Mesoamerican Archaeology 101
Special Thanks to Antonio De La
Cova, Visiting Assistant Professor of
Latino Studies at Indiana University.
Olmec 1300-400BC South Gulf Coast of Mexico
Teotihuacan 200BC-600AD Central Mexico
Classic Maya 300-900AD S. Mexico, Guatemala
Aztecs 1200-1521AD Central Mexico
•Domestication of Corn, Beans, Squash is underway
•Domestication of Plants came before Villages
Appearance of 1000s of Villages
•waddle and daub construction, 4 by 6 m
•villages of 10 to 12 houses with 50 to 60 persons.
•Grinding stones, deer, rabbits.
•South Gulf Coast of Mexico
•First in a series of complex cultures.
•Island in mangrove swamp.
•Giant sculpted heads of basalt.
•Tomb near central pyramid contained two juveniles with Jade
•Buried mosaic of basalt blocks.
La Venta: Pyramid C1 looking NE
La Venta Altar
La Venta Stelae
•Platform and ceremonial complex.
•Pyramid: 33 m high, 130 X 75 m base.
•Carved Stelae and altars with snake and Jaguar motifs
•giant sculpted heads.
•20 artificial ponds used for water storage or irrigation.
•Hallucinogenic Marine toads.
Olmec Seated Figure
E. Teotihuacán 200BC-600AD Central Mexico
•Located near natural Springs and caves.
•Natural trade route from Gulf coast to central Highlands.
•50 A.D.: 60 to 80,000 people with pyramids of moon and sun
•500 A.D.: 100 to 200,000 people.
•Pyramid of the Sun, 200 times 200 m base, 60 m high.
•Pyramid of the Moon: 150 x 150 m base, 45 m high.
•City laid out in quadrants.
•Residences of the elite, 50 x 50 m walled compound.
Teotihuacan: Pyramid of the Sun
Panorama of Teotihuacan
•Hundreds of workshops:
•25% of population were artisans.
•Stone, textile, ceramics, jewels, metals.
•Burials of cracked human bones and depictions of human
sacrifice and warfare.
•Influenced rest of Mesoamerica.
•Kaminaljuyu in Guatemala.
•Trade goods in Oaxaca, and in Maya areas.
•600 A.D.: Site loses population
•Evidence of invasion and burning and class conflict.
Teotihuacan: Orange Ware Vase
Teotihuacan: Deformed Cranium
F. Classic Maya 300-900AD S. Mexico, Guatemala.
•300 to 600 A.D.: Maya influenced by Teotihuacan.
•600 to 900 A.D.: classic Maya.
•Some cities of 50,000 or more, Tikal, Copan, Cobá.
•Large, steep, beautiful pyramids.
•Maya hieroglyphics writing: history of royalty
Copan: Inscribed Stelae
Tikal: A view from the Great Plaza
Ball Court (Lower Right) in the Great Plaza of Tikal
Copan: Temple with corbel arch
Cobá Ball Court
Palenque’s Temple of the Inscriptions
Detail of a Bonampak Mural
Chichén Itzá: El Castillo/Templo de Kukulkán
Red Jaguar Throne Inside El Castillo
Chichén Itzá: Chac Mool and Serpent Columns at Temple of
Mayan calendars and astronomy
• 356 days: 18 months by 20 days each with five additional
• Agriculture and marketing
• 260 days: 13 months by 20 days each,
•astrology, fate of individuals and the empire.
Causes of the rise of Mayan civilization:
Trade Networks: Trade in obsidian, salt, stone; Cobá
Hydraulic Theory: Irrigation works in a Campeche
•limited water resources
•forced to population to congregate around cenotes
•administrators that controlled water became the elite
•works for Chichén Itza
Chichén Itzá’s Cenote
Labna, Yucatan: Palace with Sacbe
An Artist’s Recreation of Tenochtitlán
Tenochtitlán: The Central Plaza with the Templo Mayor
Tenochtitlán: The Templo Mayor
Tenochtitlán’s Skull Rack