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Fernanda de Araujo Costa and Trent Barnes

Island between the mouth of the River Amazon and the Rio do Pará, Brazil. It covers an area of approximately 48,000 sq. km and is almost completely flat, apart from a few low hillocks; its south-western half is covered in forest, while the rest is open country, with some forested tracts in the littoral areas and along the rivers. In the rainy season poor drainage turns the fields into an immense lake. Over a long period Marajó’s archaeological wealth attracted explorers, whose expeditions resulted in several collections now in various museums. The earliest systematic investigation was by Betty Meggers and Clifford Evans in 1948–9 and resulted in the first complete survey of the prehistoric occupation of the island. Excavations carried out for the Museu Paranese Emilio Goeldi, Belém, in the 1960s under the direction of N. Figueiredo and M. Simões complemented and enlarged upon these findings. Archaeological evidence suggests that the island was the site of successive occupations represented by a sequence of five phases beginning ...


John R. Topic

Site of Pre-Columbian culture, flourishing c. ad 400–c. 1000, in the northern Peruvian highlands near the modern town of Huamachuco, Sánchez Carrión Province. The site ranges across the top of a hilly plateau 3.8 km long and approximately 500 m wide. The plateau itself is elevated 3400–3600 m above sea-level and is enclosed on three sides by steep cliffs and gorges up to 1000 m deep. The site is important for its architecture and architectural stone-carving.

Max Uhle visited the site in 1900 and made the first scientifically recorded collections; in 1941 Theodore D. McCown made an extensive study of the ruins, collecting more artefacts. Both their collections are housed in the Robert H. Lowie Museum of Anthropology at the University of California, Berkeley. John P. Thatcher conducted surveys in the late 1960s and early 1970s, and a Canadian project directed by John and Theresa Topic, with the collaboration of ...



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 ...


Jeff Karl Kowalski and Trent Barnes

Site of Pre-Columbian Maya city of the Late Post-Classic period (c. ad 1200–1521), 40 km south-east of Mérida in Yucatán, Mexico. The name means ‘Standard of the Maya’. According to Bishop Landa, a Spanish observer writing in the 16th century, Mayapán was established by a ruler from Chichén Itzá named Kukulcán, who decreed that henceforward all the native lords of Yucatán would reside there. Ethno-historical sources agree that the city was founded between 1263 and 1283 by the Itzá, a Maya group from Chichén Itzá. Between 1362 and 1382 Mayapán was ruled by the Cocom, an Itzá lineage under whom it became the capital of the northern plains region of Yucatán. However, the Cocom became so oppressive that the other resident lords, led by the Tutul Xiu lineage, murdered, and deposed them sometime between 1441 and 1461. Mayapán was traditionally referred to as Ichpa (‘within the enclosure’), and archaeological investigations confirmed that it was indeed a fortified walled city. It contained some 3500 structures within 4 sq. km, about 100 of which were large masonry temples or ceremonial structures. An estimated population of 11,000–12,000 was accommodated in housing ranging from substantial residences to perishable huts....


Robert D. Drennan, H. B. Nicholson, Elizabeth Baquedano, Peter W. Stahl, Eloise Quiñones Keber, Christine Niederberger, Muriel Porter-Weaver, David M. Jones, Paul Gendrop, Richard F. Townsend, H. Stanley Loten, Phil C. Weigand, Emily Umberger, Beatriz de la Fuente, Elizabeth Hill Boone, Nelly Gutiérrez Solana, Elizabeth K. Easby, Anthony Alan Shelton, Christian F. Feest, Warwick Bray, Kieran Costello, Roberto Rivera y Rivera, José Alcina Franch, Patricia Rieff Anawalt, Lawrence G. Desmond and Hasso Von Winning

Term used to designate the Pre-Columbian region comprising present-day central and central-southern Mexico, the Yucatán Peninsula, Guatemala, Belize and El Salvador, and parts of Honduras, Nicaragua and Costa Rica. Culturally it was one of two New World areas where civilization developed (the other being the central Andes, home of the Incas; see South America, Pre-Columbian, §III). In Mesoamerica a set of technological, social, economic, religious and political traits was shared by several different cultures, including the Aztec, Huastec, Maya, Mixtec, Tarascan, Teotihuacán, Toltec, Totonac, West Mexican and Zapotec. This set of cultural traits is recognizable as early as 1500 bc and continued, with additions, up to the Spanish Conquest in 1519. There was considerable regional diversity in details—some linger even today—but the presence of this elaborate cultural pattern set Mesoamerica apart from its neighbours to the north and south.

The northern boundary of Mesoamerica corresponded approximately to the northern limit of sufficient rainfall for reliable agriculture, and this was always the most clearly defined of its frontiers (...


Maria-Isabel Silva, Colin McEwan and Trent Barnes

Pre-Columbian culture that developed in the Guayas River basin of coastal Ecuador during the period c. ad 700–1500. Its populous chiefdoms flourished through the sophisticated cultivation of the seasonally flooded riverine wetlands. The most prominent cultural features on this lowland landscape are large elevated earthen platforms known as tolas, which were used for both habitation and burial purposes. Excavation of these mounds has yielded most of the surviving material upon which knowledge of Milagro–Quevedo artistic production is based. Milagro–Quevedo artisans employed a variety of exotic raw materials, often imported from far afield. These include marine shells from the Pacific coast of Ecuador, copper from northern Peru, and gold, which probably originated in eastern Ecuador. Metalworking techniques such as hammering and repoussé were used to fashion elaborate nose rings, earrings, necklaces, and pendants in copper and gold-and-copper alloys. The most sophisticated jewellery was embellished with filigree work. Perhaps the best-known copper objects are the large ceremonial axes and their smaller moulded counterparts. Hundreds of such axes were deposited in burial caches, having previously figured as non-utilitarian status items in long-distance trade (...



Elizabeth P. Benson and Trent Barnes

Site of Pre-Columbian Maya city in the lowland forests of northern Petén, Guatemala. It flourished c. 150 bcc. ad 150, but parts were also used in later periods. Survey and excavation work indicates that its centre measured c. 16 sq. km, making it the largest known concentration of Maya civic and religious structures. Its acropoleis were surmounted by immense platforms, plazas, and other buildings. Such monumental structures were commonly constructed of cut-stone block masonry, plastered over and ornamented with stucco masks of Maya gods. According to Ray T. Matheny and others, Mirador provides evidence that such Pre-Classic Maya cities were the focus of early states that rivalled later, Classic period (c. ad 250–c. 900) Maya civilization. The creation of a city as immense as Mirador would certainly have required strong and complex social controls to produce the architects and artisans and to mobilize the necessary workforce and supplies....



John Paddock and Trent Barnes

Site of a Pre-Columbian Zapotec and Mixtec city in the eastern arm of the Valley of Oaxaca, Mexico. Much confusion about Mitla has resulted from what Fray Francisco de Burgoa wrote about it some 150 years after the Spanish Conquest. Burgoa was deceived by the biased account he received from its colonial rulers, who recalled the name of only one Pre-Columbian ruler—a Mixtec. Excavations have revealed that Mitla was a small Zapotec town around ad 400. Mixtec rule began c. ad 1000, when the city became a royal burial centre, but even then most of the population was still probably Zapotec.

Mitla (Nahuatl: ‘Arrow place’, a corruption of ‘Miquitla’, ‘Death place’, which was a rough translation of Zapotec ‘Lyobaa’, ‘Inside-tomb’) comprises groups of surviving palaces and platforms that are a late part of the ancient community, most of which lies under the modern town. The area has been inhabited at least since ...



Term commonly used for a people and an aesthetic tradition that flourished during the Late Post-Classic period (c. ad 1200–1521) in the Southern Highlands of Mesoamerica, in the western portion of what is now the state of Oaxaca, Mexico (see also Mesoamerica, Pre-Columbian, §I). The term is derived from the Nahuatl name Mixteca, meaning ‘person of Mixtlan (“cloud place”)’, designating speakers of the dominant indigenous language of the region. In the Colonial period the region became known as the Mixteca, being subdivided into three areas: Alta (eastern), Baja (north-western) and de la Costa (Pacific coastal region). The Mixtecs referred to themselves as Ñuu Dzavui (‘people of the rain deity’). The striking and sophisticated art style that flourished in the Mixteca is one of the most impressive achievements of indigenous America.

In late Pre-Columbian times Mixtec speakers were organized into a series of essentially autonomous city states. This political fragmentation was probably related, at least in part, to the mountainous, broken topography of much of their territory. Often in conflict, they were also frequently confederated by dynastic alliances. By the time of the Spanish Conquest most Mixtec city states had been conquered by the ...


H. B. Nicholson

Stylistic and iconographic tradition in Mesoamerica during the Post-Classic 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 Teotihuacán 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 Post-Classic, which he suggested should be labelled 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 (...



Christopher B. Donnan, Izumi Shimada and Theresa Lange Topic


Pre-Columbian culture and art style that evolved on the north coast of Peru approximately a thousand years before the beginning of the Inca empire. It is also the name given to the site of the Pre-Columbian city that existed in the Moche Valley, near present-day Trujillo. The Moche had no writing system, yet they produced a vivid artistic record of their activities and their environment. The realism and subject-matter of Moche art make it one of the most appealing of all Pre-Columbian styles. (For general discussion of the Pre-Columbian art of the region see South America, Pre-Columbian, §III.)

The Moche lived in one of the world’s driest deserts. Human life in the area is confined to the river valleys that cut across this desert, draining rainfall from the Andes back into the Pacific Ocean.

The Moche style began c. ad 100, and by c. ad 500 it was dominant in all of the valleys from Lambayeque to Nepeña, a distance of more than 250 km north–south. Moche settlements are found in nearly all parts of these valleys, from the sea to the point where the flood-plain narrows as it enters the canyons leading up into the mountains. This is generally a distance of ...


John Paddock and Trent Barnes

Site in Mexico, in the Valley of Oaxaca. It was an important Pre-Columbian Zapotec city, later occupied by Mixtec. At the convergence of the Valley of Oaxaca’s three arms, on a small range of hills (c. 600 m), Monte Albán was founded by peoples from neighbouring villages c. 600 bc as a ceremonial centre. The site had probably long been sacred. By the time of Monte Albán’s founding, the Zapotecs had established long-distance trading contacts with Olmec centres in the Gulf Coast and had developed a calendrical system for recording dates and events on stone.

The ancient city grew by stages but apparently not at first with a long-term plan, except that a grand work of art was clearly intended. An enormous plaza, measuring 400 m (north–south) by 250 m (east–west), was laid out, and calendrical inscriptions were incorporated into a wall. As problems in construction and settlement arose, remedies were improvised, and the hilltops of the range were gradually modified as the urban centre grew. While major public buildings, monuments, and élite residences were built around the hilltop plaza, ...


Elizabeth P. Benson and Trent Barnes

Site of Pre-Columbian Maya culture, c. 20 km south-west of Escuintla, on the Pacific slopes of Guatemala. It was probably occupied from the 8th century bc to c. ad 200, with a florescence towards the end of that time, but by c. ad 200 it would have been surpassed in political importance by the Maya sites of Kaminaljuyú and Izapa. The site layout at Monte Alto has parallel north–south oriented plazas flanked by platforms and mounds, a pattern typical of the Middle Pre-Classic period (c. 1000–c. 300 bc).

The sculpture of the Pacific slopes is relatively little known. Although much has been found, the pieces are almost always in the context of former ceremonial centres, but often smashed and reused. Boulder sculptures, plain stone stelae, and plain round altars have all been found at Monte Alto. The boulder sculpture probably dates from the Late Pre-Classic period (...



Warwick Bray and Trent Barnes


Pre-Columbian people of the high plateaux of the Eastern Cordillera of Colombia, around Bogotá and Tunja. They flourished from c. ad 800 to the 16th century, when the Spaniards found a dense aboriginal population that, in terms of social, religious, and political complexity, had evolved beyond the level of neighbouring groups. Historical documents describe palisaded towns whose rulers and temple priests were rich in gold items and emeralds, many of which they deposited in shrines, caches, or sacred lagoons. Lake Guatavita was a place of supreme power. On taking office, each new chief was consecrated there in a splendid ceremony: coated with resin and covered with gold dust, he was rowed out into the lagoon on a raft laden with offerings; there the gifts were thrown into the water and the new ruler submerged to wash off his gilded body. This ceremony probably lies behind the many legends of ‘El Dorado’ (‘The gilded man’), and votive offerings have been recovered during various attempts to drain Lake Guatavita. Muisca archaeology is unspectacular, for the wooden buildings and most artefacts of organic origin have disappeared. Beside pottery and stone tools, finds include a few crude stone statues, human mummies, textiles, and wooden idols from burials in dry caves, and many little votive ...


Andrea Stone and Trent Barnes

Pre-Columbian Maya cave shrine in the Lowland Maya area, c. 30 km east of Poptún in Petén, Guatemala. Naj Tunich (Maya: ‘stone house’) lies at an elevation of 650 m along part of a spectacular upland karst zone (limestone terrain characterized by water-formed caverns) containing some of the longest caves in Central America. It was rediscovered in 1980, and archaeological work began in 1981. The 3 km of broad passages yielded a wealth of ancient remains including rock-cut architecture and artefacts of pottery, jade, shell, obsidian, and other materials. The major find, however, was a remarkable collection of Late Classic period (c. ad 600–c. 900) cave paintings, which distinguished Naj Tunich as one of the most important cave-painting sites of the New World. Unfortunately, many of these have since been damaged or erased by vandals. The ritual use of Naj Tunich was greatest between c. 50 bc...



Anthony Aveni


Pre-Columbian culture and art style of the south Peruvian coastal area, named after the modern town of Nazca. The culture flourished between c. 400 bc and c. ad 800 and appears to have been the dominant influence in the area during the Early Intermediate period (c. 300 bcc. 600 ad; see also South America, Pre-Columbian, §III, 1, (i)). Nazca art is best known through its pottery and the large-scale markings (termed Nazca lines) etched on the desert floor.

The Nazca culture area comprises the valleys of the Chincha, Pisco, Ica, Nazca and Acari rivers in the narrow strip of the western coastal desert of South America that runs from Ecuador to northern Chile. Between the rich, narrow valleys lie segments of elevated desert known as the pampa. The Nazca valley had been inhabited more or less continually for 3000 years before European contacts. During the period of Nazca culture, as still today, the economy was agricultural, based principally on cotton but also including maize, grapes, tobacco, barley, squash, melons and tubers; it had a strong dependence on irrigation and the control of water in general. The mountains, which reach a height of over ...


Stella Nair

An Inka royal estate and colonial period town. Straddling the picturesque Patakancha River, Ollantaytambo was one of several private estates of Pachacuti, the Sapa Inka. Situated c. 72 km northwest of Cuzco in a narrow and lush valley downstream from the confluence with the Vilcanota–Urubamba Rivers, the settlement of Ollantaytambo was commissioned by Pachacuti after his conquest of the local population.

As is typical of all Inka royal estates, Ollantaytambo was not a singular bounded entity, but instead consisted of a collection of distinct landholdings that belonged to a ruler. Ollantaytambo was the core of Pachacuti’s royal estate as it housed his private residential quarters. This allowed Ollantaytambo to have functioned as both his private residence as well as a temporary capital. Nearby were agricultural terraces, ritual centers, storage facilities, quarries for building, guard stations, among other sites that addressed a myriad political, economic, and religious needs of a royal estate. When Pachacuti was staying at Ollantaytambo the architecture would have been the theater for the ruler and Inka state. And in his absence, the distinctive architecture would have represented the power and presence of the Inka state’s (and Pachacuti’s) control over local populations....



David C. Grove

Term referring to a precocious, early prehistoric Mesoamerican culture known from archaeological excavations in the Gulf Coast of Mexico and to an art style distinguished by the use of certain motifs and the artefacts on which they occur, made by the archaeological Olmec and many contemporaneous non-Olmec Mesoamerican societies. Both the culture and the art style coincided with the transition in Mesoamerican culture from simple agricultural villages to complex proto-state societies in several regions during the Early Pre-Classic (c. 2000–c. 1000 bc) and Middle Pre-Classic (c. 1000–c. 300 bc) periods. (For a discussion of chronologies, see Mesoamerica, Pre-Columbian, §II.)

The archaeological Olmec (see Mesoamerica, Pre-Columbian, §II, 2, (i)) are known from several sites in the humid tropical lowlands of the southern Gulf Coast. For nearly 500 years, only the Olmec created elegant and sophisticated monumental art in stone, an achievement that set them apart from their contemporaries. These creations made them the focus of archaeological attention and writings for nearly half a century, to the detriment of scholarly understanding of contemporary societies, and resulted in unintentionally biased interpretations of the Pre-Classic period. Early scholars credited the Olmec with almost all Pre-Classic-period intellectual achievements, hypothesizing that Olmec long-distance traders, invaders or missionaries influenced the developments of Mesoamerica’s many non-Olmec societies. They argued that Olmec roots were the foundation of ideas that later Mesoamerican civilizations built on. More recent scholarship, while recognizing the importance of Olmec contributions, has suggested that major Pre-Classic-period intellectual achievements in iconography and architecture were developed and shared by many distinct societies throughout Mesoamerica....


Jane Feltham and Trent Barnes

[Quechua: ‘creator of the earth’]

Ceremonial centre of Pre-Columbian culture in South America, 27 km south of Lima, Peru, lying on the north bank of the Lurín River, 550 m from the Pacific Ocean. It flourished from c. ad 1 until the destruction of its main temple in 1533 by Francisco Pizarro. The site extended over several small desert hills, covering an area of 1.6 sq. km within its boundary wall, and it was renowned for its shrine to an eponymous creator god. Two of the principal structures, the Temple of Pachacamac (see fig. (a)) and the Temple of the Sun (fig. (b)), exemplify the late coastal style, with rectangular compounds and sets of rooms on different levels. A third important building, the House of the Mamacuna (sun virgins; fig. (c)), is in the later Inca coastal style. Pachacamac is also important archaeologically, because it was here in 1896 that Max Uhle introduced to ...


Merle Greene Robertson

Site of Pre-Columbian Maya ceremonial centre in the foothills of the Sierra de Palenque mountains, Chiapas, Mexico. During the 7th and 8th centuries ad Palenque was the most important city on the far western periphery of the Maya world. Although the area was inhabited in the Late Pre-Classic period (c. 300 bcc. ad 250), only a small group of people lived there. At the height of its importance, in the Late Classic period (c. ad 600–c. 900), however, at least 10,000 people lived there at one time. The site comprises a palace, a ballcourt and several temples sited in groups scattered over a large area.

The architecture at Palenque is both unique and diverse, including the largest surviving Maya palace complex (see fig.). The palace, dominated by a three-storey tower, was built in stages over a period of two centuries. The first stage, at the level of the plaza floor, was later connected to buildings on the upper terrace by subterranean passageways. The earliest building on the upper level was House E, the only known structure at Palenque without a roof-comb. It was also unique in that the entire whitewashed west façade was covered in patterns of flowers resembling those found on codices. House E was used for the coronation of several Palenque kings and includes a plaque depicting the transfer of rulership from Lady Zac-Kuk to her 12-year-old son Pacal (...