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A History of World Societies, Sixth Edition
McKay/Hill/Buckler/Ebrey
Web Exercises
Chapter 14: Civilizations of the Americas, ca. 400-1500

So far in these activities, you have been studying cultures and civilizations in Asia, Africa, and Europe. One dominant theme that these Internet activities have stressed is how these societies influenced one another as they grew and developed. By 1300, in many ways Europe, Asia, and parts of Africa were a world system. Through long–distance trade, they exchanged goods, people, technology, ideas, and religions. Their histories were intimately linked.

The societies that existed in the Americas before 1492 were a world system unto themselves. Although they were isolated from the broad trends on the other side of the world, the peoples of North and South America developed their own traditions, outlooks, and organizational forms. And like their counterparts in Europe, Asia, and Africa, they influenced one another. The following exercises will help you better understand these issues.

Helpful Hints:
  • You may want to begin by printing this page. As you explore different sites, use the printout to refer back to the instructions and questions detailed in each activity.
  • On many web sites you can increase the size of the images by clicking on them. Whenever possible, use the larger images to examine fine details in photographs.
Activity One:
  • To understand the diversity of American societies and civilizations before 1492, study the following maps: Central America, Mexico, South America, and North America. Review "The Geography and Peoples of the Americas" on pages 413–415 in McKay, A History of World Societies (Fifth Edition). Identify Mesoamerica on the maps. Try to locate the places McKay refers to as "cold lands," "temperate lands," and "hot lands." Which area, according to McKay, was most likely to support large scale human settlements? Where else do you think people in the Americas would have gravitated toward? Be sure to consider climate and temperature.
  • To complete this geographical exercise, print out Map of the Americas. After reviewing the maps in Chapter 14 of McKay, A History of World Societies Sixth Edition, draw in the areas in the Americas where the major centers of civilization evolved before 1500. Be sure to include the Olmecs, Maya, Toltecs, Aztecs, Moche, and Incas. Explain why you think these areas favored the development of civilizations.
Activity Two:
  • As you can now see, major civilizations appeared primarily in two areas of the Americas — Mesoamerica and the Andes. A common perception today is that these civilizations were "young" or "new" when Europeans first encountered them in the fifteenth century. After reading this chapter, you know this is not true. Various civilizations had risen and fallen in the Americas before the rest of the world discovered these continents. Review this chapter in McKay, A History of World Societies (Sixth Edition) and Central and South American Chronology. Make a time line or chart that demonstrates the rise and fall of American civilizations before Europeans arrived in 1492. Now go to Mexico Connect: Timeline Overview and do the same thing. What was going on in other parts of the world while these civilizations flourished? In other words, did civilizations in the Americas evolve much later than those in Africa, Asia, and Europe?
Activity Three:
  • The earliest civilization in the Americas was the Olmecs. For a brief overview of the Olmecs, go to The Pre–Classic or Formative Period (1500 BC–300 AD). Also see Map 1. McKay, A History of World Societies (Sixth Edition) states, "All later Mesoamerican cultures derived from the Olmecs" (page 421). Considering your geographical and chronological exercises in Activities One and Two, explain how this development occurred.
  • Go to Mystery of the Olmec. According to this author, what aspects of Olmec culture influenced future civilizations in Mesoamerica? Can you think of any comparable examples on other continents in world history?
Activity Four: Activity Five:
  • The cultural reach of Mesoamerican civilizations extended beyond modern–day Mexico and Central America. Read Ancient Cahokia and examine the images on  Cahokia Mounds (when the page opens click on "Site Tour and Map"; after studying the map, click on "View Mounds by Name" and open a few of the individual mound pages). Where is Cahokia? How was it influenced by Mesoamerican culture? How do you think this was possible?
Activity Six:
  • Another area where civilization appeared was the Andes region of South America. This civilization reached its zenith in the Inca Empire of the fifteenth century. The Incas, however, were not the first advanced culture in the Andes. See Timeline and identify the pre–Inca societies in South America.
  • To find out about earlier societies, go to Chavin and Tiahuanaco. How did these societies influence the Incas? See Inca Gold and Inca Pottery for clues.
Activity Seven:
  • Like the Maya and Aztecs in Mesoamerica, the Inca civilization was a synthesis of previous and surrounding cultures. For more on this topic, see Inkan Religion and Inkan Agriculture and Nourishment. Can you derive a common Andean world–view from these essays?
Activity Eight:
  • After completing all these activities, compare and contrast Mesoamerican civilization with Andean civilization. How were they similar? How were they different? What factors shaped their views of the world and their place in it? Do you think that these civilizations influenced each other? If so, how? To help you answer this question, review the maps in Activity One.


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