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Chapter 11 Outline

Peoples and Civilizations of the Americas (600-1500)

I. Classic-Era Culture and Society in Mesoamerica

A. Teotihuacan
-The Teotihuacan were located 30 miles from now-day Mexico city and it reached
its peak in about 600, although its decline came shortly after in 650.
-The Teotihucan had a polytheistic society and believed in many gods. They also
believed in human sacrifice and they thought that this was necessary in order to
lead a good and prosperous life.
-The peak of the Teotihuacan were believed to have been brought about by
volcanic activity. This means that many of the suburban areas were disrupted or
destroyed, forcing many farming families to move to urban areas. This led to rapid
growth of the city elite class, although it forced many farmers to live in the city and
walk to their fields every day.
-Eventually the cities began to get overpopulated and the people began to build
apartment-like buildings, housing not only family units but also people of the same
-The overcrowding also led to agricultural innovations such as swamp draining
and dredging, or the formation of Chinampas.
-Chinampas were man made islands, built basically the same way they are today:
piling mud or waste under water and securing it to the mainland. These “floating
farms” helped to sustain the population because they were invulnerable to frost.
-The overcrowding did however lead to economic growth and posterity because of
the large labor class. This wealth was reflected in the Teotihuacan’s diets and
clothing. At its peak, Teotihucan was the largest city in America, and one of the
largest cities in the world.
-Wealthy aristocrats or upper class ruled the Teotihucan because there were no
idols or art honoring one person or a king found.
-The reason for the downfall is unclear, however the theories are that the
Teotihucan were either overwhelmed by the outside invaders or political and
internal strife led to the downfall.

B. The Maya
-The Mayans were very similar to the Teotihucans in agriculture. They too had to
support a large population and so they needed to find innovative ways to get more
-They also had a strong polytheistic religion centered on warfare and pyramids.
The pyramids were symbolic of the path to heaven and the underworld, and the
Mayan kings were regarded as gods. Their ceremonies would center on their
ancestors and warfare, and often sacrifices and bloodletting took place. The
Mayan elites and kings almost always took a role in war, and if capture were
sacrificed, whereas commoners would be enslaved.
-Mayan women were not treated as poorly as in Europe, and they often stayed
home and did common house chores. Elite women took part in ceremonies and
were used to verify their husbands blood authority and lineage.
-The Mayans improved upon the Olmec’s calendar system and also on math (ex:
the number zero)
-Very little is known about the Mayan decline, although some scholars suggest
that epidemic may have played a role.

II. The Post-Classic Period in Mesoamerica

A. The Toltecs
-The Toltecs were believed to have started as a colony in place to protect against
nomadic invasions. They eventually developed into a large empire, controlled not
by one, but two kings who shared the ruling power. The Aztecs labeled the Toltecs
as wise and innovative people, and their capital and influence dominated most of
central Mexico.
-The Tolltec society was much like the Teotihucans and much of their social
values and religious values were adopted from them.

B. The Aztecs
-The Aztecs, also known as the Mexica, were originally made up of small clans
that came from the northern territories down to central Mexico after the collapse of
the Tula.
-At first, the Aztecs were under the influence and control of its powerful neighbors,
but through military conquest they gained power and land. They eventually
established twin capitals called Tenochtitlan and Tlatelolco. Additional military
campaigns led to more farmland and increased political security.
-The Aztec’s government was a monarchy, however it was not based on kinship,
rather on the choice or a council. This council was made up of the wealthy elites
and they had much influence over the government.
-War was a central theme in the Aztec society and religion, providing further
backing for all of the warfare led by the kings. The booty or rewards gained from
these campaigns mostly went to the elites, although some of it reached the lower
-The Aztec’s clan-like society led to feuding between clans, and led to much
political, wealth, and privilege inequalities. Aztecs set themselves apart from other
societies by performing elaborate and distinct ceremonies that surprised and
confused the Spanish conquistadors.
-The lower class of Aztecs ate a diet of mostly staple food and lived in small
house. They also grew much of the food they ate right outside of their homes. The
rich however, lived in large two-story house and ate local and foreign delicacies.
-In order to support such a large and growing population, the Aztec government
organized an agricultural labor force of more than 150,000 peasants. They also
used agriculture technologies to their advantage, building great dikes to separate
salt and fresh water for irrigation and also built many Chinampas.
-The Aztecs also created an efficient tribune system, combining their military skills
with their need for food. They demanded and collected foods and trading items
from their conquered countries. They also demanded sacrificial victims, enforcing
their war-like authority.
-There was a special merchant class in Aztec society, and because of the lack of
draft animals and large ships, trade was made up of light, valuable items like gold.
The merchants also served as the Aztecs intelligence service, reporting on other
countries they traded in. They were not allowed to have the influence that the
nobles had though, because the nobles were jealous of their wealth and power.
-The Aztecs decline may have been brought about by political and social up
heaving. Scholars believe that the thousands of human sacrifices that took place
each year may have upset or anger the Aztec peoples and their opposition. These
ceremonial killings took place in public places and the victims were prisoners of
war, criminals, or sometimes even just a random commoner.

III. Northern Peoples

A. Southwestern Desert Cultures

-The Hohokam culture, located in southern Arizona shows some of the most
distinct Mexican cultural influence. Archeologists classify the people living in this
area and the area of the “four corners” (New Mexico, Utah, Colorado, and
Arizona) as the Anasazi. The Anasazi had a firm agricultural community based on
staple crops like maize, beans, and squash. The successful integration of these
crops led to larger towns and cities.
-Archeologists found kivas in the areas where the Anasazi lived. They were small
underground rooms though to be used for ceremonies, pot-making, or some other
craft. The Anasazi did make pots with amazing geometric patterns and learned to
weave cloth, both used in trade.
-The Anasazi also started to make large multi-story buildings by the 900s.

B. Mound Builders: The Mississippian Culture

-The Mississippian culture was created from the early mound-building societies.
The mound builders were hunters and gathers, supplemented by a scarce supply
of staple crops like maize. The mounds were actually burial areas for the elite.
-The Mississippians continued the political structure of chiefdom. A chief would
rule an area, managing trade, gift giving, and throwing feasts to ensuring a stable
supply of crops and craft goods. These chiefs were the political and religious
leaders of their people.
-The urbanization of the Mesopotamia societies resulted from increases in
agricultural posterity and technological advancements. They also prospered from
expanded trade and trading networks.
-Most of the towns were laid out in the same way, with the town center in the
middle surrounded by many large platform mounds. The largest of these towns
was Cahokia, near St. Louis with a population of 20,000.
-The town was made up of commoner’s housing, ringing the elite’s housing and
town center. The town’s leaders controlled farmland around the town and thanks
to its location close to the Mississippi river; it also could trade with the coast. The
town was very wealthy and the elites controlled most of it.
-Cahokia’s decline was not due to military defeat or rebellion, instead to climate
changes that led to deforestation and agricultural decline. The town then shrunk
and disbanded, as the agriculture could not support the population.

IV. Andean Civilizations

A. Cultural Response to Environmental Challenge

-Due to the different and unstable climates some cultures had to live in, new
technologies and innovations were spurred. In the colder areas where their were
many frosts, people learned to plant different things at different altitudes, how to
create microenvironments in the steppes of a mountain, and how to freeze-dry
meat and vegetables. The domestication of llamas also helped because it served
as a pack and transportation animal, and it also created a source of meat and
-The need for an accurate calendar and counting system became apparent to the
Andean peoples and they responded by creating new calendars and something
called a khipus. It was a system of knots in a string cord that helped to count, and
was used in government administration, like in a census or crop yield.
-There was also the creation of an organized labor system, where the government
would rotate workers from certain clans onto public works projects such as
maintaining roads.

B. Moche
-By 600, the Moche were able to control the Peruvian coast politically and socially.
They were supported by a strong agricultural and pastoral economy, growing
staple crops like maize while maintaining large herds of Alpacas and llamas. They
also grew coca (grown best at this high altitude) was used for religious
ceremonies and held in high value as a trade item.
-The textile industries thrived due to the wool and cotton produced, and Moche
women mostly dominated the industry.
-The Moche organized huge groups of organized laborers for public works
projects like roads and irrigation systems, and this helped to create more of a
visible difference between the social classes.
-There was a small but distinctly wealthy elite class, with high quality homes,
clothing, and privileges.
-Moche’s decline was due to large-scale natural disasters