The History of the Native Peoples of the Americas/Mesoamerican Cultures/Appendix A

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Mesoamerican chronology divides the history of Pre-Columbian Mesoamerica into a number of named successive eras or periods, from the earliest evidence of human habitation through to the early Colonial period which followed the Spanish colonization of the Americas.

Period Timespan Important cultures, cities
Summary of the Chronology and Cultures of Mesoamerica
Paleo-Indian 10,000–3500 BCE Honduras, Guatemala, Belize, obsidian and pyrite points, Iztapan,
Archaic 3500–1800 BCE Agricultural settlements, Tehuacán
Preclassic (Formative) 2000 BCE–250 CE Unknown culture in La Blanca and Ujuxte, Monte Alto culture, Mokaya culture
Early Preclassic 2000 BCE–1000 CE Olmec area: San Lorenzo; Central Mexico: Chalcatzingo; Valley of Oaxaca: San José Mogote. The Maya area: Nakbe, Cerros
Middle Preclassic 1000 BCE–400 CE Olmec area: La Venta, Tres Zapotes; Zoque area: Chiapa de Corzo; Maya area: El Mirador, Izapa, Lamanai, Xunantunich, Naj Tunich, Takalik Abaj, Kaminaljuyú, Uaxactun; Valley of Oaxaca: Monte Albán, Dainzú
Late Preclassic 400 BCE–200 CE Maya area: Uaxactun, Tikal, Edzná, Cival, San Bartolo, Altar de Sacrificios, Piedras Negras, Ceibal, Rio Azul; Central Mexico: Teotihuacan; Gulf Coast: Epi-Olmec culture
Classic 200–900 Classic Maya Centers, Teotihuacan, Zapotec
Early Classic 200–600 Maya area: Calakmul, Caracol, Chunchucmil, Copán, Naranjo, Palenque, Quiriguá, Tikal, Uaxactun, Yaxha; Teotihuacan apogee; Zapotec apogee; Bajío apogee.
Late Classic 600–900 Maya area: Uxmal, Toniná, Cobá, Waka', Pusilhá, Xultún, Dos Pilas, Cancuen, Aguateca; Central Mexico: Xochicalco, Cacaxtla, Cholula; Gulf Coast: El Tajín and Classic Veracruz culture
Terminal Classic 800–900/1000 Maya area: Puuc sites – Uxmal, Labna, Sayil, Kabah
Postclassic 900–1519 Aztec, Tarascans, Mixtec, Totonac, Pipil, Itzá, Ko'woj, K'iche', Kaqchikel, Poqomam, Mam
Early Postclassic 900–1200 Tula, Mitla, Tulum, Topoxte
Late Postclassic 1200–1519 Tenochtitlan, Cempoala, Tzintzuntzan, Mayapán, Ti'ho, Q'umarkaj, Iximche, Mixco Viejo, Zaculeu
Post Conquest Until 1697 Central Peten: Tayasal, Zacpeten

Overview[edit | edit source]

Paleo-Indian period[edit | edit source]

10,000–3500 BCE

The Paleo-Indian period or era is that which spans from the first signs of human presence in the region, to the establishment of agriculture and other practices (e.g. pottery, permanent settlements) and subsistence techniques characteristic of proto-civilizations. In Mesoamerica, the termination of this phase and its transition into the succeeding Archaic period may generally be reckoned at between 10,000 and 8000 BCE, although this dating is approximate only and different timescales may be used between fields and sub-regions. A period of hunter gatherers.

Archaic Era[edit | edit source]

c. 10,000–1800 BCE

During the Archaic Era agriculture was developed in the region and permanent villages were established. Late in this era, use of pottery and loom weaving became common.

Preclassic Era or Formative Period[edit | edit source]

1800 BCE–200 CE

The Preclassic Era or the Formative Period saw the start of nation-states, as well as, first large scale ceremonial architecture, and the development of cities.

This era was 'Formative' in that many of the key elements of Mesoamerican civilization can be traced back to this period. For instance, early forms of most Mesoamerican rituals, gods and myths are in evidence. Mesoamerican numerals, writing systems and calendrics were developed now and became widespread in the region by 200 CE. Most of the technologies and art forms of later centuries also appeared during the Preclassic.

The Olmec civilization developed and flourished at such sites as La Venta and San Lorenzo. In a similar way early Zapotec, Monte Alto Culture in Guatemala's pacifc lowlands, and Maya civilization developed.

Classic Era[edit | edit source]

200–900 CE

This era is called Classic on account of the sophistication and regional variety of arts, weaving and architecture practiced during these centuries. Technologically, this era continued to be lithic (stone-based), but had developed a variety of agricultural / engineering techniques, cultivating a greater diversity of crops. Most public places were now constructed of stone and plaster, often characterised by ornate decorative features and murals. It has been suggested that Mesoamerica during the Classic period consisted largely of "theatre states" - politics and economies being focussed on royal courts, that maintained their power through public works, spectacular rituals and other forms of paegentry.

During the Classic Era Teotihuacan grew to a metropolis and its empire dominated Mesoamerica. The greatest era of the cities of the Maya southern lowlands began, such as Tikal, Palenque, and Copán

The Classic Era ended earlier in Central Mexico, with the fall of Teotihuacan around the 7th century, than it did in the Maya area, which continued for centuries more. Around this time, many southern lowland sites (most notably in Tikal) experienced a short period of limited decline, called the "Middle Classic Hiatus". The later period of Maya's continued growth is sometimes known as the "Florescent Era".

Postclassic Era[edit | edit source]

The Postclassic Era saw the collapse of many of the great nations and cities of the Classic Era, although some continued, such as in Oaxaca, Cholula, and the Maya of Yucatán, such as at Chichen Itza and Uxmal. This is sometimes seen as a period of increased chaos and warfare.

The Postclassic is often viewed as a period of cultural decline. However, it was a time of technological advancement in areas of architecture, engineering and weaponry. Metallurgy (introduced c.800 ad) came into use for jewellry and some tools, with new alloys and techniques being developed in a few centuries. The Postclassic saw rapid movement and growth of population - especially in Central Mexico post-1200 AD. It was also a time of experimentation in governance. For instance, in Yucatan, 'dual rulership' apparently replaced the more theocratic governments of Classic times, whilst oligarchic councils now operated in much of Central Mexico. Likewise, it appears that the wealthy pochteca (merchant class) and military orders became more powerful than was apparently the case in Classic times. This afforded some Mesomaericans a degree of social mobility.

The Toltec for a time dominated central Mexico in the 11th – 13th century, then collapsed. The northern Maya were for a time united under Mayapan. Equally, Oaxaca was briefly united by Mixtec rulers in the 11th - 12th centuries.

The Aztec Empire arose in the early 15th century and appeared to be on a path to asserting a dominance over the whole region not seen since Teotihuacan, when Mesoamerica was discovered by Spain and conquered by the conquistadores and a large number of native allies.

The Mayan 'revival' in Yucatan and southern Guatemala, and the flourescence of Aztec imperialism evidently enabled a renaissance of fine arts and science. Examples include the 'Pueblan-Mexica' style in pottery, codex illumination and goldwork, and the botanical institutes established by the Aztec elite.

The late florescence of the northern Maya has been sometimes called the "New Empire" in the early 20th century, but this term is no longer considered appropriate and is no longer used.

Arguably, the Post-Classic continued until the conquest of the last independent native state of Mesoamerica, Tayasa, in 1697.