Chapter 1. Introduction
Mayan civilization along with the ancient farmer cultures of Mexico comprise what is now called "Mesoamerica."
This cultures were divided from the rest of American nations and possessed own solar calendar, ball game, excessive knowledge of astronomy, and used chocolate beans as money.
Geographic setting of Mexico is very versatile and uncommon. Almost all climatic zones can be found here from mountain valleys and snows to desert wastelands.
The lowlands constitute narrow strips along the coasts. Generally poor soils were becoming productive during the flood season.
While seasons were strongly marked and most of the trees lost their leaves for the dry season, in the regions with the high amount of rain, evergreen rain forests could be found. Special king of horticulture was developed there.
Main wild animals hunted for food were white-tailed deer and the collared peccary.
As the native American horse was exterminated in Ice Age, there were no draught animals to domesticate, except for turkey and dog which were kept for food. Llamas served only as pack animals.
Many languages were spoken in Mesoamerica. They can be divided into fourteen groups: Uto-Aztekan, Otomi-Pame, Mayan, Tarascan, Mixtecan, Zoqean, Zapotecan, Totonac, Cuitlatecan, Popolocan, Huave, Chinantecan, Tlappanecan, Chiapanecan, Chontal.
Generally agreed among scholars, the periods of pre-Conquest Mexico are Early Hunters (to 7000BC), Archaic (7000 – 1500 BC), Preclassic (1500 BC – 150 AD), Classic, and Epiclassic. The native American history finished in 1521 when Aztec civilization was destroyed by the conquerors.
Chapter 2. Early Hunters
It is debated how exactly humans migrated to America. One camp believes that it took place 14,000 – 16,000 BC, when due to the Ice Age there was a land between Alaska and Siberia. The other camp holds to much earlier date due to the use of boats.
It is evident that ancient hunters inhabited South American lands as early as 12,500 BC.
The most ancient remains of the Early Hunters cultures were found in Mexico. These were very crude simplest pebble tools.
Around 11,000 BC were invented fine percussion tools. This resulted in the invention of heavy spears and a spearthrower to hunt bisons.
People of those ages were hunters and required as much as 65 sq. km to sustain a single person, so before 7000BC the population of the New World never exceeded half million.
It is, however, delusive to think that people of that epoch mainly hunted big animals. The remains show that their most frequent catch were small animals (rodents, snakes, snakes, mussels).
Chapter 3. Archaic Period
Around 7000 BC the climate started changing which brought significant desiccation to some regions of the America. However, despite mass extinction of large animals, people continued to live in even most desiccated areas.
This period is named Archaic and corresponds to the European Mesolithic period. Due to climate change hunters had to adapt to new conditions and learned efficient methods of hunting smaller prey, and gathering plants and mollusks.
In the wastelands of North America, the Desert Culture of nomads emerged. They lived in small groups taking advantage of seasonal food resources, milled plant foods, and hunted small prey.
The domestication of a plant is thought to take place if a particular plant loses its ability to spread its seeds efficiently in favor of increasing its food value.
Maize was considered by Aztecs to be bestowed by the supreme god Quetzalcoatl, who created humanity. It was the most important plant to be domesticated in America. Its first cobs found in caves are dated back to 4,800 – 4,300 BC.
Maize was, however, not the first plant to be taken control of. The evidence suggests that squash and bottle gourd were domesticated as early as 8000 BC. Its seeds were used as the source of protein, and gourds were used as water bottles.
Pre-Spanish Mexicans consumed a wide variety of plant foods including beans, chili peppers, and fruits.
Maize origins are, however, to be identified. It is evident that the searched area should be between Chiapas on the south and Tamaulipas in the north.
During El Riego period (7000 – 5000 BC) in Tehuacan Valley as the big game vanished, certain plants were domesticated, and people's diet became predominantly plant based.
The societal structures of people were highly seasonal, they teamed up in large bans during spring and summer when food supplies were rich, and dissipated for winter when they were in scarce.
During Coaxtlan phase (5000 – 3400 BC), bottle gourd, common bean, black sapote, and warty squash were domesticated.
In the next Abejas period (3400 – 2300 BC) settlement pattern changed to the hamlets of five to ten pithouses on the Valley floor. New plants such as tepary beans, pumpkin, and hybrid maize were domesticated.
Little is known about the succeeding stage called Purron (2300 – 1500 BC). It is evident, however, that crude pottery appeared during that period (approx.. 1650 BC).
One of the main discoveries of the Archaic period was made in Tlapacoya, an isolated island in the Valley of Mexico. The crude female figurine found is dated to 2300 ± 100 BC and is the oldest ceramic discovered in Mesoamerica.
The domestication of plants and animals evidently led to revolution and transition to the settled way of life. This resulted in significant population growth – in Preclassic stage, the population was 25 times greater than it was possible for the hunters and gatherers.
Chapter 4. The Preclassic Period: Early Villagers
At the beginning of 20th century, there emerged a theory that there was a unitary civilization in the Mexico Valley, which spread with the maize and is the ancestor of all of the American civilizations. It lacked evidence and was met with criticism.
The preclassic period is comparable to Neolithic age of the Old World – effective farming of maize, beans, and squash, the emergence of small settlements, loom weaving, and pottery.
The American civilizations developed at the same rate as the Eurasian after their transition to the peasantry. The difference in the age of the start of this race can be explained by the lack of domesticable animals or the nature of domesticated plants.
Generally, they distinguish three subperiods in Preclassic stage: Early (from 1800 to 1200 BC), Middle (from 1200 to 400 BC), and Late (from 400 BC to 150 AD).
The Chiapa de Corzo culture is a great example of Early Preclassic age. They milled maize and had a pottery culture. The technique rocker-stamping was known to all Preclassic peoples.
In the Monte Alban (Oaxaca Valley), there are remains of the village found (1350 – 950 BC). A number of crops were grown, dogs were held as domestic animals, cottontail rabbits, deer, and peccary were hunted. The labor was divided among the households, and their society overall was not egalitarian.
Tlatilco is the key site in the Valley of Mexico. It was a small town settled around 1300 BC with large bell-shaped underground pits used for grain storage. In the pottery, armadillo, bears, frogs, turkey, opossum, fish, ducks, and turtles are represented.
More than 340 burials were found in Tlatilco. All of them were abundant with offerings such as male and female figurines.
There was a distinct art style present in those offerings known as "Olmec." It was produced by the first Mesoamerican civilization.
Two main sites representing Middle Preclassic are El Arbolillo and Zatatenco. These were long lasting villages with developed farming. The pottery is represented by the vessels for cooking and storage, and figurines painted in black, white, and red. They buried people under their floors. Child mortality was high.
In the Late Preclassic stage, the isolation of the Valley of Mexico became even stronger. The Chupicuaro complex is a bright example of such culture. Pottery improved to dealing with increasing volume of vessels and producing colored species.
The most notable about Late Preclassic is the emergence of the pyramids as religious establishments. One of such is situated near Cucuilco (to the south of Mexico City) which is 118 m in diameter and 23 feet in height.
The same circles were found around the Volcano of Tequila, which was the heart of Teuchitlan culture.
There are figurines of dogs found with human face masks on them. This is thought to represent the special position, perhaps high political post, of the dead.
A large shaft-tomb was found and excavated at Huitzilapa, Jalisco. It was 7,6 m deep and had two chambers, containing three skeletons each and rich offerings. One of the male persons is believed to have a high rank because other people were dead (or killed) prior to his death.
About AD 200 there was a large relocation of people to the center of the area which resulted in much shallower shaft-tombs with emphasis on circular architecture.
Metallurgy was introduced around AD 600 into West Mexico and spread to the rest of Mesoamerica.
Between AD 700 and 900, the Teuchitlan culture faced a decline with the rise of square and rectangular shapes.
Coe, Michael D, and Rex Koontz. Mexico. New York: Thames & Hudson, 2002. Print.