Peoples and Civilizations of the Americas

Table of contents

Culture and Society in Mesoamerica

Remarkable civilization created

Different language + politics, but unified by material culture, religious beliefs + practices, and social structure

Classic Period

Classic period (built upon Olmec and other civilizations)
Social classes with distinct roles
Hereditary politics + religious elites controlled towns + villages


Powerful city-state in central Mexico (100 B. C. E. – 750 C. E. )


Religion = worshipped many gods + lesser spirits, Sun + Moon
Human sacrifice = viewed as sacred duty to the gods and essential to the well-being of society


Chinampas = raised fields along lakeshores to increase agriculture Politics * No evidence for single ruler; alliances between elite families

The Maya


Maya = civilization concentrated in the Yucatan Peninsula, Guatemala, and Honduras, but never unified
Contributed mainly in math, astronomy, and the calendar
High pyramids + palaces = meant to awe the masses that came


Maya = loved decoration

Infused warfare with religious meaning

Society = patrilineal Contributions

Devised elaborate calendar system, concept of 0, and writing

End of Classic Era

Maya cities declined due to struggle for resources, which lead to class conflict and warfare
Connection with the Mesoamerican societies due to learning about the Aztecs in grade 8
Have visited Mayan cities in Mexico, and have seen temples in real life
Question: didn’t the Arabs develop the concept

The Postclassic Period in Mesoamerica

No single explanation for fall of Teotihuacan and Mayan centers

The Toltecs:

Powerful postclassic empire in central Mexico (900 – 1175 C. E. )


Origins = unknown (either satellite or migrant populations)
Used military conquest to create powerful empire|

Reason for decline

Fell by internal power struggles and military threat from the north

The Aztecs

Altepetl = ethnic state in ancient Mesoamerica that was the common political building block of that region Society +


Calpolli = group of up to hundred families that served as a building block of an altepetl (controlled land allocation + taxes + local religious life)
Tenochtitlan = capital of Aztec Empire; in an island in lake Texcoco Mexico City created on ruins of Tenochtitlan

Aztecs = AKA Mexica, created empire (1325 – 1521 C. E. )

Aztecs forced defeated peoples to provide goods + labor as tax Aztec


Women = held lots of power; held in high esteem; held positions like teachers and priestesses; seen as founders of lineages, including the royal line
Merchants become rich, but cannot become high nobility

Economic systems

Tribute system = system in which defeated peoples were forced to pay tax in forms of goods and labor; help development of large ities
Did not use money; used barter instead

Aztec religion = demanded increasing numbers of human sacrifice

Connection to Aztecs as I learned about them in grade 8

Noted the familiarities between the Mesoamerican societies, which also had distinct differences as well

Northern Peoples:

Classic period ends around 900 C. E.
Transfer of irrigation and corn agriculture -> stimulated development in Hohokam and Anasazi society

Southwestern Desert Cultures

Anasazi = important culture in southwest US (700 – 1300 C. E. )
Anasazi built multistory residences, and worshipped in subterranean buildings (called kivas)

Anasazi women

Women = shared agricultural tasks, specialists in many crafts, responsible for food preparation and childcare

Anasazi region

Anasazi = concentrate in Four Corners region Mound Builders: The Hopewell and Mississippian Cultures:

Political structure

Chiefdom = form of political organization; ruled by hereditary leader (Chiefdom) who had control over collection of villages + towns; based on gift giving and commercial links
Political organization + trade + mound building continued by the Mississippian culture (largest city = Cahokia) Ansazi

Environmental changes caused destruction of Anasazi + Mississippian Mississippian cultures Decline Andean Civilizations, 200 – 1500

Environment = sucks for creating civilization

Amerindian peoples of Andean = produced some of the most socially complex + politically advanced societies in

Western Hemisphere Cultural Response to Environmental Challenge

How they adapted
Domestication of llamas and alpacas
Farmed at different altitudes to reduce risks from frosts Social + political
Ayllu = Andean lineage group or kin-based community groups
Ayllu = foundation for Andean achievement; members = obligated to help fellow members (thought as brothers and sisters)
Mit’a = Andean labor system based on shared obligations to help kinsmen and work on behalf of the ruler and religious organizations

Gender distinction

Men = hunting, military service, government
Women = textile production, agriculture, home Harsh climates of Andean civilizations = similar to harsh environment of North American settlers

Anasazi + Mississippian culture = one of few civilizations that did not fall due to outside pressures


Moche = civilization of north coast of Peru (200 – 700 C. E. )
Built extensive irrigation networks + impressive urban centers dominated by brick temples

Political + social

Did not establish formal empire nor unified political structure structure
Moche society = theocratic + stratified; priests + military leaders had concentrated wealth + power|

Decline of Moche

Moche centers declined due to long-term climate changes
Wari = new military power, culturally linked to Tiwanaku
Wari contributed to the disappearance of the Moche

Tiwanaku and Wari:

Tiwanaku = name of capital city and empire centered on the region near Lake Titicaca in modern Bolivia (375 – 1000 C. E. )
Llamas = crucial for maintenance of long-distance trade relations
High quality of stone masonry
Stratified society ruled by a hereditary elite
Used military to extend their power over large religions

The Inca

Largest and most powerful Andean empire (Cuzco = capital)
Initially a chiefdom -> turned in to military expansion in 1430s
Inca prosperity depended on vast herds of llamas + alpacas
Hereditary chiefs of ayllus included women
Had hostage taking system for politics
Each new ruler began his reign with conquest (legitimize authority)
Khipus = system of knotted colored cords used by preliterate Andean peoples to transmit information
Did not produce new technologies; increased economic output
Civil war weakened the Inca on the eve of European arrival
Noticed that primary gods for many societies were Sun gods and agricultural gods
Pressures from inside took out the Inca society; similar to other societies
Khipus = similar to the one that Aztecs used

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