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Eduardo Williams

Pre-Columbian culture of northwest Mexico. It belongs to the area between the Sinaloa River in the north and the Río Grande de Santiago in the south, probably extending as far southeast of this area as the Chapala Basin of Jalisco–Michoacán, and it flourished c. 880–c. 1400 ce. Major sites are Culiacán, Chametla, and Guasave (all in Sinaloa), and Amapa (Nayarit). Aztatlán sites have been explored by Carl Sauer and Donald Brand (1932), Gordon Ekholm (1942), Clement W. Meighan (1976), and more recently by Joseph B. Mountjoy (1990), although in general the archaeology of this vast area is still little known.

By c. 500 ce the area was occupied by many complex sites with elaborate architecture and large populations. The Aztatlán archaeological complex is characterized by some of the most elaborate prehistoric pottery in the New World, including four-, five- and six-color polychrome wares, engraved wares, negative painting, and some molded ceramics, as well as abundant metal artifacts, primarily copper, but also bronze, silver, and gold (...



John R. Topic

Pre-Columbian kingdom on the north coast of Peru; the term is also used of an associated culture and art style. Chimu art developed, from earlier roots, during the period c. 850–1000 ce, flourished from c. 1000 to 1470, and continued, with modifications, into Spanish colonial times. The Chimu capital, Chan Chan, may have been founded as early as 850 ce, but the kingdom did not attain more than local importance until c. 1200 ce. Although both were centered in the Moche Valley, the precise relationship between Chimu and the earlier Moche culture is uncertain, particularly because the nature of Wari cultural intrusion on Moche culture is unclear. At the peak of its expansion, c. 1470, the Chimu kingdom controlled the entire northern coast of Peru from the modern border of Ecuador southward almost to Lima. Within this area there were several local styles before the Chimu conquest, and the Chimu sometimes borrowed techniques and motifs. The Chimu were themselves conquered in the final quarter of the 15th century by the ...


Culture area of the Isthmian region of Latin America, which is more broadly classed by archaeologists as part of the Intermediate area (see South America, Pre-Columbian, §II). It comprises the Atlantic watershed and central highlands areas of Costa Rica, from the Caribbean Sea to the Pacific Ocean and from the Nicaraguan to the Panamanian border. Environments include the low coastal wetlands of the Caribbean and the Pacific drylands, numerous river valleys and plateaus, and an almost continuous chain of mountains and volcanoes running north–south. Despite a diversity of ecological niches, the archaeological remains of the region are similar enough to be considered as a single cultural group. The prehistoric archaeological record begins c. 1000 bc, with radiocarbon dates up to c. ad 1500. Results of excavations in the Reventazon Valley were published in 1893, but the most important late 19th-century works are Carl V. Hartman’s excavations of cemeteries in the Cartago Valley and in the Linea Vieja region of the Atlantic watershed, especially at Las Mercedes. More recent work by ...



Beatriz de la Fuente

Region and culture of Mesoamerica that produced distinctive Pre-Columbian architecture, sculpture, pottery, and shell ornaments. From the Middle Preclassic Period (c. 1000–c. 300 bce) to the Late Postclassic Period (c. 1200–1521 ce) the Huastec people occupied the Gulf Coast of Mexico; today they inhabit southern Tamaulipas, northern Veracruz, eastern San Luis Potosí, and parts of Querétaro, Hidalgo, and Puebla.

Few Huastec buildings survive, and these only partially. Their most common characteristic is a circular floor plan. One of the oldest is in El Ebano in Tamaulipas; it may date from the Middle Preclassic Period and has a circular floor plan (diam. 57 m), on top of which is a sort of hemispherical cap, 3 m high. The area of the Tamuín River was the most densely populated, and among the best-known sites are Tamtok and Tamuín, both Late Classic (c. 600–c. 900 ce...


George Bankes

Pre-Columbian culture of South America that extended throughout several valleys on the south coast of Peru and flourished between c. 1000 and 1476 ce. The Ica–Chincha pottery style was first recognized by the German archaeologist Max Uhle, and regional variations have since been defined by archaeologists from the University of California at Berkeley, especially by Dorothy Menzel. The Ica Valley appears to have been the main cultural center, while the Chincha Valley seems to have had greater political significance. Commerce was important; pottery was clearly held in high esteem, since it has been found at sites on the central coast and inland in the Río Pampas area near Ayacucho, and it seems, moreover, to have formed the principal indicator of cultural cohesion and diversity between the valleys. The main feature of the decorated wares is a polychrome style, usually with a red base overpainted with white and black designs. Motifs are frequently geometric, with many designs taken from textiles, including diamonds, stepped lines, and zigzag lines. There are also many depictions of birds and fish that are difficult to see in the maze of angular designs. A characteristic vessel shape is a jar with a rounded base, globular body, narrow neck, and flaring rim. Dishes with a flanged rim are also common. As on ...



Mary Ellen Miller

Pre-Hispanic Mesoamerican peoples, whose culture flourished in parts of what are now Mexico, Guatemala, Belize, Honduras, and El Salvador from 3000 bce to the 16th century ce, where they live today, as well as in diaspora in the United States and Canada. The ancient Maya regions stretched from the Caribbean Sea and the Gulf of Mexico to the Pacific Ocean, and served as sources of particular wealth for all of Mesoamerica, especially tropical bird feathers, honey, cotton, felines, and a pigment known as Maya blue; all Mesoamerican jade comes from the Motagua River drainage. The Spanish captured a dugout canoe that held forty Maya individuals, attesting to their seafaring skills; Taino vomit spoons have been recovered from caves in Belize, demonstrating Caribbean connections. Although characterized by over thirty distinct languages, only a handful were spoken by the Maya who dominated the cities they built over two thousand years: Yukatek, Chol, Ch’orti’, K’iche’, Kaqchikel, and Itzáj, and the writing system that they developed, if not invented, represented speech. The Maya also perfected a calendar first used along the Isthmus of Tehuantepec, recording both human events on the small scale and vast cosmic ones, and often likening the former to the latter. Fiercely fought off by the Maya at first contact, Spanish invaders and colonists suppressed Maya elite culture, especially as kept in books, but Maya culture, language, and lifeways have survived into the 21st century. Studies published in ...


H. B. Nicholson

Stylistic and iconographic tradition in Mesoamerica during the Postclassic period (c. 900–1521).

The term was coined in 1938 by the American archaeologist George Vaillant for what he variously defined as a “culture,” “civilization,” or “culture complex” that developed after the Teotihuacan collapse in the region of the modern Mexican state of Puebla and the western portion of Oaxaca, an area known as the Mixteca (from the predominant indigenous language of the region). He hypothesized that Mixteca–Puebla diffused into the Basin of Mexico during what he termed the “Chichimec” period, providing “the source and inspiration of Aztec civilization.” He believed that aspects of the complex spread widely throughout Mesoamerica during its final major era, the Postclassic, which he suggested should be labeled the “Mixteca–Puebla period.”

Although Vaillant never defined his concept with precision, he clearly had in mind a distinctive artistic style and its concomitant iconography, particularly exemplified by the members of the “Codex Borgia group” of ritual and divinatory screenfolds (...



Warwick Bray

Archaeological zone and style of metalwork produced in the three great 16th-century chiefdoms of Fincenú, Pancenú, and Cenúfana in the Caribbean lowlands of Colombia during the millennium before the Spanish Conquest. The Sinú style also extended to the San Jorge Basin and the lower Cauca and Nechí drainages. Many of these lowland areas are seasonally flooded but were turned into prime farmland by the construction of more than 500,000 ha of ridged and drained fields linked by a canal network. Besides landscape architecture, the Sinú zone is noted for its goldwork (see fig.). Burial mounds, looted from Colonial times to the present, have yielded bells, human, and animal pendants, breastplates, nose ornaments, fan-shaped dangling ear ornaments produced by the ‘false filigree’ technique (see South America, Pre-Columbian, §VIII, 5), and socketed staff heads surmounted by human figures, animals, or birds. With these are found incised and modelled pottery, shell jewellery, clay figurines, and fine textile fragments. The origins of the Sinú style go back to the early centuries ...



Richard A. Diehl

Term applied to Pre-Columbian peoples of Central Highland Mesoamerica, north of the Basin of Mexico, and to their cultural and artistic traditions.

The Toltecs were one of the dominant cultural and political groups in Mesoamerica during the Early Postclassic Period (c. 900–c. 1200 ce). They ruled much of central Mexico from their capital at Tula (Tollan) and strongly influenced groups throughout Mesoamerica and beyond, including northern Mexico and present-day Central America. The oldest extant historical records from Pre-Columbian central Mexico describe Tula and the Toltecs in highly exaggerated terms, but careful study of these sources has allowed scholars to use them as a supplement to archaeological discoveries. The annals stress the multiplicity of ethnic groups comprising Toltec society, specifically mentioning the Nonoalca and Tolteca–Chichimeca. The Nahuatl-speaking Nonoalca may have been priests and elites who abandoned Teotihuacan after c. 650 ce; the Tolteca–Chichimeca were migrants from the frontier zone of Mesoamerica in north-central Mexico, who perhaps spoke Otomí. The term Toltec (Nahuatl ...