A History of World Societies,
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.
- 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.
- To understand the diversity of American societies and
civilizations before 1492, study the following maps: Central
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.
- 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?
- 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?
- 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?
- 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
How did these societies influence the Incas? See Inca
Gold and Inca
Pottery for clues.
- 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?
- 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.