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Emily Umberger

Term applied to the Nahuatl-speaking peoples of late Pre-Columbian central Mexico (1350–1521) and to the Triple Alliance Empire which arose in the Basin of Mexico (1431) less than 100 years before the Spanish Conquest.

When the Spanish arrived in 1519 most central Mexican city-states were tributaries of the Aztec Empire, an alliance of cities of the lake area of the Basin. Founded in 1431 after the defeat of the Tepanecs of Azcapotzalco, by the 1470s it had expanded well outside the Basin, and the dominant city of the alliance, Tenochtitlan, was transformed into its imperial capital. In the 19th century the term Aztec was popularized as a generic label for the late pre-conquest inhabitants of central Mexico. Some scholars use the term more narrowly for the inhabitants of the Basin (the definition used here), and others for just Tenochtitlan, whose inhabitants called themselves Mexica. Whatever their individual tribal names, the Nahuas of central Mexico shared a common culture resulting from a mix through intermarriage of ancestral barbarians (generically called Chichimecs) who had migrated into the area from the north, and civilized ancestors (...



Jane Feltham

Pre-Columbian culture of South America. It centred on the Chancay Valley of the central Peruvian coast, ranging north and south to the Fortaleza and Lurín valleys, and is known for its distinctive pottery and textile styles. Chancay culture flourished between c. ad 1100 and 1470, under Chimú rulership in the 15th century. Vessels and textiles have been found at such sites as Cerro Trinidad, Lauri and Pisquillo, mostly in graves covered with stout timbers and a layer of earth.

Chancay vessels were made by coiling; modelled features sometimes occur, but elaborate jars were moulded. The fabric, fired to a light orange, is thin and porous. Some vessels are covered with a plain white slip, but most are also painted with brownish-black designs. Forms include bowls, goblets, tumblers, cylindrical jars and ovoid jars with rounded bases and narrow, bulging necks that sometimes end in a flaring rim. Vessel heights range from 60 mm for bowls to 750 mm for jars. Animals (especially birds and reptiles) and humans are frequently modelled on the upper shoulder or around a handle. More elaborate jars are zoomorphic or consist of two flasks connected by a bridge. Some show scenes, such as a dignitary being carried on a litter. Vertical black bands often divide design areas, within which are patterns of stripes, wavy lines, crosshatching, diamonds, triangles and dots, chequers, volutes and stylized birds or fishes, sometimes in assymetrical halves. Characteristic of the style are large, necked jars with faces (known as ...



John R. Topic

Pre-Columbian kingdom on the north coast of Peru; the term is also used of an associated culture and art style. Chimú art developed, from earlier roots, during the period c. ad 850–1000, flourished from c. 1000 to 1470, and continued, with modifications, into Spanish colonial times. The Chimú capital, Chan Chan, may have been founded as early as ad 850, but the kingdom did not attain more than local importance until c. ad 1200. Although both were centred in the Moche Valley, the precise relationship between Chimú and the earlier Moche culture is uncertain, particularly because the nature of Huari cultural intrusion on Moche culture is unclear. At the peak of its expansion, c. 1470, the Chimú 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 Chimú conquest, and the Chimú sometimes borrowed techniques and motifs. The Chimú 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 Pre-Classic period (c. 1000–c. 300 bc) to the Late Post-Classic period (c. ad 1200–1521) 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 Pre-Classic 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. ad 600–c. 900...


George Bankes

Pre-Columbian culture of South America that extended throughout several valleys on the south coast of Peru and flourished between c. ad 1000 and 1476. 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 centre, 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 ...



Ann Kendall

A Pre-Columbian culture of the Central Andean area of South America, the early Inka people are recognizable in the archaeological record of the Late Intermediate Period (c. 1000–1476 CE) from the 12th century onward. The Inka empire flourished in the 15th century and early 16th. In a more restricted sense the term refers to the ruling elite and its supreme head, the Sapa Inka (“Unique Inka”). The Inka are alone in having successfully politically unified the vast area of the Central Andes, coastlands, and adjacent regions. Their empire, the largest indigenous state in the history of the Americas, endured for approximately 100 years; it extended 4000 km from northwest to southeast and approximately 320 km inland from the South American coast (see fig.). The Inka and subjected populations engaged primarily in agriculture and pastoralism. There are widely differing estimates of the total population of Inka and subject peoples at the time of the Spanish arrival in ...


Peter W. Stahl

Island and adjacent mainland areas around the Gulf of Guayaquil in south coastal Ecuador, important in Pre-Columbian trade. The region was inhabited by the Punáes, who were possibly confederated with ethnically similar littoral groups into a Pre-Columbian league of merchants. A principal article of commerce was the shell of the venerated Pacific thorny oyster Spondylus (Quechua: mullu), traded for millennia over vast distances. Long-distance trade was conducted by means of ocean-going balsa rafts equipped with sails and oars and steered by centreboards. A possible form of Pre-Columbian currency consisting of small, thin, hammered copper sheets with flanged edges occurs throughout the area.

Political authority was held by seven caciques (leaders), including a paramount leader. The death of a cacique was honoured by interment in a large tomb with rich grave goods. The Punáes were never successfully incorporated into the Inca domain, which ended at a fortress on the mainland coast at Túmbes, approximately 77 km to the south-west. Early Spanish explorers describe the Punáes as able mariners, skilled ship builders, and fierce warriors, and Spanish descriptions of metal vessels and armaments attest to their skill as metalsmiths. Their weapons included bows and arrows, lances, clubs, slings, and metal axes. Documents of the colonial period describe the Punáes as fishermen and pilots for the Spanish port of Guayaquil....



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 ...



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 ...


Helen Perlstein Pollard

Pre-Columbian kingdom and associated culture that flourished in Mexico c. ad 1300–1521, in an area corresponding to the modern regions of Michoacán, adjacent Jalisco, Guanajuato and north-western Guerrero.

Tarascan art and culture are mostly known from archaeological evidence, supplemented by ethnohistoric and historic sources (in particular the Relación de Michoacán, 1541) dating from the end of the Late Post-Classic period, c. ad 1450–1521, and the early colonial period, which describe Tarascan political and social organization. At the time of Spanish contact a large portion of western Mexico was under the centralized control of the Tarascan state. The political core was in the Lake Pátzcuaro Basin, from which more than 75,000 sq. km, between the Lerma River in the north and the Balsas Basin in the south, was dominated by a hereditary dynasty ruling from the capital, Tzintzuntzan. The capital and its hinterland were maintained by a vast, centralized, hierarchically organized tribute system. Political unification of what had earlier been a series of independent city states in central Michoacán was associated with the absorption of local communities and their élites into a common social system with shared ideology, language and allegiances. The forging of a new identity at the core resulted in the emergence of a distinct Tarascan culture, in which the actions of the State and its rulers were viewed as products of cosmic forces. Beyond the culturally integrated heartland of the Lake Pátzcuaro Basin and adjacent sierra, political unification was accomplished by major military campaigns and maintained by a combination of administrative and military institutions. From the late 15th century until Spanish contact an actively fortified border prevented military conquest by ...