Pre-Columbian People in Mexico Until 800 AD
by Donald J. Mabry
People began entering the New World about 25,00 B.C. from Siberia.
They kept coming in waves to about the year 35 AD. By 7,000 BC, they had reached the tip
of South America, 11,00 miles from the Bering Straits. They were variety of physical
types. No B type blood as in the Old World. Like most immigrants, they seem to have
resisted the later comers. Often called Native Americans, they are more aptly called Early
and Earlier Immigrants since they were just part of the movement of peoples to the New
World that continues today.
Number of people in Mesoamerica (Mexico and Guatemala principally)
before the Conquest has been estimated at between 12 and 15 million. This is a safe guess.
We don't know. Some put the number at 25 million.
First immigrants were probably big game hunters in search of food.
From archeological evidence it is clear that they were in Southern Chile by 7,000 BC.
After they started entering the New World, small game hunters and seed gatherers began
going to the New World between 15,000 and 2,500 BC. Around 7,000 BC, environmental
conditions began to favor small game hunters. Changes in the climate meant the demise of
much of the big game. Grasslands started to become deserts.
Plant food is the strategic element in the chain of animal life.
Around 6,000 BC, begin to get the domestication of plants. First full-fledged farmers
appear around 1,500 BC. Meant that it was possible to develop more permanent structures
because they didn't move. Also meant a more complex social stratification in societies.
New World agriculture developed independently of the Old World. By
1,400 BC, cultivation was an integral part of mesoamerican existence. Cultivators were
completely sedentary. Used stone ax and the wooden digging stick (coa). Slash and burn
farming as a means of clearing land. Traded textiles and pottery.
By 900 BC, mesoamerican diet probably achieved
standardization--corn, beans, squash, chili pepper, small dog, salt, and pulque (3-5%
Around 900 BC egalitarian life of the of the simple farming
community begins to become more complex. Farmers produced enough food to allow for
specialization of function. Produced pottery for export. Import and export of shells,
jade, and turquoise. Burial remains indicate differentiation into social classes. Rise of
the priest. Begin to get large-scale construction for religious purposes and the
appearance if the Olmec art style. Carved jade. Obsession with the jaguar. The jaguar was
associated with Tlaloc--He Who Makes The Plants Spring Up. Jaguar is the symbol of the
power that controls the heart of the land.
Humans begin to harness nature--irrigation works. Building of dams,
dikes, and canals.
Temple centers come into being. Some mere cathedral towns. There
were some real cities, such as Teotihuacán,
which contained somewhere between 50,000 and 100,00 people. To sustain a city of that
size, had to rely upon something besides slash and burn agriculture and the two-field
system. Used terracing, humid bottom lands, irrigation, and chinampas (floating gardens).
Can't prove it was ushered in by technological changes but can be
sure that organization of society had undergone a major change. The dominant figure of the
new order was the religious specialist. The center of power was the ceremonial center. The
center was a scared precinct. Within it, the special apparatus was housed through which
supernatural energy was concentrated, stored, and distributed to the common man. Access to
this power was in the hands of uncommon men, the priest-ruler, whose special training and
esoteric knowledge allowed him to approach the deity and transmit its will. He wore the
symbols of divinity. Priests were devotees of the supernatural and of power. They were not
only full-time religious practitioners but also specialists in organization.
Murals and pottery of this period show priests not warriors. Little
warfare but there was some. The power of the priest was primarily ideological. Priests
also performed economic functions: control of the calendar and religious ceremonies so
people would know when to plant, irrigate, and cultivate and have the blessings of the
gods when they did so. Temples were also depositories. They administered offerings to the
deities. Served as storehouses. Launched trade expeditions. Markets were also religious
The temple precinct was the center of this new order. The temples
were built in tiers to represent the tiers of the universe or the temple was the navel of
Specialization in gods: chief god was Tlaloc , sometimes represented
as a jaguar, sometimes as a serpent with feathers, sometimes as an owl or a combination
such as jaguar- serpent or serpent-butterfly. Had no difficulty with multiple images of
their gods. There were other gods besides Tlaloc such as the bat god and the fire god.
The mesoamerican calendar was a way of binding time. Calendar gives
rhythm to society. The universe was not one but many. Each universe lived its allotted
time and then ended in catastrophe. The basic count combines 13 numbers and 20 signs, such
as crocodile, wind, house, lizard, snake, into 260 days. The great calendar had a solar
year of 365 days (18 months of 20 days each plus 5 "evil days" at year's end.
Same combination occurred every 52 years, which was the end of the cycle. Mayas and other
south Mexicans also had a Venus year of 584 days. The Maya had a starting point of 3133
BC. That was clearly imaginary. Calendar originated about 500 BC.
Theocratic Mexican pyramids emphasize horizontal lines. Decorative
art. Mexica themes were supernatural abstractions. Teotihuac n was the biggest and
most influential center of theocratic times. The word means house of gods. The city grew
from a size of 250 acres before 350 AD to 2,000 acres by 650 AD. The oldest dated remains
there are at the time of Christ but the Pyramid of the Moon (485
feet by 405 feet at the base and 140 feet high) is probably older. The big temples were
built and rebuilt between 12 AD and 25O AD. Teotihuac n was destroyed and abandoned
about 800 AD. Not clear why this occurred. Was it the rise of the warriors?
Settlement pattern of Teotihuacán was the Avenue of the Dead which
was 60 yards wide with small streets running off it. Largest building is the Pyramid of the Sun which is
689 feet by 689 feet at the base and 210 feet high. Contains about 1.3 million cubic feet
of earth. Took 10,000 people 20 years to build it. Different groups built and used
Teotihuacan. Theocratic influence was directed towards the east and the southeast.
Among the other pyramids was the Pyramid of Cholula near Puebla,
Mexico. It is a series of pyramids, one on top of the other, as new groups covered the
former structure with their own in order to assert dominance. In southern Mexico,
Guatemala, and Honduras are the pyramids of the Maya surrounded by the buildings which
Theocratic culture was rich and complex.
A good book on pre-Columbian mesoamerica is Eric Wolf, Sons
of the Shaking Earth.