CHAPTER 11: PEOPLES AND CIVILIZATIONS OF THE AMERICAS, 200–1500
After studying this chapter students should:
Understand the ways in which the environment affected the development of the economies, politics, and culture of
the various parts of the Americas.
Be able to name and describe the essential features of the classic-era and postclassic civilizations of Mesoamerica.
Know the locations and characteristics of the Anasazi, Adena, Hopewell, and the Mississippian cultures.
Be able to describe and to compare the development of Mesoamerican and Andean civilizations, particularly the
Aztec and the Inca empires.
Classic-Era Culture and Society in Mesoamerica, 200–900
Teotihuacan was a large Mesoamerican city at the height of its power in 450–600 C.E. The city had a
population of 125,000 to 200,000 inhabitants and was dominated by religious structures, including
pyramids and temples where human sacrifice was carried out.
The growth of Teotihuacan was made possible by forced relocation of farm families to the city and by
agricultural innovations including irrigation works and chinampas (“floating gardens”) that increased
production and thus supported a larger population.
Apartment-like stone buildings housed commoners, including the artisans who made pottery and obsidian
tools and weapons for export. The elite lived in separate residential compounds and controlled the state
bureaucracy, tax collection, and commerce.
Teotihuacan appears to have been ruled by alliances of wealthy families rather than by kings. The
military was used primarily to protect and expand long-distance trade and to ensure that farmers paid
taxes or tribute to the elite.
Teotihuacan collapsed around 650 C.E. The collapse may have been caused by mismanagement of
resources and conflict within the elite, or as a result of invasion.
The Maya were a single culture living in modern Guatemala, Honduras, Belize, and southern Mexico, but
they never formed a politically unified state. Various Maya kingdoms fought each other for regional
The Maya increased their agricultural productivity by draining swamps, building elevated fields and
terraced fields, and by constructing irrigation systems. The Maya also managed forest resources in order
to increase the production of desired products.
The largest Maya city-states dominated neighboring city-states and agricultural areas. Large city-states
constructed impressive and beautifully decorated buildings and monuments by means of very simple
technology—levers and stone tools.
The Maya believed that the cosmos consisted of three layers: the heavens, the human world, and the
underworld. Temple architecture reflected this cosmology, and the rulers and elites served as priests to
communicate with the residents of the two supernatural worlds.