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Collage from Mesoamerica
Indigenous empires in Mesoamerica

Mesoamerica describes a settlement landscape and a cultural area in Central America . The area of ​​Mesoamerica includes large areas of the present-day states of Mexico , Belize , Guatemala , El Salvador , Honduras , Nicaragua and Costa Rica .

The high cultures of the Nahua ( Aztec , Tlaxcalteks and Toltecs ), Boruca , Chichimec , Huaxteken , Huicholen , Maya ( Lacandonen ), Mayangna , Mazatec , Mixe , Mixtec , Olmec , Otomí , Purépecha , Totonak and Zapotec belong to this cultural area . But also lesser-known cultures - especially along the Pacific coast - are part of it: Mokaya culture (Chiapas and Guatemala), Monte Alto culture and Cotzumalhuapa culture (Guatemala), Diquís culture (Costa Rica). There are also several individual sites that have so far largely eluded a cultural classification: Izapa , Takalik Abaj , Kaminaljuyu and the like. a.

For more ethnicities see the list of indigenous peoples of Mesoamerica and the Caribbean .



Mesoamerica is an archaeological cultural area in Central America, where numerous pre-Columbian peoples lived before the Spanish colonization.


The Mesoamerican Linguistic Area is a language federation that describes numerous languages ​​of Mesoamerica, with common syntactic , lexical , phonological and ethno-linguistic properties. Maya , Mixe-Zoque , Totonac-Tepehua and Uto-Aztec belong to this language union .


According to the OECD, Mesoamerica (MAR) is a multinational, economic geographic region in Central America of the states Belize , Costa Rica , El Salvador , Guatemala , Honduras , Nicaragua and Panama , as well as the nine southeastern states of Mexico ( Campeche , Chiapas , Guerrero , Oaxaca , Puebla , Quintana Roo , Tabasco , Veracruz and Yucatán ).


Regions of Mesoamerica

The northern border of Mesoamerica is approximately at the level of the northern tropic with a bulge to the south between the two cordillera. The border moved with changing climatic conditions. Soil construction was possible in rainy phases, so the border shifted to the north. The east or south border ran through Nicaragua and Costa Rica or El Salvador and Honduras, depending on the period. The Nicarao spoke a variant of the Nawat of Central America, a language similar to the Nahuatl spoken by the Aztecs , and are therefore counted among the Nahua . At the time of the Conquista they formed an outpost that was shifted far to the east, while the majority of the archaeological findings suggest a border to be drawn further to the west.


Early days

Around 20,000 BC BC people populated the Mesoamerican area. First mammoth hunters are for 10,000 BC. Proven. The oldest archaeological finds in Yucatán date from 9000 BC. The finds from Los Tapiales ( Guatemala ) are dated to 8000 BC. Dated.

Archaic period

Around 7000 BC Agriculture began around 5000 BC. Corn was grown as a crop. Permanently settled villages are 3500 BC. BC probably. However, they are only for 2500 BC. Proven to a larger extent. 3400 BC Corn and bean cultures served as a food source. 3000 BC Constantly inhabited villages were established and pottery and weaving were developed. Mayan ancestors intermingled in 2500 BC In Guatemala with the indigenous population there.

Early pre-classical

1500 BC The cultivation of maize became the basis of life for the peoples of Mesoamerica. They used obsidian tools , and Ocos ceramics have also been found on the Pacific coast. Around 1200 BC The Olmec culture rose. Gold processing is for 850 BC. Proven.

Middle pre-classical

A Zapotec culture existed around 600 BC. In Monte Albán . Around 400 BC Chr. Was La Venta destroyed, the Olmec culture went under.

Late pre-classical period

Around 400 BC There was an iza culture on the Mexican Pacific coast. The first datable Maya stelae were dated 125 BC. Created. The earliest date of the Long Count (Stele 2 in Chiapa de Corzo , Chiapas, Mexico) is 36 BC. Around 100 AD the construction of the first step pyramid began in Teotihuacán .



The construction of the pyramid of the Sun in Teotihuacán started around 200, the Pyramid of the Moon in Teotihuacán was built from 250. During this time, the great Mayan cities of Tikal , Palenque , Copán and Yaxchilán were founded. The earliest stele in Tikal, dated in the Long Count, dates back to 292. Around 300 was the heyday of Teotihuacán , which in 400 subjugated the Maya.

Middle classical

The time around 500 is the heyday of the Zapotecs . In 540 Bonampak was founded. Wars between Tikal and Calakmul took place in 550. The decline of Teotihuacán happened around 600.

Late classical

The last date of Palenque is 799, and that of Copán in 822 . The last date of Tikal is 879, that of Uxmal and Toniná 909.

Early post-classic

Tula was founded in 950. In 987 Quetzalcoatl was expelled from Tula. In the same year Chichén Itzá was conquered. Mayapán was founded in 1007 . Aztecs lived in the Valley of Mexico around 1140 . With the destruction of Tula by the Chichimecs in 1168, the Toltec empire fell.

Late post-classic

In 1221 Chichén Itzá , Mayapán and Uxmal founded the League of Mayapán . The Itzá took over the rule of Chichén Itzá from the Toltecs in 1224. Tenochtitlán was founded in 1335 . The Mixtecs settled near Monte Albán in 1350 . Tenochtitlán, Texcoco and Tlacopán formed the Aztec Triple Alliance in 1428 . In 1441 a revolt ended the Mayapán League. The Itzá left Chichén Itzá, Mayapán was destroyed. When the Templo Mayor was inaugurated in Tenochtitlán in 1487, more than 20,000 people were sacrificed within four days . In 1511 the Spaniards landed on the coast of Yucatán , the first contact between Europeans under Juan de Grijalva and the Aztecs took place in 1517. In 1521 Hernán Cortés conquered Tenochtitlán. In 1524 the Spanish attempts to colonize Yucatán began. In 1697 Tayasal in Yucatán was destroyed.

Ethnic Religions of the Present

A Mayan priest practices a healing ceremony in the ruins of Tikal

(see also: religion of the Aztecs , religion of the Maya )

The ethnic religions of Central America are still strongly influenced by the ancient high cultures. Numerous different forms of syncretism with Christianity have emerged. In this context, SA Tokarew names two regions for Mesoamerica, each with independent cult centers that existed before the arrival of the Europeans . What they had in common was the connection between archaic forms - as they occur in the religious ideas of the less urban peoples of the region - with the complicated forms of the state cult introduced by local conquerors with its sometimes bizarre theological systems, which sometimes practiced mass human sacrifices and those alongside the peasant folk religion existed until the carrier states perished. These two ancient cult centers were:

  1. Central Mexico with the Aztecs
  2. Guatemala and Yucatan with the Maya

Starting from this historical basis, one can see the following religious regions progressing from north to south, each with their specific archaic ideas, highly cultural influences and Christian-Catholic syncretisms.

Northern Mexican cultures

A curandero (middle with yellow hat) healing a girl; depicted here relatively naively as a Peruvian altarpiece (retable) in a popular religious-Christian framework

All North Mexican Indians are now formally Catholics, apart from a few smaller ethnic groups such as the Huichol and the Tarahumara . However, even these groups have integrated Christian ideas and rituals. Traditional elements can be found especially among the Uto-Aztec Indians of the north, but their extent and appearance vary greatly from group to group. In most of these groups there is a curandero (literally: "healer") called medicine man who carries out spiritual healing and fertility magic and generally provides assistance in situations in which supernatural help seems to be needed. Like the belief in witchcraft, the curandero is widespread in practically the entire Ibero-American region.

Central American and Caribbean cultures

After the rule of these old high religions, Christianity ended, at least formally, the phase of traditional beliefs. Particularly in rural and remote areas, however, a very superficial to syncretistic relationship to Christianity is typical for these peoples, as has already been described for northern Mexico. Overall, the Central American indigenous peoples have managed to maintain their cultural identity, and traditional practices such as healing magic and sorcery and the worship of natural phenomena are still widespread.

Geological and meteorological effects on the cultures of the region

The characteristics of the individual cultures also depend, among other things, on topographical differences: On the one hand, the altitude varies: The area can be divided into the Tierra caliente (up to 800 m), the Tierra templada (800–2000 m) and the Tierra fría (2000 to the settlement limit at 3000 m). On the other hand, the location between the oceans causes a rainy season in summer and autumn and a dry season in winter and spring. In addition, the seasons start shifted from south to north. This heterogeneity in the landscape in a very small space offers very good conditions for specialization based on the division of labor and economic exchange.

However, the island-like division of ethnic or political units into different climatic zones , which is characteristic of the Andes , did not exist in Mesoamerica to optimally exploit their potential.

See also


Web links

Commons : Mesoamerica  - collection of images, videos and audio files

Individual evidence

  1. The term “Mesoamerica” was introduced by: Paul Kirchhoff - Mesoamérica, sus límites geográficos, composición étnica y carácteres culturales. In: Acta Americana 1 , Washington DC 1943, pp. 92-107
  2. OECD (2006, pp. 13, 36)
  3. SA Tokarev: Religion in the History of Nations. Dietz Verlag, Berlin 1968. P. 302 f.
  4. ^ The New Encyclopædia Britannica . 15th edition. Encyclopædia Britannica Inc., Chicago 1993, ISBN 0-85229-571-5 . Vol. 13, pp. 393, 400.