and the Postclassic, the periods of most interest to our discussion. The Formative Period, from 4,000 to 1,800 years ago, includes the beginnings of fired ceramics, the spread of religious concepts as central to the way of life, and early agriculture and the first signs of non-mobile communities. The Ocos and Olmecs lived during this period. The Olmecs were highly successful and influenced a wide area (48). Another question of interest: What cultural traits endured into the succeeding cultures after the fall of the Olmec polity (48)?

The Classic period marks the rise of civilizations in Teotihuacan, Tikal, Palenque, Copan, Classic Maya and other familiar place names as the first cities. Societies became obviously stratified, and the long count calendar was devised in this period. The Postclassic period, from the fall of the Classic to Spanish contact is the time of the rise of the city-states that display large variations is size, population density, geography, city planning, arrangement of housing etc. What was more uniform and uniting between the city-states were art forms and the move away from religion and towards commerce as the dominant motivating force behind culture (71, 79). The Aztec empire rose to become the most powerful of the city-states at this time.

At Spanish contact we have documentary sources for the European view of the state of Mesoamerica at the time. This is where Chapter III begins. There were large towns and dependent rural communities. The authors describe the Mesoamerican World System of core, semi-perifery, periphery, and frontier zones in order of greatest influence and power in the Mesoamerican world. They give a description of each zone with core zones being the areas that are able to extract goods and services from the periphery zones and the semi-perifery zones acting as “middle men”.

Chapter IV is a story of the Spanish conquest of Mesoamerica. Starting with the history of Spain we are given an explanation of why Spain used conquest in their desire for expansion of territory. The Moors (Muslims from North Africa) occupied Spain in the 8th century. In the mid-9th century, Spanish Christians began the reconquista (the reconquest of Spain) to gain back control of their land. This took many centuries and finally prior to the 15th century they once again were the masters of themselves. Through this fight of Christian against Muslim, the Spaniards came to believe themselves due the rights and privileges of conquerors. They believed they were the civilized and pious ones and when Ferdinand and Isabella came to the Spanish throne, ousted all those whose religious views were not the same as theirs! The economic pickle that Ferdinand and Isabella subsequently got Spain into gave rise to the need of bringing in foreign wealth. Also, the Spanish crown desired more converts to their Christian religion. The peoples of Mesoamerica did not have a chance against this righteous motivating obligation of the Spaniards. 

There is no way I would be able to regurgitate all the history I just read about, but will keep this text as my constant companion for background when I am unsure of some historical or pre-historic reference. The main objective here is to gain a background for the discussion of present day Mesoamerican peoples, from post contact to today.

One of my questions always will be, how can a group of people, such as the Spanish, free themselves of domination (which they disliked immensely or they would not have revolted against it) and go out in the quest to dominate another group of people? And feel justified in virtually enslaving and holding them through fear?

I would also like to know the relationship of Mesoamerican cultures to the Natchez of Mississippi, a Mesoamerican-like culture found in the southern US at contact. They built stepped flat topped pyramids, grew corn and other crops, were socially stratified, performed sacrificial rituals on the pyramids and had many other traits in common. Are the Natchez a satellite culture that splintered off from Mesoamerica or visa versa? It seems that this could be traced through language groups.


Carmack, Robert M., Janine Gasco, and Gary H. Gossen
1996    The Legacy of Mesoamerica: History and Culture of a Native America Civilization. Upper Saddle River, New Jersey: Prentice Hall.

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