TRENDS IN MESOAMERICAN PREHISTORY
- corresponds to the period of the initial population of the New World via the Bering Land
Bridge towards the end of the Pleistocene ("Ice Age"). The early limits of this period are poorly understood
and hotly debated. The end of this period is marked by dramatic climate changes, including global
warming, the receding of glaciers at upper latitudes, and a worldwide rise in sea levels. These changes, as
well as possible human exploitation, led to the extinction of Pleistocene megafauna--mammoths and
mastodons first, followed by species like horses, giant beavers, and ground sloths. Archaeological sites are
usually quarries for stone material, short-term camps, or butchering locations. The latter typically have
evidence of big game kills. Typical artifacts of this period include fluted projectile points such as Clovis,
Folsom, and Magellan ("fish-tail") styles.
- term used to refer to a period of mobile, band-level societies with economies based on small-
game hunting, wild plant gathering, fishing, and shellfish collection. There is a continuation of the nomadic
patterns of the Paleoindian period at first, but the Late Archaic sees the appearance of regular, seasonally-
occupied sites. The trend for sedentism is most noticeable on the coasts, where sites with large shell
middens indicate seasonal settlement. In general, the Archaic period is characterized by "incipient" or
beginning agriculturalists. Experimentation with different plant foods increases through time, resulting in
the domestication of species such as pumpkin, squash, avocado, chile peppers, amaranth, and early maize.
Seasonally nomadic groups become more sedentary, with small "microband" groups coalescing into larger
"macroband" organizations. Typical artifacts of this period include basketry, smaller projectile points, and
early ground stone tools such as
- the term "
" is also frequently used for this period, which corresponds
to the time during which permanent villages and later large chiefdoms appeared. The beginning of the Early
Formative (3000-1000 BC) is signalled by the appearance of simple pottery vessels, typically in the form of
, or gourd-shaped, rimless vessels. Village life is based primarily on agriculture, with special
emphasis on the cultivation of maize, beans, and squash. Food storage becomes important, as does more
efficient food processing in the form of manos and metates. Hunting remains important, as does shellfish
collection on the coasts. Early pottery, in widespread use by 2400 BC, is decorated first with "plastic"
decoration and later with slipping and painting. By at least 1700 BC, there is evidence for sophisticated
pottery decoration in the Barra phase of coastal Chiapas. By 1600 BC, large houses, mica mirrors, and
fancy figurines suggest the emergence of differences in wealth and social status. These provide the
foundation for Olmec culture, which begins to flourish around 1150 BC on the Gulf Coast of Mexico.
Olmec culture represents the rise of chiefdom-level societies. It is characterized by elaborate stone