Meaning of PRE-COLUMBIAN CIVILIZATIONS in English

PRE-COLUMBIAN CIVILIZATIONS

the aboriginal American Indian cultures that evolved in Meso-America (part of Mexico and Central America) and the Andean region (western South America) prior to Spanish exploration and conquest in the 16th century. The pre-Columbian civilizations were extraordinary developments in human society and culture, ranking with the early civilizations of Egypt, Mesopotamia, and China. Like the ancient civilizations of the Old World, those in the New World were characterized by kingdoms and empires, great monuments and cities, and refinements in the arts, metallurgy, and writing; the ancient civilizations of the Americas also display in their histories similar cyclical patterns of growth and decline, unity and disunity. In the New World the roots of civilization lay in a native agricultural way of life. These agricultural beginnings go back several millennia, to early post-Pleistocene times (c. 7000 BC) and to the first experimentations by the early Americans with plant cultivation. The domestication of successful food plants proved to be a long, slow process, and it was not until much later that a condition of permanent village farming life was achieved in the tropical latitudes of the two continents. Sedentary village farming in Meso-America came into being by about 1500 BC. Corn (maize), beans, squashes, chili peppers, and cotton were the most important crops. These early villagers wove cloth, made pottery, and practiced other typical Neolithic skills. It appears that such villages were economically self-contained and politically autonomous, with an egalitarian social order. But rather quickly after this-between about 1200 and 900 BC-the building of large earthen pyramids and platforms and the carving of monumental stone sculptures signaled significant changes in this heretofore simple social and political order. These changes first appeared in the southern Gulf coast region of what is now Mexico; and the sculptures, rendered in a style now called Olmec, are presumed to depict chiefs or rulers. From these and other archaeological indications it has been inferred that a class-structured and politically centralized society developed. There appeared subsequently other large capital towns and cities in neighbouring regions that also displayed a similar Olmec art style. This Olmec horizon (i.e., a cultural diffusion that is contemporaneous at widely scattered sites) represents the first climax, or era of "unification," in the history of Meso-American civilization. After about 500 BC the Olmec "unification" gave way to an era (consisting of the Late Formative and Classic periods) of separate regional styles and kingdoms. These lasted until c. AD 700-900. Among these are the well-known Maya, Zapotec, Totonac, and Teotihuacn civilizations. While sharing a common Olmec heritage, they also displayed many differences. For example, the Maya excelled in the intellectual pursuits of hieroglyphic writing, calendar making, and mathematics, while the Teotihuacn civilization placed its emphasis on political and commercial power. Teotihuacn, in the Valley of Mexico, was an urban centre of some 150,000 people, and the influence of its civilization eventually radiated over much of Meso-America. As such, Teotihuacn constituted a second grand civilizational climax or "unification" (AD 400-600). Teotihuacn power waned after about 600, and a "time of troubles" ensued, during which a number of states and nascent empires competed for supremacy. Among these competitors were the Toltecs of Tula, in central Mexico, who held sway from perhaps 900 to 1200 (the Early Postclassic Period). After their decline (in the Late Postclassic Period), another interregnum of warring states lasted until 1428, when the Aztec defeated the rival city of Azcapotzalco and emerged as the dominant force in central Mexico. This last native Meso-American empire was conquered by Hernn Corts (or Cortz) and the Spaniards in 1521. In the Andean area, the threshold of a successful village agricultural economy can be placed at c. 2500 BC, or somewhat earlier than was the case in Meso-America. The oldest primary food crops there were the lima bean and the potato, which had long histories of domestication in the area, although corn appeared soon after the beginnings of settled village life. Indications of a more complex sociopolitical order-huge platform mounds and densely populated centres-occurred very soon after this (c. 1800 BC); however, these early Andean civilizations continued for almost a millennium before they participated in a shared stylistic "unification." This has become known as the Chavn horizon, and Chavn sculptural art has been found throughout the northern part of the area. The Chavn horizon disappeared after about 500 BC, and it was replaced by regional styles and cultures that lasted until about AD 600. This period of regionalization (called the Early Intermediate Period) saw the florescence of a number of large kingdoms both on the Pacific coast and in the Andean highlands; among them were the Mochica, Early Lima, Nazca, Recuay, and Early Tiahuanaco. The period was brought to an end by the Tiahuanaco-Huari horizon (Middle Horizon) (600-1000), which was generated from the highland cities of Tiahuanaco (in modern northern Bolivia) and Huari (in central highland Peru). There is evidence-such as the construction of new centres and cities-that this Tiahuanaco-Huari phenomenon, at least in many regions, was a tightly controlled political empire. The horizon and its influences, as registered in ceramics and textiles, died away rather gradually in the ensuing centuries, and it was replaced by the several regional styles and kingdoms of what has become known as the Late Intermediate Period (1000-1438). The terminal date of the Late Intermediate Period marked the beginning of the Inca horizon and of the Inca conquests, which spread from the Inca capital, Cuzco, in the southern highlands of modern Peru. By 1533, when Francisco Pizarro and his cohorts took over the empire, it extended from what is now the Ecuador-Colombia border to central Chile. The synchroneity of horizon unifications and alternating regionalizations in Meso-America and the Andean region is striking and prompts the question of communication between these two areas of pre-Columbian high civilization. Although it is known that there were contacts-with the result that knowledge of food plants, ceramics, and metallurgy was shared between the two areas-it is also highly unlikely that political or religious ideologies were so spread. Rather, the peoples of each of these major cultural areas appear to have responded to their own internally generated stimuli and to have followed essentially separate courses of development. There are fundamental differences between the two cultural traditions. Thus, in Meso-America there was, from early on, a profound interest in hieroglyphic writing and calendar making. Religious ideology, judged from art and iconography, was more highly developed in Meso-America than in the Andean region. In Meso-America the market was a basic institution; it does not appear to have been so in the Andes, where the redistributive economy of the Inca empire-with such features as its government warehouses and a system of highways-must have had deep roots in the past. On the other hand, in the early development and deployment of metallurgy and in governmental institutions and empire-building, the ancient Peruvians were much more efficient than their Meso-American contemporaries. Gordon R. Willey Additional reading Archaeological and historical studies Gordon R. Willey, An Introduction to American Archaeology, 2 vol. (1966-71); and Gordon R. Willey and Jeremy A. Sabloff, A History of American Archaeology, 2nd ed. (1980), provide overviews of all of New World prehistory and place the Mesoamerican and Andean civilizations into the larger cultural-historical setting. See also Leslie Bethell (ed.), The Cambridge History of Latin America, vol. 1 (1984). Meso-American civilization General works The comprehensive, multivolume series "Handbook of Middle American Indians," especially vol. 2-3, Gordon R. Willey (ed.), Archaeology of Southern Mesoamerica (1965), and vol. 10-11, Gordon F. Ekholm and Ignacio Bernal (eds.), Archaeology of Northern Mesoamerica (1971), is indispensable. Summaries of more recent developments are found in Jeremy A. Sabloff (ed.), Archaeology (1981), vol. 1 in the series "Supplement to the Handbook of Middle American Indians." Historical sources include Francis Augustus MacNutt (trans. and ed.), Letters of Cortes: The Five Letters of Relation from Fernando Cortes to the Emperor Charles V, 2 vol. (1908, reprinted 1977); and Bernal Daz Del Castillo, The True History of the Conquest of New Spain, 5 vol., ed. and trans. by Alfred Percival Maudsley (1908-16, reprinted as The Conquest of New Spain, 4 vol., 1967). See also Muriel Porter Weaver, The Aztecs, Maya, and Their Predecessors: Archaeology of Mesoamerica, 2nd ed. (1981); Walter Krickeberg, Altmexikanische Kulturen, new ed. (1975); Jacques Soustelle, The Four Suns: Recollections and Reflections of an Ethnologist in Mexico (1971; originally published in French, 1967), and Arts of Ancient Mexico (1966; originally published in French, 1966); Suzanne Abel-Vidor et al., Between Continents/Between Seas: Precolumbian Art of Costa Rica (1981); Anna Benson Gyles and Chle Sayer, Of Gods and Men: Mexico and the Mexican Indian (1980); Michael D. Coe, Mexico, 3rd rev. ed. (1984); and Joyce Kelly, The Complete Visitor's Guide to Mesoamerican Ruins (1982). Preclassic and Classic periods For early prehistory and the beginnings of agriculture, see Christine Niederberger, Zohapilco: Cinco milenios de ocupacin humana en un sitio lacustre de la Cuenca de Mxico (1976); and Barbara L. Stark and Barbara Voorhies (eds.), Prehistoric Coastal Adaptations: The Economy and Ecology of Maritime Middle America (1978). General introductions include William T. Sanders and Barbara J. Price, Mesoamerica: The Evolution of a Civilization (1968); Richard E.W. Adams, Prehistoric Mesoamerica (1977); Eric R. Wolf, Sons of the Shaking Earth (1959, reprinted 1974); and Mary W. Helms, Middle America: A Culture History of Heartland and Frontiers (1975, reprinted 1982). For a coordination of regional chronologies within the area, see R.E. Taylor and Clement W. Meighan (eds.), Chronologies in New World Archaeology (1978). Books dealing with Olmec civilization include Michael D. Coe and Richard A. Diehl, In the Land of the Olmec, 2 vol. (1980); Michael D. Coe, David Grove, and Elizabeth P. Benson (eds.), The Olmec & Their Neighbors (1981); and Ignacio Bernal, The Olmec World (1969; originally published in Spanish, 1968). For other cultures of the period, see the general works cited above. Late Classic Period General books on the Maya include J. Eric S. Thompson, The Rise and Fall of Maya Civilization, 2nd enl. ed. (1966, reprinted 1977); Michael D. Coe, The Maya, 4th rev. ed. (1987); Norman Hammond, Ancient Maya Civilization (1982); and Sylvanus G. Morley and George W. Brainerd, The Ancient Maya, 4th ed., rev. by Robert J. Sharer (1983). The rise and decline of Maya civilization are discussed in Richard E.W. Adams (ed.), The Origins of Maya Civilization (1977); and T. Patrick Culbert (ed.), The Classic Maya Collapse (1973, reprinted 1983). See also John S. Henderson, The World of the Ancient Maya (1981), an ethnohistory. The transition from Maya Classic to Postclassic culture is examined in Jeremy A. Sabloff and E. Wyllis Andrews V (eds.), Late Lowland Maya Civilization: Classic to Postclassic (1986). A basic work on Maya hieroglyphic writing is J. Eric S. Thompson, Maya Hieroglyphic Writing: An Introduction, 3rd ed. (1971). For later research in the field, see David Humiston Kelley, Deciphering the Maya Script (1976); Elizabeth P. Benson (ed.), Mesoamerican Writing Systems (1973); and Linda Schele and Mary Ellen Miller, The Blood of Kings: Dynasty and Ritual in Maya Art (1986). For the complex subject of ancient Maya religion, J. Eric S. Thompson, Maya History and Religion (1970), is an indispensable introductory guide. Native and early historical sources include Daniel G. Brinton (ed. and trans.), The Maya Chronicles (1882, reprinted 1969), and The Annals of the Cakchiquels (1885, reprinted 1969); Popol Vuh: The Sacred Book of the Ancient Quich Maya, trans. from the Spanish work of Adrin Recinos by Delia Goetz and Sylvanus G. Morley (1950, reprinted 1978); Ralph L. Roys (trans.), The Book of Chilam Balam of Chumayel (1933, reprinted 1967); Diego De Landa, Landa's Relacin de las cosas de Yucatn, trans. into English and ed. by Alfred M. Tozzer (1941, reprinted 1978); and Munro S. Edmonson (trans. and ed.), The Ancient Future of the Itza: The Book of Chilam Balam of Tizimin (1982). Jacques Soustelle, Mexico, trans. from French (1967), deals with the relation of Maya and other ancient Mesoamerican religions. Economic and demographic features are treated in Peter D. Harrison and B.L. Turner II, Pre-Hispanic Maya Agriculture (1978); and Wendy Ashmore (ed.), Lowland Maya Settlement Patterns (1981). See also Henri Stierlin, Art of the Maya: From the Olmecs to the Toltec-Maya (1981; originally published in French, 1981). Postclassic Period Bernardino De Sahagn, General History of the Things of New Spain: Florentine Codex, trans. from Nhuatl and ed. by Arthur J.O. Anderson and Charles E. Dibble, 13 vol. in 12 (1950-82), is the first full translation of this 16th-century Spanish writer of Aztec culture and is particularly informative on Aztec religion. J. Eric S. Thompson, Mexico Before Cortez: An Account of the Daily Life, Religion, and Ritual of the Aztecs and Kindred Peoples (1933), is a shorter survey. See also Jacques Soustelle, The Daily Life of the Aztecs: On the Eve of the Spanish Conquest (1962, reissued 1970; originally published in French, 1955); Richard A. Diehl, Tula: The Toltec Capital of Ancient Mexico (1983); Nigel Davies, The Toltecs, Until the Fall of Tula (1977), and The Toltec Heritage: From the Fall of Tula to the Rise of Tenochtitln (1980); and Burr Cartwright Brundage, The Fifth Sun: Aztec Gods, Aztec World (1979), and The Phoenix of the Western World: Quetzalcoatl and the Sky Religion (1982). Andean civilization General works A comprehensive and still useful survey is provided by the articles in The Andean Civilizations, vol. 2 of Julian H. Steward (ed.), Handbook of South American Indians, 7 vol. (1946-59, reprinted 1963). Introductions include John Howland Rowe and Dorothy Menzel (eds.), Peruvian Archaeology: Selected Readings (1967); Luis G. Lumbreras, The People and Cultures of Ancient Peru (1974; originally published in Spanish, 1969); and Richard W. Keatinge (ed.), Peruvian Prehistory (1988). Important research by Andean authors is presented in Ramiro Condarco Morales, El escenario andino y el hombre (1971); and Segundo Moreno Yaez and Udo Oberem, Contribucin a la etnohistoria ecuatoriana (1981). See also John A. Mason, The Ancient Civilizations of Peru (1968, reprinted 1979); John V. Murra, Nathan Wachtel, and Jacques Revel (eds.), Anthropological History of Andean Polities (1986; originally published in French in issues 5-6 of Annales, Economies, Societs, Civilizations, vol. 33, 1978); and Shozo Masuda, Izumi Shimada, and Craig Morris (eds.), Andean Ecology and Civilization: An Interdisciplinary Perspective on Andean Ecological Complementarity (1985). For the material culture admired by the Spanish observers from the first days of the invasion, see Christopher B. Donnan (ed.), Early Ceremonial Architecture in the Andes (1985); Heather Lechtman and Ana Mara Soldi (eds.), La tecnologa en el mundo andino: subsistencia y mensuracin (1981); and Ann Pollard Rowe (ed.), The Junius B. Bird Conference on Andean Textiles, April 7-8, 1984 (1986). Pre-Inca periods Surveys of these civilizations include Wendell C. Bennett and Junius B. Bird, Andean Culture History, 2nd rev. ed. (1960, reissued 1964); Geoffrey H.S. Bushnell, Peru, rev. ed. (1963); Edward P. Lanning, Peru Before the Incas (1967); Donald W. Lathrap, The Upper Amazon (1970); and Jonathan Haas, Shelia Pozorski, and Thomas Pozorski (eds.), The Origins and Development of the Andean State (1987). The Inca The works of the chroniclers are available in modern English translations or in modern critical editions: Pedro de Cieza de Len, The Incas, trans. by Harriet de Onis, ed. by Victor Wolfgang von Hagen (1959, reprinted 1967); Garcilaso de la Vega, The Incas: The Royal Commentaries of the Inca, Garcilaso de la Vega, 1539-1616, trans. by Maria Jolas from the critical annotated French edition of Alain Gheerbrant (1961, reissued 1971; originally published in French, 1959); and Felipe Guamn Poma de Ayala, El primer nueva cornica y buen gobierno, trans. from Quechua by Jorge L. Urioste, ed. by John V. Murra and Rolena Adorno, 3 vol. (1980). Comprehensive histories include Alfred Mtraux, The History of the Incas (1969; originally published in French, 1963); George A. Collier, Renato I. Rosaldo, and John D. Wirth (eds.), The Inca and Aztec States, 1400-1800: Anthropology and History (1982); and John Hemming, The Conquest of the Incas, rev. ed. (1983).The following works study special aspects of the Inca civilization: R. Tom Zuidema, La civilisation inca au Cuzco (1986), on social life and kinship systems; Franklin Pease (Garca Yrigoyen), El dios creador andino (1973), on religion; Gary Urton, At the Crossroads of the Earth and the Sky: An Andean Cosmology (1981); Maria Ascher and Robert Ascher, Code of the Quipu: A Study in Media, Mathematics, and Culture (1981); Frank Salomon, Native Lords of Quito in the Age of the Incas: The Political Economy of North-Andean Chiefdoms (1986); Craig Morris and Donald E. Thompson, Hunuco Pampa: An Inca City and Its Hinterland (1985); Sally Falk Moore, Power and Property in Inca Peru (1958, reprinted 1973); John V. Murra, The Economic Organization of the Inka State (1980); John Hyslop, The Inca Road System (1984); and Graziano Gasparini and Luise Margolies, Inca Architecture (1980; originally published in Spanish, 1977). Gordon R. Willey William T. Sanders John V. Murra Andean civilization The Inca Forty years had elapsed since Columbus' landfall when in 1532 fewer than 200 Spaniards brought down the Inca (Inka) state. Ever since then, historians have been pondering the reasons for this sudden collapse. The evidence seems to favour internal subversion. Don Francisco Cusichaq, lord of the Huanca in central Peru, opened the country to alien rule; he wanted to destroy his hereditary enemies, the Inca. The Andean pattern of many dispersed regional polities that frequently were at war with one another-a situation that the Inca had manipulated but had not eliminated-and the diverse archipelago-like string of the communities may also have facilitated the relatively effortless Spanish victory. By 1532 Tawantinsuyu, the Inca state, had incorporated dozens of coastal and highland ethnic groups stretching from what is now the northern border of Ecuador to Mendoza in west-central Argentina and the Maule River in central Chile-a distance roughly equal to that between New York City and the Panama Canal. By conservative estimates the Inca ruled more than 12,000,000 people, who spoke at least 20 different languages. A century earlier, during the wars of the Late Intermediate, they had controlled little beyond the villages of their own Cuzco Valley. While forming their state they subordinated more than 100 independent ethnic groups; how much of this achievement corresponded to political experience gained during the Middle Horizon cannot be told. It is likely that the memory of that multiethnic expansion was alive in the ruling families of the major polities. The origins and expansion of the Inca state Principal sites of Andean civilization. Inca origins and early history are largely shrouded in legends that may be more mythical than factual. Their later history, particularly from the reign of Pachacuti Inca Yupanqui (Pachakuti 'Inka Yupanki; see Table 2) onward, is largely based on fact, even though it presents what the Inca wanted people to know. Whether these historical traditions are true, in the sense that they accurately related what happened, is not so important as the fact that the Inca used them to justify their various imperial conquests. Andean civilization Principal sites of Andean civilization. For several thousand years before the Spanish invasion of Peru in 1532 a wide variety of high mountain and desert coastal kingdoms developed in western South America. The extraordinary artistic and technological achievements of these people, along with their historical continuity across centuries, have encouraged modern observers to refer to them as a single, Andean civilization. A look at a modern map reveals that no single South American state encompasses all of the territories controlled by the Inca (Inka) before the coming of the Spanish; rather these territories were spread over parts of Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia, Chile, and Argentina, and in 1532 they were all part of a single Inca state called Tawantinsuyu, the "Realm of the Four Parts." Earlier, local hegemonies-some coastal, others centred in the mountains, and still others bridging these geographic barriers-had risen, expanded, and eventually collapsed. The Inca of Cuzco (Cusco) were themselves newcomers to most of the regions that they came to dominate. Such rapid expansion did not allow for complete consolidation; and the Spanish were able to take advantage of what had been a recent incorporation of numerous regional ethnic groups and the resentments that the Inca victory had created among the ethnic lords. Some of these, like Don Francisco Cusichaq, lord of Xauxa, the earliest colonial capital, lived long enough after 1532 to testify before a Spanish court of inquiry that he regretted having opened the country to the Europeans. For 30 years his bookkeepers had recorded on their knotted quipu (khipu) accounts not only everything the Spanish had received from Xauxa warehouses but also, on separate knot-strings, everything that had been considered stolen. The outsider visiting the Andes perceives two overwhelming geographic realities: the Pacific coastal desert stretching for thousands of miles and the high Andes rising parallel to the coast. These contrasting regions-utter desert on the coast and high, looming mountains to the east (where the bulk of the pre-Columbian population lived above 10,000 feet [3,000 metres])-could, and at several times in Andean history did, coalesce into a single political entity. Thus it is possible to speak of a single Andean civilization, even if at times, early and late, there was no political integration. One indicator of this social unity is extant even now: Quechua, one of the Andean languages, is still spoken by some 10,000,000 people from northern Ecuador to northern Argentina, a distance of thousands of miles. The nature of Andean civilization The coastal desert was inhabited for millennia by fishermen, and many of their settlements have been studied by archaeologists. The people in these communities were familiar with the sea and depended heavily on its products, but from very early times they also used and possibly cultivated native varieties of cotton. Textiles have been the major art form in the Andes for thousands of years. It is known that these textiles-found preserved in the coastal sands-have woven into them a wealth of information on Andean peoples; and, while the information in the textiles still cannot be read, it is believed that they will eventually be as revealing as have been the Meso-American codices. In modern Peru irrigation eventually may permit the cultivation of the lower reaches of most rivers. Still, it is useful to note that of some 50 rivers descending from the Andean glaciers to the Peruvian coast, only three have water flowing through them year-round. Such an ambitious irrigation scheme would be most productive only if the waters were tapped quite high on the western slope and if several rivers were connected through canals high in the Andes, thus allowing the scarce waters of three or four valleys to be pooled into a single one as needed. Rumours of such a project reached the first Spaniards in Peru: in the final decade before the invasion, the Inca were said to be planning to bore through a mountain in what today is northern Chile, so that water from the Amazonic watershed would flow westward to the deserts and thus alter the continental divide. Archaeologists, particularly non-Peruvian scholars, have concentrated on the study of coastal peoples: they have found that sites are more accessible along the Pan-American Highway; that the hot and dry climate presents none of the challenges of the high altitudes; and that the remains, mummified in the desert sands, are immediately rewarding. Pottery finds have portrayed such things as fishing or warfare, diseases, weapons, cultivated plants, and differences in rank and in sexual habits among the Andeans. Usually this evidence has been recovered by professional grave looters but sometimes also by archaeologists themselves. One of the most remarkable of the latter type of finds is the grave of a Moche leader that was discovered near the village of Sipan on the northern coast of Peru in the mid-1980s. Since the mid-20th century architectural studies of ceremonial and political centres have allowed researchers to follow changes in the location and the architectural features of important Andean cities. Distance from the sea and the degree of dependence on maritime products, the proximity to irrigation waters from the highlands, and the repeated efforts to control militarily more than a single irrigated valley have all received attention from archaeologists. A major question remains: did these coastal polities extend upward to the Andean highlands to control areas beyond the slopes where the irrigation works tapped the rivers? The Peruvian historian Mara Rostworowski has pointed to similarities, found in colonial administrative papers, between coastal places-names and personal names in the Cajamarca Highlands, an area due east and above the coastal political entities. The colonial papers have not explained the presence of such distant colonies, but they have introduced a topic fundamental to understanding Andean success: given the apparently inhospitable environments of both the desert coast and the nearby high Andes, how could so many separate societies have fed such enormous populations and constructed highways, palaces, and temples in what were clearly urban centres for so many centuries? Meso-American civilization Aztec culture to the time of the Spanish conquest The nature of the sources Principal sites of Meso-American civilization. At the time of the Spanish conquest the dominant people of Meso-America were the Aztec. This description is based primarily on written documents from the 16th century but also includes some archaeological data. The literature, both published and unpublished, of the 16th century is enormous and takes in all aspects of Aztec culture. Much of it covers the period within a few decades after the conquest, and it is uncertain how much change had occurred because of the introduction of Spanish culture. Some Aztec institutions, such as the military orders, were immediately abolished by the Spaniards; and the sources, therefore, give only the barest outline of their organization. This information, however, combined with archaeological data, gives a fairly detailed picture of Aztec culture at the time of the Spanish conquest. The sources can be classified by content and purpose into five categories, each of which is described below. Accounts written by the conquistadores Eyewitness accounts of Aztec culture on the eve of the conquest are, of course, the most directly pertinent sources because they describe Aztec culture before it became transformed by the Spanish conquest. Important among these are the Cartas de Relacin ("Letters of Information"), sent by Hernn Corts to the Holy Roman emperor Charles V, and the Historia verdadera de la conquista de la Nueva Espaa (1632; The True History of the Conquest of New Spain) by Bernal Daz del Castillo. Religious rites and ceremonies, temples, and paraphernalia of the cults are often described in these accounts. Their value, however, is lessened by the writers' ignorance of Nhuatl (the Aztec language at the time of the conquest), their lack of understanding of the Indian way of thinking, and their deep hostility to the native religion, which they considered to be inspired by the devil. These documents, therefore, have been interpreted with utmost caution. Roman Catholic missionaries also wrote accounts of the Aztec. Paradoxically, the priests generally showed more understanding and tolerance than did the laymen. Thanks to their training and theological knowledge, they were able to analyze the Indian mind and to gain insight into the meaning of the myths and ritual. The missionaries, as a rule, learned the native languages, especially Nhuatl. Meso-American civilization Postclassic period (900-1519) Definition of the Postclassic Principal sites of Meso-American civilization. The final period of pre-Columbian Meso-American history is referred to as the Postclassic. Its beginning is usually placed at 900, and it terminates with the arrival of the Spanish conquistador Hernn Corts in 1519 or with his conquest of the Aztec in 1521. The 900 date is based on two considerations: first, the 10th century was the period of the catastrophic collapse of the lowland Maya civilization and the cessation of the custom of erecting monuments dated by the Long Count; second, 900 was also the approximate date of the founding of the city of Tula in central Mexico and the rise of a people called the Toltec, who, according to the historical annals, built the first great empire in Meso-America. At one time it was thought that the date marked the collapse of all of the regional Classic civilizations of the area as the result of massive population dislocation. But it now appears that some Classic civilizations declined as early as 750, whereas others persisted until as late as 1200. The period is usually divided into two phases: Early Postclassic (900-1200) and Late Postclassic (1200-1519), the former equivalent with the period of the Toltec, the latter with that of the Aztec. The Postclassic civilizations of Meso-America came to an abrupt end with the coming of the Spanish in the early 16th century. For an account of the Spanish conquest, see the article Latin America, history of: The colonial period. The Postclassic Period as a whole has also been distinguished from the Classic on the basis of assumed major changes in Meso-American political, economic, and social institutions. It has been asserted, for example, that the Classic period was one of relatively peaceful contact between polities, of the absence of large imperialistic states and empires (and of the militaristic lan and organization that accompanies such states). The Classic has been further characterized by the absence of true cities, by theocratic rather than secular government, and by an overall superiority of arts and crafts, with the exception of metallurgy, which appears for the first time in the Postclassic Period. In contrast, the Postclassic was characterized as a period of intense warfare and highly organized military organization, of empires and cities, of secular government, and of overall artistic decline. Subsequent research, however, has cast considerable doubt on these conclusions. Many of the contrasts were drawn from events in the lowland Maya area and applied to the entire culture area; others were concluded essentially by a comparison of the Classic Maya of the lowland tropical forest of northern Guatemala and the Yucatn Peninsula with the Postclassic Aztec living in central Mexico in a dry mountain basin 7,000 feet above sea level. The differences, in part, are the product of separate culture evolution, conditioned by ecological factors. Cities and large states comparable to those built by the Toltec and Aztec were present in Early Classic times at Teotihuacn in central Mexico and probably at Monte Albn in Oaxaca. Militarism was at least significant enough to be a major artistic theme throughout the Classic period, even among the lowland Maya. One could also question the criterion of artistic decline, since a number of Postclassic crafts were highly developed, such as Aztec sculpture, Mixtec ceramics and metallurgy, and Zapotec architecture. The separation between Postclassic and Classic is therefore little more than a convenient way of splitting up the long chronicle of Meso-American cultural development into manageable units for discussion and analysis. The Postclassic is a period also in which historical traditions combine with archaeological data, whereas the Classic either lacks a written history or, in the case of the lowland Maya, provides little more than cryptic biographies of kings. Perhaps this is the best rationale for definition of the period. Society, culture, and technology At the time of the Spanish conquest, Meso-America was occupied by a number of peoples speaking languages as distinct from each other as English is from Chinese. On the central Gulf coast and adjacent escarpment were the Totonac; in Oaxaca and adjacent portions of Puebla and Guerrero two major ethnic groups, the Mixtec and the Zapotec, shared the western and eastern portions of the area, respectively; and in Michoacn lived the Tarascan. Various peoples of the Maya linguistic family occupied most of Guatemala, the Yucatn Peninsula, eastern Tabasco, and highland Chiapas; a detached group, the Huastec (Huaxtec), occupied the north Gulf coast. An equally widespread family, the Nahua (to which the Aztec belonged) occupied most of the Central Plateau, a huge area in the northwest frontier, portions of Guerrero, the Pacific coast of Chiapas and Guatemala (where they were known as the Pipil), and the Gulf coast. Some detached groups had spread beyond the frontier of Meso-America into Nicaragua and Panama. The linguistic family to which the Nahua belong (the Uto-Aztecan) is the only Meso-American family with affinities to languages north of the Rio Grande, including those of such western U.S. Indians as the Hopi, Paiute, and Shoshoni. One of the Nahua-speaking nations, the Mexica, or Tenochca (or the Aztec, as they are commonly called), were the dominant people in Meso-America in 1519, having created by conquest an empire estimated as covering some 80,000 square miles (207,000 square kilometres) and having a population of 5,000,000 to 6,000,000 people. All of these diverse ethnic groups shared a common cultural tradition, but separate historical origins and environmental factors had also produced a substantial degree of regional differentiation. Most of the cultural characteristics of the area go back at least to the beginning of the Postclassic, and many appeared in Classic times. The various regional cultures and languages have great time depths and undoubtedly were present during the Classic period. Common institutional characteristics included organization into centralized polities, including populations minimally in the tens of thousands, with a formal government, supported by a highly organized taxation system; stratification into social classes (including slave and serf classes); occupational specialization-in some areas full time with a guildlike organization; highly organized local and interregional trade involving professional merchants and regularly meeting markets; and a professional priesthood. The technological base of this elaborate institutional structure seems weak by western European standards, since the primary technology (i.e., the tools used to manufacture other technology) was based on chipped and ground stone, metal being reserved primarily for ornaments. Since draft animals were absent, all power was based on human energy. The economic base of the civilization was a highly productive agriculture, but the basic tools were primitive-stone axes for clearing vegetation and a number of wooden digging tools for working the soil. The crop complex was rich, with corn (maize) serving as the staple food and beans an important source of protein. But the list of secondary crops was large: chili peppers, tomatoes, squashes, sweet potatoes, cassava (manioc), cotton, tobacco, cacao, pineapples, papayas, maguey, nopals (prickly pears), sapotes (zapotes), peanuts (groundnuts), avocados, amates (paper figs), and many others. Many crops were limited to particular environmental zones, thus acting as a major stimulus to trade. In many areas, particularly the tropical lowlands, the slash-and-burn, or swidden, system of farming was employed: forests were cleared, planted for up to three years, and rested for longer periods to restore fertility and eliminate the more difficult weeds. This regular rotation of fields resulted in high production per capita but had low demographic potential because in any given year most of the land lay fallow. In some lowland areas permanent grain and orchard cropping were practiced. In the drier highlands a number of specialized techniques were used, and agriculture generally was more intensive. Particularly important were terracing, irrigation, and swamp reclamation. The per capita productivity of highland agriculture was probably less (because of the higher labour input), but the demographic capacity was considerably greater than that in the lowlands. As a result of these highly effective approaches to farming, the population was dense when compared to western Europe in the 16th century. Population estimates for the conquest period have varied from 3,000,000 to 30,000,000; a reasonable estimate is between 12,000,000 and 15,000,000. The diet of the average Meso-American was relatively uniform throughout the area. Dried corn was boiled in lime-impregnated water to soften the hull, ground into a dough on milling stones (manos and metates), and then either made into tortillas or mixed with water and drunk as a gruel called posol. The tortillas were eaten with sauces prepared from chili peppers and tomatoes, along with boiled beans. This was essentially the diet of the peasant, with the addition of pulque, the fermented sap of the maguey, at higher altitudes. To this were added the other crops in minor quantities and combinations depending on the specific local environment. Luxury foods included cocoa drinks, meats (from game or from the only two domestic animals of significance, the hairless dog and the turkey), and fish. The diet of the peasant, as is the case even today, was low in animal protein; but apparently the quantity of vegetable protein ingested made up for this deficiency. Handicrafts of the Tarasco Indians on display in Tzintzuntzan, Mex. Major Postclassic Meso-American crafts (see photograph) were weaving of cotton and maguey fibre; ceramics for pottery vessels, figurines, and musical instruments; stone sculpture; featherwork used for personal and architectural ornament; lapidary work (jadeite, jade, serpentine, and turquoise); metalwork (using gold, copper, and, more rarely, silver) for ornaments and a few tools; woodworking, the products including large dugout canoes, sculpture, magnificently made drums, stools, and a great variety of household items; baskets for containers and mats; painting; and, most particularly, stone and lime concrete masonry architecture.

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