The Olmecs were the first real
civilization in the Americas.
Beginning around 1200 BCE, they
lived in the Gulf Coast of southern
Olmec society was based on
agriculture and had two groups:
The elite group lived in small urban
centers. They were priests and also
traded in luxury items
The commoners lived in rural areas and
were primarily farmers.
Around 300 BCE, the Olmecs
vanished and no one knows why.
The Olmec are famous for carving huge
Archeologists believe the heads were of
The Olmec were the first main group in
the history of Mesoamerican culture.
The map shows their location.
Olmec 1200-1000 BCE
Early Preclassic Maya 1800-900 BCE
Middle Preclassic Maya 900-300 BCE
Late Preclassic Maya 300 BCE - CE 250
Early Classic Maya 250-600 CE
Late Classic Maya 600-900 CE
Post Classic Maya 900-1500 CE
Colonial period 1500-1800 CE
Independent Mexico 1821 to the present
West borders Pacific Ocean, fertile plain
Cenotes (excavated caverns) for water in east
granite and volcanic area of Sierra Madre (Mexican Chiapas,
Rich land, abundant water
The Maya lived from 300AD to
900AD in urban religious centers.
In about 900AD, they left their
great stone cities and went back
into the jungle. They are still there
The Maya lived in central Mexico,
in the Yucatan peninsula and into
Guatemala and Honduras.
They were farmers and warriors,
and were unusual for having a
society in tropical rainforest.
The Maya were a very advanced and
As mathematicians, they invented zero.
As astronomers, they had a very complex and
accurate calendar, as accurate as anything we
They had a written, hieroglyphic alphabet,
much like the ancient Egyptians.
Many historians consider them to be
quite similar to the ancient Greeks.
The Mayan language is still spoken
widely in central America.
Stelae – carved stone
Rulers in elaborate
Often with texts that
described lineage and
Love of jade
Houses of poles and thatch (cool)
Tikal (left) and Palenque (right)
Little known about
women, but evidence of
Pierced ears, tattoos,
body painting, straight
Large headdress for
leader of Palenque, to
Calendar 260 days
Also tracked solar 365
Math based on multiples of
0, 1, 2
The Maya developed an
The Spanish destroyed most of the
Mayan writings. They were not
seen as having any value. Their
language was not translated until
Driving force behind every aspect of
Public temples and household shrines
Established schedule for agriculture
Polytheistic and revolved around
nature (eg. Chac – Rain God)
Teotihuacan is the name of a great city
very close to modern Mexico City, it is not
the name of a tribe.
It is an Aztec word that means “the place
where men become Gods.”
It’s culture started in 200 BC and lasted
almost 1000 years
Most of the people were farmers, who
were ruled by a priest class.
At its height, it had 100,000 people and
was the greatest civilization in
Mesoamerica. Its pyramids are famous
today all over the world.
Around 700AD, the people vanished;
scholars think the city was invaded for
there is much evidence of fire.
The Toltec were warriors. Their
culture began in 950AD, two
centuries after the fall of
Teotihuacan and lasted till
The Toltec conquered much of
central Mexico, the Yucatan and
They spread the culture of
Teotihuacan throughout the areas
They expanded the mythology
and worship of Quetzalcoatl (the
sovereign plumed serpent).
The Toltecs conquered large
areas controlled by the Maya.
The most famous Mayan-Toltec
city is Chichen Itza on the
Both the Maya and the Toltec
practiced human sacrifice to
please the gods.
The Aztec legend says they came
from the north, from Aztlan.
About 1168, the Sun God told them
to go south until they found an
eagle, perched on a cactus, killing a
snake. This is the symbol on the
Here, on lake Texcoco, they built
the great city of Tenochtitlan
which was the capital of the Aztec
empire, the greatest of all the
empires in Mesoamerica.
They did not call themselves Aztec, they
were called the Mexica (hence the name
If the Maya were the Greeks of
Mesoamerica, then the Aztec were the
They were farmers, traders, skilled
engineers, and fierce warriors who
conquered all of the tribes around them
and made them pay tribute, which did not
make them popular with their neighbors,
and this led to their downfall.
In 1519AD, Hernan Cortez and a group of
Spanish Conquistadores contacted the
The Spanish soldiers had never seen a city
as beautiful as Tenochtitlan, they were
awed by it.
But they were horrified by the Aztec
practice of human sacrifice. Thousands of
victims were sacrificed in a single day.
This, and their quest for gold, led the
Spanish to join with the tribes the Aztec
had conquered and whom hated the
Aztec, and defeated the Aztec and
destroyed Tenochtitlan. The Aztec had
never seen horses or guns and cannons.
By 1522, the Aztec were gone as a power
The ruins of Tenochtitlan are still being
discovered under Mexico City.