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Early Societies in the Americas

and Oceania

Early Mesoamerican Societies,

1200 B.C.E.-1100 C.E.

Origins of Mesoamerican Societies

Migration across Bering land bridge?

Probably 13,000 B.C.E., perhaps earlier

By sea from Asia?

By 9500 B.C.E. reached southernmost part of
South America
Hunter/gatherer societies

Evolve into agricultural societies


1200-100 B.C.E.
The rubber people
Ceremonial centers

San Lorenzo, La Venta, Tres Zapotes

Olmec heads

Up to 10 ft. tall, 20 tons

Transported by dragging, rolling on logs
1000 workers per head

Agriculture and Herding

Staple: maize
Herding: turkeys, barkless dogs

Both food

No draft animals

No development of wheeled vehicles

Olmec Society

Probably authoritarian in nature

Large class of conscripted laborers to construct
ceremonial sites

Also tombs for rulers, temples, pyramids, drainage


Mysterious Decline of Olmecs

Ceremonial centers destroyed

No evidence of warfare
Civil war?


Huge cities discovered in nineteenth century

300 B.C.E.-900 C.E.
Terrace farming

Cacao beans


Major ceremonial center at Tikal

Maya Warfare

Warfare for purposes of capturing enemy soldiers

Ritual sacrifice of enemies

Small kingdoms engage in constant conflict until
Chichn Itz begins to absorb captives

Some nevertheless choose death

Center of empire develops

Maya Ritual Calendar

Complex math

Calendar of 365.242 days (17 seconds off)

Invention of zero
Solar calendar of 365 days
Ritual calendar of 260 days

Management of calendar lends authority to


Timing of auspicious moments for agriculture

Maya Language and Religion

Ideographs and a syllable alphabet

Most writings destroyed by Spanish conquerors

Deciphering work began in 1960s

Popol Vuh: Maya creation myth

Agricultural cycle maintained in exchange for
honors and sacrifices
Bloodletting rituals

Human sacrifices follow after removal of fingers,

piercing to allow blood flow

The Maya Ball Game

Ritual game
High-ranking captives, prisoners of war
Execution of losers immediately follows the
Bloodletting ritual for the gods

City of Teotihuacan

Highlands of Mexico
Lakes in area of high elevation
Village of Teotihuacan, 500 B.C.E., expands to
large agricultural city

Important ceremonial center

Extensive trade network, influenced surrounding

Begins to decline ca. 650 C.E., sacked in middle
of eighth century, burned city

Andean Societies

Migration into South

America ca. 12,000
Climate improves ca.
8000 B.C.E.
Largely independent from
Highly individualized due
to geography

Chavn Cult

New religion in central Andes, 900-300 B.C.E.

Little known about particulars of religion
Intricate stone carvings
Cult may have arisen when maize became an
important crop
During this era Andean society became
increasingly complex

The Mochica State

Valley of the Moche River

Dominated northern Peru, 300-700 C.E.
Painting survives
One of many states in region, none able to
consolidate into empire

Early Societies of Oceania, 1500 B.C.E.700 C.E.


Prehistoric land bridges, lower seas permit

Outrigger canoes for open-sea travel
Early hunter-gatherer societies in Australia
Early agriculture in New Guinea

Lapita Peoples

Found throughout Pacific islands

Agriculture, animal herding
Political organization based on chiefdoms
Trade over open ocean declines 500 B.C.E.

Greater independence of settlements