In geographical terms, Mesoamerica is the region located between, and connecting, North America and South America.

The modern-day regions which are historically associated with Mesoamerica include part of

  • Costa Rica
  • El Salvador
  • Nicaragua
  • Belize
  • Guatemala
  • Parts of Mexico.

Mesoamerica was one of the six regions in the world where civilization arose independently.

It became home to numerous civilizations, such as the Olmec civilization, the Mayan civilization and the Aztecs.

These civilizations were agrarian and had unique forms of art and architecture.

Human settlements in Mesoamerica began in 8th millennium B.C. and by the 2nd millennium B.C., the first complex human civilization in the region had come into being.

Mesoamerica and its cultural areas

Mesoamerica and its cultural areas

Mesoamerica History

Human settlements in Mesoamerica began as early as 8th millennium B.C.

These settlement continued to evolve into proper towns and villages by the 2nd millennium B.C.

This millennium was marked by the rise of the Olmec civilization, which influenced many subsequent Mesoamerican civilizations.

Mayan civilizations began in southern Mayan highlands and lowlands in the first millennium B.C.

It borrowed many elements of culture from the Olmec civilization and soon spanned across many powerful and highly populous city-states.

The Mayan civilization dominated the region until the Terminal Classic period and in the Post classic period, before the Aztec Empire rose to prominence in Mesoamerica.

Mesoamerica Culture

Since the early agricultural settlements in Mesoamerica, maize became a key crop and regular part of the Mesoamerican diet.

A number of Mesoamerican civilizations evolved writing systems comprising of hieroglyphs.

Astronomy had a central role in religion, and also dictated different kinds of constructions.

Religion played a huge role in Mesoamerican societies and art as well as architecture was influenced by it.

In most Mesoamerican cultures, priests played a central role in society, as educators as well as shamans.

Mesoamerica Political Organisation

City-states were the key organisms in the Mesoamerican political organization.

Each city state was a unique entity and people usually associated themselves with city-states, rather than with ethnic lineages.

However, a given city was usually occupied by the majority of the same peoples, with rare exceptions such as the city of Teotihuacan.

Vast Empires were built when a particular city attained power and influence and was able to either conquer, control or forge alliances with a number of other city-states.

Mesoamerica Architecture

Mesoamerican architecture evolved over the course of history from the Pre-classic to the Terminal Classic period.

However, the innovations in architecture were mostly derived from the previous historical era, so all Mesoamerican architectural styles are interlinked.

Among the most popular structures in Mesoamerica were pyramid-temples.

These temples formed the center of every city and around them was situated the most important part of any Mesoamerican city.

Architecture was heavily influenced by religion and mythology, and their construction relied heavily on astronomical calculations.

Many Mesoamerican temples, for instance, were constructed with equinoxes and solstices in view.

Mayan Buildings

Mayan architecture was particularly impressive and the ruins of these urban centres still have a lot of grand Mayan buildings of various sorts

Pre-Columbian Architecture of Mesoamerica (History of World Architecture) (English and Italian Edition)

Mesoamerica Writing Systems

Mesoamerican writing systems made use of hieroglyphic scripts.

These scripts comprised of logo-grams as well as a syllabary. Such writing scripts were developed by the Olmec, Zapoec and most notably, the Mayan civilization, among others.

The most complex and also the best understood among these is the Mayan script which makes use of as many as 800 hieroglyphs and has extensive collection of Mayan Hieroglyphics as well as syllables.

A number of Mesoamerican civilizations, such as the Mayans, penned down books related to religion, astronomy, history and mythology.

Scripts from different civilizations of this region also exist today in the form of inscriptions on different mediums found during archaeological explorations.

Mesoamerica Mythologies

The creation mythologies of different civilizations in the Mesoamerican history shared many common traits.

A major shared trait, for example, was the representation of astral entities such as the stars, the moon, the sun and the planet Venus, as manifestations of gods or objects of the godly realm.

The gods of Mesoamerican cultures represented both the good and the bad. So some gods helped creation and sustenance of the Earth and mankind, others wrought destruction, some brought good and others bad.

The geographic manifestation of Earth is depicted, in most of these mythologies, in terms of the four cardinal directions, or in some cases six (including above and below).

The Sun and moon are considered the watchers of the day and night respectively.

Different modifications on different aspects of these general mythology elements existed across the many Mesoamerican civilizations.

Mayan God Chaac

Mesoamerican Astronomical Knowledge

The Cosmos and the astronomical bodies figured prominently in Mesoamerican mythologies and religions.

It is not surprising then that nearly all Mesoamerican civilizations considered astronomical knowledge very significant.

They built structures as observatories to watch the solar movements and study other astral bodies.

These observations led to accurate astronomical calculations, such as predictions of eclipses, as well as the creation of accurate calendars, for example the Mayan calendar.

They also led to the creation of such architecture which was affected by solar movements.

The temple at Chichen Itza, for instance, has stairs constructed so that a serpent is seen to run on the northern wall on the evening of an equinox.

Mayan Science - Mayan Observatory

Astronomy was among the earliest sciences that emerged in the Mayan society

Mesoamerica Mathematics

As different cultures in Mesoamerica prospered, it became increasingly needful to have a number system.

Arithmetic in Mesoamerica rose out of this need. Numbers were considered to have both a literal and a symbolic value.

Most Mesoamerican numbering systems were based on the number 20.

The concept of zero was also commonly utilized in the Mesoamerican civilizations.

Numbers were usually represented as bars and dots, with each dot representing one and each bar representing five.

Mayan Numerals Long Count Calendar

Mayan Numerals Long Count Calendar

Mesoamerica Summary

Mesoamerica was one of the six earliest regions where human civilization rose independently.

Like other five regions, Mesoamerica was marked by the unique traits of the civilizations which rose in it.

These included a creation mythology based on cosmos and astral objects and the development of astronomy as a religious science.

Monumental architecture in Mesoamerican civilization was made of stone and was often in the form of pyramid-temples.

The Empires that arose in the region were founded on city-states and usually comprised of a collection of city-states, centrally controlled or influenced by one powerful city.

Sports such as ballgame figured prominently throughout the civilizations of Mesoamerica was home to many ancient civilizations that feature prominently in Mesoamerican mythologies and religions