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Chapter Outline

Chapter 13: Civilizations of the Americas, ca 400−1500

  1. The Geography and Peoples of the Americas
    1. Geography
      1. Together, North and South America stretches for about 11,000 miles in length.
      2. A mountain range from Alaska to the tip of South America provides rugged terrain on the west coast of both continents.
      3. Mesoamerica is dominated by high plateaus and bounded by coastal plain.
      4. Central America is characterized by jungle, heavy rainfall, and heat.
      5. South America is a continent of varied terrain.
      6. The Amazon River bisects the north-central part of the continent.
    2. Peoples
      1. Immigrants crossed the Bering Strait between fifty thousand and twenty thousand years ago.
      2. These immigrants spread out to form diverse linguistic and cultural groups.
      3. By the late fifteenth century, three kinds of Amerindian societies had emerged: nomadic groups, sedentary or semisedentary groups, and groups living in large population settlements supported by agricultural surpluses.
      4. Representatives of this third group existed only in Mesoamerica and western South America.
  2. Mesoamerican Civilizations From the Olmecs to the Toltecs
    1. The Olmecs
      1. The Olmec civilization (ca 1500 B.C.E.− 300 C.E.) was the first Mesoamerican civilization.
      2. The Olmecs did not consider themselves a unified group, but all later Mesoamerican cultures derive from the Olmec.
      3. Early Olmec society exhibited no status distinctions, but after 1500 B.C.E. more complex, hierarchical societies evolved.
      4. After the destruction of San Lorenzo around 900 B.C.E., power passed to La Venta.
      5. The Olmec developed a number of social and cultural characteristics that can be found in later societies.
    2. The Maya of Central America
      1. Between 300 and 900 C.E. (the Classic period), the Maya of Central America built one of the world’s most advanced cultures.
      2. The first Maya immigrated from North America.
      3. The Maya economy was based on agriculture.
      4. Maya agriculture supported a population of about 14 million people.
      5. Extensive trade between Maya communities and a common language helped create a sense of common identity.
      6. Maya hieroglyphic writings reveal much about Mayan history and society.
      7. The Maya invented a calendar and devised a form of mathematics.
      8. They also made advances in astronomy and wrote books of history.
      9. Maya civilization reached its peak between 600 and 900 C.E.
      10. A combination of factors led to the Maya’s decline.
      11. The fact that Maya society did not rely on a single political entity complicated Spanish conquest of the region in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.
    3. Teotihuacán and Toltec Civilization
      1. People from the Mexico Valley built the city of Teotihuacán, which reached a population of more than 200,000.
      2. The inhabitants were organized into the hereditary elite and ordinary workers.
      3. At the center of Teotihuacán were the Pyramids of the Sun and the Moon.
      4. Teotihuacán society collapsed under the pressure of invaders in ca. 700 C.E.
      5. The Toltec confederation gained strength, assimilated with the Teotihuacán people, and attempted to preserve the latter’s culture.
      6. Under Toliptzin (r. ca 980−1000) the Toltecs came to control most of central Mexico from coast to coast.
      7. Drought, weak rulers, and invasions brought trouble to the Toltecs.
      8. The last of the Chichimec invaders were the Aztecs who absorbed the Olmec- Teotihuacán-Toltec culture.
  3. Aztec Society: Religion and War
    1. War and Society
      1. The Aztecs founded a city on the swamps of Lake Texcoco.
      2. By the time of Cortés in 1519, the Aztecs controlled all of central Mexico.
      3. The Aztecs attributed their success to their god Huitzilopochtli.
      4. The Aztec state was designed as a mechanism for warfare.
      5. All levels of Aztec society were involved in warfare.
    2. Religion and Culture
      1. In Mexica society religion played a critical part in shaping all other aspects of social experience.
      2. War was an article of religious faith.
      3. The Aztecs believed that in order to keep the sun moving it had to be fed human blood.
      4. The Mexica were not the only Mesoamerican people to practice human sacrifice.
      5. Several explanations have been offered for the Aztec’s practice of human sacrifice and cannibalism.
        1. . Human sacrifice helped control population.
        2. . Victims’ bodies were a source of protein for the common people.
        3. . Human sacrifice was an instrument of state terrorism.
      6. The outsider status of victims made the killings possible.
      7. The need for ever-increasing land and wealth involved the Aztecs in a constant cycle of conquest and revolt, a cycle that eventually destroyed the empire.
      8. Cortés was able to take advantage of internal weaknesses in the Aztec Empire.
    3. The Life of the People
      1. The early Aztecs made no sharp social distinctions.
      2. A legendary Toltec king fathered a noble class.
      3. At the time of Spanish intervention, warriors controlled the state.
      4. Provincial governors functioned much like feudal lords in medieval Europe.
      5. The maceualtin, or working class, made up the backbone of society.
      6. The tlalmaitl were landless workers.
      7. Slaves were the lowest social class.
      8. Women played important roles in Mexica society, but those roles were limited to the domestic sphere.
      9. Alongside the secular social classes stood the temple priests.
      10. The Aztec emperor was expected to be a great warrior and a great provider for his people.
      11. The emperor was selected by a small group of priests and warriors.
      12. Aztec parents chose the gender of their male children.
      13. Male children who were assigned female roles were called berdaches.
      14. At the onset of puberty, berdaches began to serve the sexual needs of the young men of the community.
    4. The Cities of the Aztecs
      1. The Aztec capital of Tenochtitlán had a population of about 250,000.
      2. Built on salt marshes, the city was approached by four great roads that connected to the mainland.
      3. Tenochtitlán had a sophisticated water supply system.
      4. The great temple of Huitzilopochtli stood in Tenochtitlán’s central square.
  4. The Incas of Peru
    1. Origins
      1. Inca civilization was established in the fertile valleys of highland Peru.
      2. Archaeologists do not know how the people of the Andes acquired agriculture.
      3. Around 200 B.C.E., the Andean peoples developed vertical archipelagoes.
      4. They also developed agricultural technologies that allowed them to feed large numbers of people.
    2. Inca Imperialism
      1. The Incas believed their ruler descended from the sun-god.
      2. The mummification of dead rulers, and the subsequent worship of those mummies, played an important role in Inca social and political development.
      3. Under Pachacuti Inca and his successors, the Inca expanded their empire until it included some 16 million people.
      4. They extended Inca hegemony to modern Ecuador and Colombia and to the Maule River in the south.
      5. The Incas governed through imperial unification.
      6. Rapid Inca expansion produced political and social stress.
      7. Between 1525 and 1532, the Inca empire was in a state of civil war.
    3. Inca Society
      1. The allyu, or clan, was the fundamental unit of Inca society.
      2. In return for land, all men had to perform public duties (the mita system) and pay tribute.
      3. Inca society was imposed on conquered peoples.
      4. The emperor sometimes gave newly conquered land to his favorites.
      5. Marriage was mandatory.
      6. The Incas practiced polygamy.
      7. Local issues were decided by local officials.
      8. All wealth beyond the masses’ basic needs went to the emperor and the nobility.
  5. North America and the Mound Builders
    1. Peoples of North America
      1. Anthropologists have identified six major cultural areas in North America.
      2. On the eve of European exploration and invasion, North America had a total population of one to two million people.
      3. In comparison to Mesoamerica and South America, North America was sparsely populated.
    2. Mound Builders
      1. Around 1300 B.C.E., various peoples of North America began to build massive mounds in which they buried their leaders.
      2. The Ohio and Mississippi valleys have the greatest concentration of mounds.
      3. The Mississippian mound culture was built on agriculture.
      4. Pottery reveals the artistic vision of the Mississippian people.
      5. No one knows for sure why the Mississippian civilization collapsed.

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