In Unit 8, we will explore the development of civilization in the Americas prior to and including European exploration, conquest, and colonization. Early civilization in the Americas developed in two distinct areas: Mesoamerica and the Andean region. The Aztec and Mayan Empires laid claim to the Mesoamerica region, which was located in current day Mexico and Central America. The Andean region, located in South America, was home to the Inca Empire. Like the early civilizations we discussed in prior units, these civilizations developed their own social and political structure.
Mesoamerica is located in the region stretching from the middle of Mexico south through central America. The first people settled in the Americas between 40,000 and 12,000 years ago, crossing over a land bridge that once connected Siberia to Alaska. The first recognized civilization of Mesoamerica were the Olmec, who flourished in Mexico between 1500 and 400 BCE. The Classical Period of Mayan civilization (250 – 900 CE) witnessed the emergence of monumental stone architecture, hieroglyphic writing, and a complex calendar. Religion loomed large in Mayan social and political identity, and divinely appointed rulers demanded human sacrifices to appease the gods. Around 900 CE, a people known as the Toltecs settled in the northern region of Mexico, and their heirs, the Aztecs would develop a powerful and extensive empire that encompassed almost the entire Mesoamerican region, until the arrival of the Spanish in the sixteenth century.
The Inca Empire, which began in the twelfth century CE, is the most well-known early civilization of Andean South America. Its civilization spanned a large territory stretching along the western coast of South America and centered in Peru. Agricultural production fueled the Inca economy, while their centralized state was maintained through elaborate road systems and a unified religion. Devastated by civil war and disease, the Inca Empire was conquered by the forces of Francisco Pizarro in 1533.
By the end of this unit, you will be able to:
1. Compare the events that led to the establishment, expansion, and fall of the early American civilizations.
2. Discuss the political, social, and religious identities of the Mayans, Aztecs, and Incas.
The image to the left is linked to an interactive map where you can see the approximate geographical location and learn more information about the civilizations discussed in this unit. If you are accessing this course from the Blackboard mobile application, you will need to visit the link or open the Interactive Map pdf listed below.
• Unit 8 Interactive Map
• Unit 8 Interactive Map Text Transcript