Even as other parts of the World the ancient history of America is also still
a more or less white spot in historical perspective.
Hunters roam the landscape, subsisting on large mammals and gathering plants
and other natural resources. Incipient agriculture begins about 5000 B.C., and
over the next thousand years includes low-intensity crops such as chili peppers,
avocados, and beans.
Excavations in the Tehuac valley in central Mexico have uncovered small
cobs of Zea maysmaize, or corndated to around 3000 B.C. It probably has little
nutritional value at this stage, but by 2000 B.C., corn is one of the staple
crops of Mesoamerican society and remains so for thousands of years.
ca. 7000 B.C.American Archaic cultures
are those that occur between Paleoindian hunters and the peoples who have realized
some combination of pottery making, burial mound construction, and garden technology.
The combination varies from area to area.
ca. 5000 B.C.Settlements are established
on the shores of the resource-rich lakes in the Basin of Mexico, where early
gardening efforts are undertaken.
ca. 4000 B.C.Shell-mound sites are
occupied in the coastal estuaries of the Soconusco region of the Pacific coastal
plain of Mexico and Guatemala.
ca. 3114 B.C. Mythic base date (August
13, 3114) of the Maya Long Count Calendar.
ca. 3000 B.C.An early form of corn
is identified in the Valley of Tehuac in southern Puebla/northern Oaxaca states,
and subsequently evolves into a highly productive plant food.
ca. 2800 B.C.Ceramics of the Monagrillo
complex are present in small settlements around Parita Bay in central Panama,
an area of rich coastal resources. Technologically conservative, Monagrillo
ceramics are made for many hundreds of years.
ca. 2300 B.C.Tlapacoya (also known
as Zohapilco), a significant island community on Lake Chalco in the Basin of
Mexico, yields the earliest yet identified ceramic figurine in Mesoamerica.
The hunter-gatherer lifestyle gives way almost completely to sedentary agriculture.
Villages around the Basin of Mexico and the Soconusco region of coastal Guatemala
establish trade routes and social organization becomes increasingly complex.
Rapid development of the Olmec site of San Lorenzo, Veracruz, after 1200 B.C.,
includes massive basalt sculptures. An iconographic system with its roots in
the Gulf Coast spreads across Mesoamerica, as evidenced in the ceramics of central
Mexico and in monumental sculpture and carvings as far south as Honduras and
ca. 1800 B.C.Sedentary village life
is widespread and pottery is abundant.
ca. 1600 B.C.Villages along the Coatzacoalcos
River drainage on the Gulf of Mexico flourish based on abundant riverine resources
and fertile soils.
Established villages expand in the Soconusco region of the Pacific coastal
plain of Guatemala and Chiapas (Mexico).
ca. 1400 B.C.Luxury goods such as
ceramic figurines, stone bowls, and greenstone beads are placed in burials in
villages of the Soconusco region.
The people of San Lorenzo modify the form of the natural plateau upon which
the center is built. Rising above the Coatzacoalcos River drainage in southern
Veracruz, the plateau becomes home to the dominant city of the coastal lowlands,
the impressive capital of an innovative people now known as the Olmec.
Highland villages in central Mexico produce numerous sophisticated works
of ceramic, notably small, detailed female figurines. Certain villages, such
as Tlatilco and Tlapacoya in the Basin of Mexico and Las Bocas in western Puebla,
begin to establish precedence over their neighbors.
A ground and polished greenstone celta tear-shaped ax or adzeis placed
as a dedicatory offering below a large residential mound at Paso de la Amada,
a major village in the highlands of Chiapas. Ground stone celts are used as
agricultural tools throughout much of Mesoamerica. They take on a revered, symbolic
role, thought to be based on their primary function as tools.
ca. 1350 B.C.The first public building
in the Valley of Oaxaca is constructed at the major regional center of San Jos
Mogote. It is a stuccoed wattle-and-daub structure built on a platformlike foundation.
ca. 1250 B.C.At San Lorenzo, ceramics
of distinctive white, gray, and black surfaces are produced, often the result
of specialized firing techniques. These colors come to be identified with Olmec
ceramics, as do certain design motifs, wherever they are found.
ca. 1200 B.C.The beginning of the
period known archaeologically as the Middle Formative, one of particularly significant
development in Mesoamerica.
Within the precincts of the Red Palace, a large earthen and wood structure
with red-stained sand floors and pigmented walls, the Olmec of San Lorenzo control
raw materials and the production of stone sculpture. Volcanic stone, a rare
commodity imported into the floodplains of the Gulf Coast from the distant Tuxtla
mountains, is used and reused for large, unprecedented three-dimensional sculpture,
including multi-ton stone heads.
ca. 1050 B.C.Olmec stylistic traits
are present in ceramics and greenstone figurine fragments in the Soconusco region
of the Pacific coast.
Fundamental cultural patternsmaize agriculture, precisely aligned site plans,
the construction of pyramids and plazas, and images defining the ruler as the
central figure connecting the natural and supernatural realmsspread across
the region. Gulf Coast and central Mexican sites carry the Olmec tradition.
By 400 B.C., the artistic and cultural dominance of the Gulf Coast wanes. In
Oaxaca, the earliest known calendrical glyph occurs around 600 B.C. at the Zapotec
site of San JosMogote. The influential site of Teotihuacan in central Mexico
is established circa 150 B.C.
ca. 950 B.C.Olmec San Lorenzo loses
political power and population. Sixty miles to the southeast, another Olmec
center on the floodplain, the island site of La Venta, gains both.
ca. 900 B.C.Chalcatzingo, in the central
Mexican highlands, remodels the natural landscape into a series of broad terraces,
and carves ritual scenes in low relief on living rock. At other central highland
centers such as Tlatilco and Las Bocas, ceramic vessels and figures in Olmec
style are present. Trade networks between important regional centers are considered
to be active. They are thought to occasion numerous pan-Mesoamerican cultural
The layout of the ceremonial heart of La Venta, a specially oriented pattern
of juxtaposed mounds and open plazas, is established. Such layouts will be usedwith
regional and temporal variationsin building sacred Mesoamerican centers for
more than 2,000 years.
ca. 800 B.C.A large earthen pyramid
is constructed at La Venta, possibly conceived of as a sacred mountain. Burials
at La Venta contain significant grave goods. Small carefully fashioned figures,
personal ornaments, and celts of green jadeite and other greenstones are among
the mortuary offerings.
ca. 600 B.C.Major buildings at San
JosMogote in the Valley of Oaxaca are built of masonry. A carved relief is
set in a corridor floor that depicts a slain figure with a hieroglyph for "1
Earthquake" between its feet. It is the earliest recorded date in Zapotec, the
Oaxaca hieroglyphic system.
ca. 500 B.C.Monte Alb is established
on a defensible hill above the Valley of Oaxaca, and grows rapidly into the
major regional center. The populations of valley-floor villages such as San
JosMogote are much diminished.
ca. 400 B.C.Two calendars, a 365-day
solar calendar and a 260-day ritual calendar, appear to be in use.
Many of the large carved stone sculptures and monuments at La Venta are damaged;
the city loses political power and population, and is gradually deserted.
ca. 300 B.C.Cuicuilco, now the largest
center on the high plateau of the Basin of Mexico, has substantial public architecture,
including a circular, stone-faced pyramid.
In western Mexico, deeply buried tombs at the bottom of shafts are in use.
Located in the Mexican states of Jalisco, Nayarit, and Colima, the tombs contain
ceramic figures and vessels in great quantity. The stylistic names assigned
to the ceramics correspond to the names of the modern states.
ca. 200 B.C.Defensive walls are constructed
on the north and west sides of Monte Alb. Low-relief carved stones with depictions
of slain victims are set into the walls of Building L; known as Danzantes, from
the contorted postures of the figures, they number more than 300. Also incorporated
into Building L are Stelae 12 and 13, with hieroglyphs carved in an apparent
early Zapotec text.
ca. 150 B.C.The Xitle volcano erupts
in the southern Basin of Mexico, overwhelming Cuicuilco and instigating resettlement
of peoples further north in the basin.
ca. 100 B.C.The settlement of Teotihuacan
in the northern Basin of Mexico grows. Close to perpetual springs and obsidian
sources, it is well situated for irrigation agriculture and has active obsidian
workshops. Obsidian, a volcanic glass, is essential in Mesoamerica for the making
of toolspoints, knives, and scrapers.
32 B.C.The Long Count date 22.214.171.124.18
(September 3, 32 B.C.) is carved on a stone monument, Stela C, at the Gulf Coast
site of Tres Zapotes, a major Epi-Olmec community.
Teotihuacan becomes the dominant political and economic force of Mesoamerica.
Boasting the largest urban population in the region, it controls the nearby
and highly important obsidian mines. Teotihuacan apparently sends a military
force into the Maya region at the end of the fourth century. The hilltop center
of Monte Alb expands to control the Valley of Oaxaca. Farther to the west,
in Colima, Nayarit, and Jalisco, lively and elegant ceramic sculptures are placed
in shaft tombs. On the Gulf Coast, inheritors of the Olmec tradition develop
a still poorly understood hieroglyphic writing distinct from the Maya and Zapotec
ca. 1 A.D.Teotihuacan in the Basin
of Mexico grows rapidly as rural populations move in, possibly coerced into
ca. 50 A.D.The grid pattern of the
city plan is established at Teotihuacan and the focus of sacred building is
on the so-called Street of the Dead, where permanent construction of public
architecture (such as three-temple complexes) begins. The Pyramid of the Sun,
the largest structure ever raised in ancient Mesoamerica, is initiated over
a narrow, tunnel-like cave adjacent to the street. Caves are associated with
the origins or emergence of life in Mesoamerican thought. The city becomes a
Monte Alb grows quickly and dominates, apparently by force, the Valley
of Oaxaca. Much of the mountaintop on which it is built is leveled to form the
great Main Plaza; temples and palaces on its perimeter are constructed or enlarged
and surfaced with white lime plaster. Tomb construction and burial contents
become more elaborate.
ca. 150 A.D.The Pyramid of the Moon
at the north end of Teotihuacan's Street of the Dead is enlarged, and the axis
of the city center shifts south with the building of a large permanent market
structure, the Great Compound, and a religious/governing center, the Ciudadela.
Teotihuacan is a major marketplace, and controls much of the essential trade
in obsidian in central Mexico.
A relief-carved stela found at La Mojarra in the Papaloapan River drainage
of Veracruz depicts a grandly dressed personage and bears a long inscription
in what is thought to be an Epi-Olmec script.
ca. 200 A.D.The talud-tablero, a particular
architectural profile used on sacred temple platforms, appears on the Temple
of the Feathered Serpent in Teotihuacan's Ciudadela. The talud-tablero profile
will be widely used in the city and elsewhere in Mesoamerica. Teotihuacan controls
the Basin of Mexico.
Building J at Monte Alb incorporates the "conquest" reliefs believed to
name the numerous Oaxaca locations claimed as subject to the hilltop city. I-shaped
ballcourts are present at Monte Alb and the ballgame is thought to have had
a role in resolving disputes.
ca. 250 A.D.Wall paintings, done in
a fresco technique, embellish temples near the Pyramid of the Moon at Teotihuacan;
eventually, frescoed walls appear throughout the city. Permanent apartment compoundswalled,
one-story building groups that become the standard residential unitare initiated.
Many are occupied by the city's hundreds of craftsmen. Future building efforts
center on residential construction; about 2,000 apartment compounds will make
up the city.
The shaft tombs of Jalisco, Nayarit, and Colima in the west of Mexico are
no longer made on the grand scale of previous centuries.
ca. 378 A.D.In Guatemala's Pet,
the ninth recorded ruler of the Maya city of Tikal, Chak Toh Ich'ak I (Great
Jaguar Claw), dies on the day a foreign warrior named K'ak Sih (Fire-Born)thought
to be from Teotihuacanarrives. The following year, a new ruler is invested
at Tikal, Yax Ain I (First Crocodile), who has strong ties to Teotihuacan, and
there is much subsequent Teotihuacan presence at Tikal.
ca. 400 A.D.Architectural details
and ceramic vessel forms at Kaminaljuyin the southwestern Maya highlands and
in the Tiquisate region of Guatemala's Pacific coast indicate a strong Teotihuacan
ca. 450 A.D.Royal tombs at Monte Alb
contain numerous large, complex funerary urns of ceramic. The urns are thought
to depict deceased ancestors. A specific neighborhood, known as the Oaxaca barrio,
exists in Teotihuacan for people from Monte Alb.
The fall of Teotihuacan in the seventh century precipitates a period of dislocation.
Many peoples are uprooted to new territories, forming new political and trade
alliances, and creating eclectic art styles. A number of smaller cities in central
Mexico compete for control and prestige. On the coast of the Gulf of Mexico,
El Taj develops into an extensive site and appears to have been the center
for important ceremonial games. In the Valley of Oaxaca, small regional centers
increase their power at the expense of Monte Alb, and the Mixtecs have a growing
presence. By 900 A.D., the Toltec culture is the new centralizing force in Mesoamerica.
ca. 500The city of Teotihuacan covers
about eight square miles, with an estimated population between 100,000 and 200,000.
Major construction activity in the city subsides, while production of prestigious
craft goods for local use and export flourishes. Large quantities of ceramicscylindrical
tripods, figurines, and multipiece incense burnersand greenstone, calcite,
and obsidian human figures and masks are manufactured in specialized workshops.
The Teuchitl tradition of circular structures flourishes in the highland
valleys of west central Jalisco. Elite ceremonial and administrative centers
are constructed of circular, truncated pyramids arranged in large circles often
associated with ballcourts.
Cholula in the fertile Puebla-Tlaxcala valley thrives. Its Great Pyramid,
Tlachihualtetl ("man-made mountain"), is enlarged; stairs on all four sides
allow access to the summit. Subsequent enlargements will make it the largest,
continuously used structure in ancient America.
ca. 550Elite tombs in regional centers
in the Oaxaca valley feature door jambs and panels of stone carved with scenes
and Zapotec hieroglyphs recounting the genealogies of the ruling lords.
ca. 600On the north central frontier
of Mexico, the Chalchihuites culture exploits the mineral resources along the
foothills of the Sierra Madre Occidental. Mesoamerican culture traits are transmitted
into the United States Southwest.
Teotihuacan's influence over the rest of Mesoamerica ceases.
Cantona, located east of the central Mexico highlands and Teotihuacan's main
competitor for control of the obsidian trade, builds fortifications.
ca. 650Principal temples and elite residences
in central Teotihuacan are burned, and carved cult objects smashed, perhaps
the result of an internal political and economic crisis. Many apartment compounds
are abandoned, but parts of the site remain inhabited until about 900.
In central Veracruz, a number of regional centers produce vast quantities
of ceramic sculpture for ritual purposes, among them Remojadas, Nopiloa, and
ca. 700Xochicalco in western Morelos
develops into an important regional center. Its art and architecture combine
elements of traditional Teotihuacan style with aspects of contemporary styles
from the Oaxaca, Maya, and Gulf Coast regions.
El Taj dominates on the Gulf Coast, where the ballgame is the focus of
ritual activity. The site has no fewer than seventeen ballcourts; hundreds of
portable sculptures associated with the game, known as yokes, hachas, and palmas,
have been found throughout the north central Gulf lowlands.
ca. 750 Tula Chico is founded in the present
state of Hidalgo in the northern Basin of Mexico. The city's population is composed
of many disparate ethnic groups.
ca. 800Major construction ceases at Monte
Alb and its population declines rapidly. Political power in the Oaxaca valley
shifts to smaller centers on the valley floor, among them Yagul, Mitla, and
ca. 800Well-preserved mural paintings
at Xochitatl-Cacaxtla in the Valley of Tlaxcala provide evidence of the presence
of powerful Maya groups in the heart of central Mexico. Xochitatl-Cacaxtla
controls trade routes between the Gulf Coast and the central highlands.
The city of Tula covers an area of about two-and-a-half square miles. Like
Teotihuacan, its plan is a uniform grid, oriented north-south, with streets,
terraces, plazas, and residential compounds. New architectural elements include
colonnaded halls, atlantean sculptures, chacmools, skull racks, and warrior
figures on columns and murals. Toltec culture and religion, which includes new
gods, among them Quetzalcol and Tezcatlipoca, spread rapidly throughout Mexico
via trade and conquest.
Metallurgy is introduced into western Mexico, probably through long-distance
contact with much older South American traditions.
ca. 850Catastrophic destruction and rapid
abandonment occur in most flourishing central Mexican city-states, a result
of local revolt and/or military conquest, perhaps at the hands of the Toltecs.
ca. 900Toltec Tula is the powerful capital
of a state that integrates the diverse peoples of Mexico into a new cultural
system. Its trade network stretches from Costa Rica to the United States Southwest.
Metalworking is practiced and its popularity grows. Turquoise becomes an
important luxury material.
A new polychrome ceramic ware in the Cholula area combines bright colors
ca. 925The Toltecs reach Yucat, introducing
new architectural forms and imagery. Toltec influence is particularly strong
at the site of Chich Itzin northern Yucat.
Countless cities and small city-states exist in central Mexico; populations
increase substantially. The city-states engage in constant warfare while trying
to expand their political and economic base. Most are unable to establish themselves
in larger domains or empires. Long-distance trade grows, and traveling merchants
have an important place in the social hierarchy, as do professional soldiers.
Stylistic features and symbols spread throughout large areas. About 1200, numerous
Nahuatl-speaking groups from northern Mexico migrate to central Mexico, where
the Aztec culture will coalesce. One of the northern groups, the Mexica, rises
to prominence in the fifteenth century as rulers of the Aztec empire.
ca. 1000Tula, at the height of its cultural
and political influence, is the largest city in central Mexico, covering some
five square miles with a population of about 60,000 persons. At its center,
the sacred precinct features two large ballcourts and two stepped pyramids.
One, known as Pyramid B, is decorated with carved relief panels showing feathered
serpents, prowling jaguars and coyotes, and eagles with human hearts in their
ca. 1070A small Mixtec city-state in
the Mixteca Alta of highland Oaxacathe Tilantongo kingdomexpands under the
rulership of Lord 8 Deer Jaguar Claw. A warrior, he conquers several towns and
forges alliances through marriage. His spectacular exploits are subsequently
recorded in pictorial manuscripts. Three survive today: the Codex Bodley, the
Codex Zouche-Nuttall, and the Codex Colombino-Becker.
ca. 1100Nahuatl-speaking peoples begin
migrating toward central Mexico. They are led by their tribal god Huitzilopochtli
("Hummingbird on the Left"), his image borne on a priest's shoulders. Aztl
("Place of the Herons"), an island in a lake in west or northwest Mexico, is
said to be their point of origin.
ca. 1150In the far north, the city of
Casas Grandes (also known as Paquim is an important exchange center for luxury
materials from both the north and the south. Casas Grandes' own distinctive
ceramic wares are traded throughout the region.
ca. 1175The violent destruction of the
central Mexican city of Tula coincides approximately with the arrival of Nahuatl-speaking
peoples from northern Mexico.
ca. 1200The Huastec people of the northern
Gulf Coast, linguistically related to the Maya, create highly individual forms
of stone sculpture and ceramics.
ca. 1250Cholula to the east of the Basin
of Mexico is conquered by the northern Tolteca Chichimeca people and a new ceremonial
precinct is built around the Pyramid of Quetzalcol. Cholula's Great Pyramid
was the focal point of religious activity for over a thousand years.
ca. 1300A new geometric, vividly colored
painting stylepossibly originating in Cholulaappears, primarily used on ceramic
vessels and in pictorial manuscripts. Named Mixteca-Puebla for the regions of
its greatest concentration, depictions include gods, religious rituals and symbols,
as well as events relating to dynastic histories. It is widely disseminated
throughout central Mexico.
In the west, the Tarascan people of the Pzcuaro Basin assume control of
some northern trade routes. Talented craftsmen, they produce fine ornaments
of gold, silver, and paper-thin obsidian (a volcanic glass).
ca. 1325The Mexica people settle on a
marshy island in the Basin of Mexico's Lake Texcoco after almost 200 years of
wandering. Naming their city Tenochtitlan, they build a sanctuary dedicated
to their tribal/war god Huitzilopochtli and to the ancient rain god Tlaloc.
ca. 1350In the Oaxaca Valley, Mixtecs
marry into Zapotec royalty, increasing their local power. Mixtec metalsmiths
produce exquisite gold ornaments valued throughout Mexico.
ca. 1371In the Basin of Mexico, Tezozomoc
becomes king at Atzcapotzalco, then the most powerful city-state in the region.
He assumes control of neighboring Tenochtitlan and names Acamapichtli its king.
ca. 1372Acamapichtli enlarges Tenochtitlan's
main sanctuary, building two temple pyramids side by side. He forges political
alliances through strategic marriages.
ca. 1391Huitzilihuitl, son and successor
of Acamapichtli in Tenochtitlan, expands the economic and political power of
the Mexica in the Basin of Mexico.
ca. 1400The Tarascan state expands rapidly,
stretching between two of Mexico's great rivers, the Lerma-Santiago in the north
and the Balsas in the south. The region is rich in resources, including copper,
gold, silver, obsidian, and onyx marble. The capital, Tzintzuntzan, has a population
of approximately 35,000 persons.
Ceremonial centers along the Pacific coast of Guatemala, including Abaj Takalik,
Izapa, and Kaminaljuy grow in size and stature. Pyramids and monumental stone
sculpture at different sites provide evidence for connections with the ancestral
Olmec style. In the tropical lowlands of the Pet, the villages of Nak'be and
El Mirador emerge as major centers. Hieroglyphic writing appears by the dawn
of the first millennium, and the Maya establish the architectural, sculptural,
and iconographic systems that dominate their artistic production.
ca. 900 B.C.The beginning of the era
known archaeologically as the Middle Preclassic period in the Maya area.
Public structures, including a large earthen mound, are built at La Blanca,
a village in the Soconusco region on the Pacific coast. The mound groups are
not centrally organized.
ca. 800 B.C.Public architecture is
present in the Pacific piedmont community of Abaj Takalik together with stone
sculpture in Olmec style.
Numerous villages exist in the tropical lowlands of the Pet region of Guatemala,
among them, Nak'be, El Mirador, and Tikal.
ca. 600 B.C.The community of Nak'be
prospers. Public architectural projects are undertaken.
Ballcourts of an open-ended type are present at three centers on the Grijalva
River in Chiapas.
ca. 400 B.C.Located in the fertile
Valley of Guatemala in the Maya highlands, the center of Kaminaljuybecomes
important for trade.
A great building effort is undertaken at Nak'be with the construction of
large stone-faced platforms and pyramids. A limestone slab, or stela, with a
low-relief sculpture of two dignitaries is apparently placed in association
with a stone altar, an early example of an important Maya practice.
ca. 300 B.C.Although Nak'be loses
prominence to neighboring El Miradorto which it is joined by a limestone causewayit
continues to expand its sacred buildings. Enormous stucco-surfaced limestone
masks embellish a major temple, the first occurrence of a longlived Maya religious
ca. 200 B.C.Monumentally scaled public
buildings are raised at El Mirador. These include a three-temple complex on
a common platform, a much used architectural arrangement in subsequent times.
Tikal grows larger and construction begins on a great masonry platform located
on its highest hill. Base to a number of pyramid temples, the platform and temples
will be enlarged many times. Known today as the North Acropolis, it will be
the sacred heart of Tikal for centuries.
Relief sculpture or stelae (as they are known in the Americas) are carved
and erected at Izapa in the highlands. They are positioned in association with
altars and major architectural features. Rulers and mythic beings are depicted
in the sculptures.
ca. 100 B.C.Tombs very rich in sumptuary
offeringsincluding objects of jade, obsidian, mica, pyrite, and quartz crystalare
placed in the interior of temple platforms at Kaminaljuy The burials of powerful
persons, they include sacrificial attendants.
ca. 36 B.C.A fragment of stela found
reused in the Guatemalan highlands at Chiapa de Corzo has the earliest yet identified
Long Count date, 126.96.36.199.13 (December 8, 36 B.C.). The Long Count Calendar
has a mythic start date that correlates to 3114 B.C. in the Christian calendar.
The building of large pyramids with broad stairways flanked by enormous stucco
masks wanes by 250 A.D. In its place, the use of stelae carved with lengthy
hieroglyphic texts emerges. These stelae combined historical narratives with
mythological time, and join the carved script with images of rulers wearing
elaborate headdresses and holding ceremonial bars. Placed in front of temples,
these shafts makde transient rituals forever visible. At the end of the fourth
century, texts at Tikal and Cop suggest that the central Mexican city of Teotihuacan
controls the foundation of specific dynasties in the Maya region.
ca. 1 A.D.In the Pet lowlands, a
member of Tikal's royal family is buried in a well-provisioned vaulted tomb
dug into the sacred north-south axis of the North Acropolis, the location of
numerous subsequent kingly burials. A greenstone mask with inlaid eyes and teeth,
possibly forming a head for the burial wrappings, is among the tomb's contents.
ca. 37 A.D.Stela 1, bearing an eroded
Long Count date of 188.8.131.52.12 (March 4, 37 A.D.), depicts a profile figure
with an elaborate headdress at the highland site of El Ba.
ca. 100 A.D.Ceramic vessels, many
used as mortuary offerings, are very well made and enjoy a long period of formal
experimentation and surface elaboration.
ca. 200 A.D.The legendary founder
of Tikal's most powerful dynasty, Yax Ch'aktel Xok (First Scaffold Shark), dies.
Thirty-one rulers succeed him.
ca. 250 A.D.The Long Count Calendar
and hieroglyphic writing are in use in the lowlands, where the exploits of the
ruling classes begin to be recorded permanently on stone.
ca. 260 A.D.The eruption of the Ilopango
volcano in the southwestern highlands disrupts the major centers, displaces
populations, and upsets trade networks. The region begins a slow decline; Kaminaljuy
gradually loses status and authority. Large stone sculpture is no longer made.
ca. 292 A.D.Stela 29 at Tikal bears
a date of 184.108.40.206.15 (July 8, 292 A.D.)the first Long Count date in the lowlandsand
an ornately accoutered profile figure that may represent the sixth or seventh
dynastic ruler Foliated Jaguar.
ca. 350 A.D.Peoples in the Cop valley
in the southeast Maya area (now in Honduras) build plastered masonry structures
in a regional Maya style and trade with the southern highlands.
ca. 378 A.D.The ninth recorded ruler
of Tikal, Chak Toh Ich'ak I (Great Jaguar Claw), dies on the day a foreign warrior
named K'ak Sih (Fire-Born)thought to be from Teotihuacanarrives. The subsequent
Tikal ruler, Yax Ain I (First Crocodile), has strong ties to Teotihuacan and
there is much Teotihuacan presence at Tikal.
ca. 400 A.D.At Kaminaljuy Teotihuacan
presence is noted in the talud-tablero architectural profile and in cylindrical
tripod vessels. The tripods are among the sumptuary goods in major tombs that
also include materials such as jade earflares, pendants, and strings of beads.
Cylindrical tripod vessels and other Teotihuacan ceramic forms are produced
in the Tiquisate region of coastal Guatemala.
ca. 431 A.D.The first dynastic ruler
of Palenque in the hills of southern Mexico, K'uk' Balam I (Jaguar Quetzal),
accedes to power on 220.127.116.11.4 (March 11, 431 A.D.). The dynasty retains control
until sometime after 799 A.D.
ca. 435 A.D.An important period of
400 years of approximately 360 Long Count days, known as baktun, ends at 18.104.22.168.0
(December 11, 435 A.D.). At Cop, the dynasty of Yax K'uk Mo' begins, an event
marked by the erection of major buildings in the city's Principal Group. Fifteen
recorded rulers succeed Yax K'uk Mo'.
ca. 445 A.D.Tikal ruler Siyaj Chan
K'awiil (Stormy Sky) erects a monument, Stela 31, which shows him in abundant
ritual paraphernalia. A finely carved hieroglyphic text with the early history
of Tikal's royal lineage is on the back.
ca. 475 A.D.Powerful and belligerent,
the cities of Tikal, Caracol, and Calakmul dominate the Pet. Naranjo, a smaller
neighbor, begins to produce fine ceramic vessels.
ca. 484 A.D.An extensive network of
raised causeways emanates from Caracol. The causeways will be used for many
hundreds of years.
In the seventh century, the central and northern Maya lowlands experience
substantial population growth. Hundreds of settlements, large and small, fill
a region stretching from Palenque in the west to Altun Hin the east, and from
Uxmal in the north to Cop in the south. More than sixty kingdoms, each ruled
by a k'uhul ajaw ("divine lord"), compete for control of land, raw materials,
and trade routes. Their intense political and economic rivalry is also apparent
in the unprecedented profusion of artistic production and diversity of styles.
Early in the ninth century, the dynasties of the central region begin to collapse,
population levels decline sharply, and most centers are abandoned by about 900
A.D., never to be substantially reoccupied. The northern centers are unaffected
by these events and continue to flourish.
ca. 504A major expansion of Cop's
ceremonial center, the Acropolis complex, is undertaken by Waterlily Jaguar,
the seventh dynastic ruler of the southeastern Maya city.
ca. 562Tikal ruler Wak Chan K'awiil (Double
Bird) is taken captive, apparently by the ruler of Calakmul. His capture begins
a period of decline at Tikal that lasts more than a hundred years, during which
no major construction is carried out nor dated monuments erected. Calakmul is
the most powerful kingdom in the central area.
ca. 600On the Yucat Peninsula, three
distinct architectural and ceramic traditions are established and flourish for
the next 300 years: R Bec, Chenes, and Puuk. Hieroglyphic inscriptions and
dates are rare in Yucat.
At Cotzumalhuapa on the Pacific coast of Guatemala, a Mexicanized culture
produces many finely carved stone monuments featuring ballgame rituals played
by humans and supernatural beings.
ca. 615At Palenque in the west, K'inich
Janaab' Pakal I (Sun Shield) becomes ruler on 22.214.171.124.8 (July 26, 615 A.D.)
at the age of twelve. Ruling for sixty-eight years, he aggrandizes the site
with impressively planned and elegantly decorated buildings such as the Palace
and the Temple of the Inscriptions.
ca. 636The fifty-year reign of Yuknoom
Ch'een II (Yuknoom the Great) at Calakmul brings new construction of palace
compounds, and the dedication of eighteen stone monuments, or stelae.
ca. 692At Palenque, three related temples
known as the Cross Group are dedicated. Carved limestone panels with a unified
imagery are placed on the inner walls of the shrines. Images and hieroglyphic
texts include mythic and historic subjects.
ca. 695Artistic and literary traditions
are revived at Tikal after Jasaw Chan K'awiil (Ruler A) defeats the king of
Calakmul. Later in his reign, Great Temples 1 and 2 are built on the east and
west sides of the Great Plaza in front of the North Acropolis.
Waxaklajuun Ub'aah K'awiil (18 Rabbit) of Cop becomes ruler on 126.96.36.199.8
(July 6, 695 A.D.). A prolific builder, he commissions the initial Hieroglyphic
Stairway, remodels the Ballcourt, and has seven stelae erected between 711 and
731. Carved almost in the round, they depict him as the all-powerful k'uhul
ajaw ("divine lord") covered with a proliferation of royal and supernatural
ca. 700Jaina, a small island off the
coast of Campeche, is used as a necropolis. The burials contain hundreds of
small ceramic figures. Both hand-modeled and mold-made, the small sculptures
are produced in a variety of colorful images.
ca. 734Jasaw Chan K'awiil (Ruler A) dies
at Tikal and is buried beneath Temple 1 on the Great Plaza. He is laid out on
jaguar skin, arrayed in much fine jade jewelry, and accompanied by objects of
shell, pearl, and bone. Numerous painted ceramic vessels are present.
ca. 738Cop's ruler, 18 Rabbit, is taken
captive on 188.8.131.52.16 (May 3, 738 A.D.) and decapitated by ruler K'ak' Tiliw
Chan Yoaat (Fire-burning Sky Lightning God) of Quiriguin the Motagua valley.
The victor will erect three of the tallest stelaeapproximately twenty-four
feetever put up by the Maya.
ca. 750Several Puuk-style buildings are
begun at Chich Itzin northern Yucat. The Sacred Well, a large natural
sink-hole some eighty feet deep, is used as a repository for offerings.
ca. 790Well-preserved unfinished polychrome
wall paintings at Bonampak in the central lowlands depict a battle scene, the
dispatching of prisoners witnessed by Chan Muwan, king of Bonampak, and victory
ca. 800Conflict between neighboring cities
in the central area increases, trade declines, and long-standing alliances break
up, leading to the abandonment of many cities. Some larger centers persevere
for a time.
Coba, in northeastern Yucat, sprawls across more than twelve square miles,
its architecture designed and built using southern Pet-style methods. The
central urban core includes several temple pyramids, two ballcourts, over thirty
carved stelae, and a network of sixteen elevated causeways (sakbe), some of
which extend outwards as much as forty miles.
ca. 849Five stelae are erected at Seibal
on the Pasi River recording the katunending 10.1.0.0.0 (December 1, 849 A.D.).
Details of the imagery and the calendric glyphs on the stelae are carved in
a foreign, non-Maya style.
ca. 850Uxmal becomes the capital of a
large state in the Puuk hills region of northern Yucat which lasts about a
hundred years. Uxmal is connected by causeways (sakbe) to other important Puuk
sites, such as K'abah, Sayil, and Labna.
ca. 869The last stela is erected in Tikal
by Jasaw Chan K'awiil II in the Great Plaza. Subsequently the city is deserted
and taken over by squatters.
ca. 900The construction of the House
of the Governor and the Nunnery Quadrangle are commissioned by Lord Chak at
Dedicated by an unidentified ruler on 10.4.0.0.0 (January 15, 909 A.D.),
Monument 101 at Toninis the last monument inscribed with a Long Count date
in the entire Maya area. Toninis located south of Palenque in the hills of
ca. 1000Chich Itzrules over most
of northern and western Yucat.
The collapse of the dynastic Maya city-states in the central region during
the tenth century creates a political vacuum. The northern and southern regions
remain more viable, but they are strongly influenced by central Mexican peoples.
In Yucatan, Chich Itzfalls, to be replaced by Mayapan as the dominant center.
In the Guatemalan highlands in the south, the K'iche', a warrior people from
the Mexican Gulf Coast, establish a modest empire. Art is produced primarily
for deity worship and religious ritual rather than for use by divine rulers.
Warriors and gods, both local and Mexican, are frequent themes. Only a few dated
monuments are erected.
ca. 1000In the formerly dynamic central
region of the southern lowlands, dramatically diminished populations are clustered
in small settlements largely in riverine, coastal, and lake-side areas maintaining
close trade relations with sites to the north.
ca. 1100Construction activity at Chich
Itzceases, the population decreases, and the city falls into decline. Mayapan
ca. 1150At Chich Itz a treasure in
gold, jadeite, wood, shell, and bone objects is cast into the Sacred Well.
ca. 1200At Lamanai in northern Belize,
elite burials contain gold and copper objects from Oaxaca, West Mexico, and
the Veraguas region of Panama in addition to quantities of local and Yucatec
ca. 1250Mayapan is the political capital
of a confederation of provinces in northwestern Yucatan. With about 12,000 inhabitants,
the city covers some two square miles and is surrounded by a defensive wall
over five miles long. Its architecture features pyramids, temples, and palaces
showing strong central Mexican ties.
Chich Itzis largely abandoned. Pilgrims continue to come to the site
to worship Maya deities. They offer large quantities of ceramics, copal incense,
and occasionally jade ornaments to the Sacred Well.
ca. 1300Numerous small, mostly coastal
communities and city-states with modest, crudely built pyramids, temples, shrines,
and residential structures exist in northern Yucatan and eastern Quintana Roo.
Among the larger regional centers are San Fernando, El Meco, and Chetumal.
ca. 1350Polychrome frescoes on the walls
of two buildings at the fortified city of Tulum on the Caribbean coast of Yucatan
are painted in hybrid Maya-Puebla-Mixteca style.
ca. 1400Screenfold books (manuscripts
called codices) are painted by a priestly elite on fig-bark paper. They portray
deities of the Maya pantheon and include tablets of astronomical or calendrical
information. While many such books were made, only four survive today.
Cultures in Central America develop a system of social organization in many
respects distinct from the pattern seen in Mesoamerica. Geographic diversity
in this area encourages broader cultural heterogeneity, most visible in varied
ceramic traditions. Greenstonesincluding high-quality jadeitebecome status
markers in some areas, particularly the Greater Nicoya region of Costa Rica,
after 500 B.C. Evidence in the form of reworked Olmec jades suggests some contact
with cultures to the north.
ca. 800 B.C.The village of La Mula-Sarigua
on Parita Bay in central Panama becomes a regional center. The greater presence
of metates (grinding tables) and manos (grinding stones) indicates the increased
availability of corn as a food crop.
ca. 500 B.C.Budares (flat griddles),
used in the processing of bitter manioc for food, are present at the site of
La Montana in the Turrialba valley of Costa Rica.
A jadeite pendant in the form of a celt with a bird-head top is placed in
a bundle burial on the shores of the Gulf of Nicoya in Costa Rica. The bird-headed
celt form will be used for pendants in northern and central Costa Rica for many
ca. 300 B.C.An identifiable ceramic
type, known for its distinctive, incised surface patterning, is placed in burials
in Greater Nicoya, a region that encompasses southern Nicaragua and northwestern
ca. 200 B.C.Small villages are present
in Greater Chiriqu a region including southern Costa Rica and northern Panama.
ca. 100 B.C.Semiprecious green-colored
stones, frequently jadeite, are worked into personal ornaments in northern and
central Costa Rica. Primarily pendants to be worn suspended about the neck,
the jades are much revered and many are used as funerary offerings.
The population of Costa Rica's Central Highlands and Atlantic Watershed increases.
Mortuary offerings include carefully sculpted stone objects.
Cultural development continues along patterns laid down in prior centuries.
Jade and greenstone production increases considerably. Intricately carved metates,
grinding tables for the processing of maize, are included in elite burials and
perhaps used as thrones. Other forms of monumental sculpture occur at the Panamanian
site of Barriles, a sculptural tradition that influences southern Costa Rica.
Metallurgy, focusing on the use of gold and copper, is introduced from northern
Colombia perhaps as early as the third century, and it moves steadily northward
ca. 1 A.D.Well-made sculptural ceramics
with incised details, known as Zoned Bichrome, are present throughout much of
Greater Nicoya (southwestern Nicaragua/northwestern Costa Rica).
ca. 100 A.D.Many objects of jade are
placed as offerings in burials at the large cemetery of La Huacas on the Nicoya
Peninsula of Costa Rica.
Elaborate three-legged metates (grinding tables), carved from single blocks
of stone, are used as ceremonial/funerary objects. Formal variation exists between
the metates of Greater Nicoya and those of the Atlantic Watershed of eastern
Costa Rica. In burials, the metates are often placed together with carved stone
mace heads and pendants of jade.
ca. 250 A.D.An important personage
in Costa Rica's central highlands at Talamanca de Tib dies and is laid to
rest stretched out along the tops of three carved stone metates. The mortuary
offerings include three mace heads and two large jade pendants, one an heirloom
of Mexican manufacture of Olmec date.
ca. 300 A.D.Mortuary offerings in
burials in the TonosValley of Panama's Azuero Peninsula begin to include ceramic
vessels with bright polychrome surfaces and personal ornaments of carved shell
Rectangular houses with foundations of river cobbles are used at the site
of Severo Ledesma in the eastern lowlands of Costa Rica. Burials and caches
are placed beneath the floors.
ca. 400 A.D.The Diqu region of southern
Costa Rica's Greater Chiriquincreases in population, and stone sculpture in
the form of human figures is made.
Barriles, a regional center in the Greater Chiriquregion of Panama, begins
to flourish. Human images appear in stone sculpture.
ca. 450 A.D.Pendants and other ornaments
of goldthe technology of goldworking is considered to have come from Colombia
to the southare among the mortuary goods present at the community of El Indio
on the Azuero Peninsula of central Panama.
In the Diqu region of southern Costa Rica, stone spheres, some measuring
up to seven feet in diameter, are carved and set on platforms of cobbles. Some
are grouped in alignments, perhaps of astronomical significance, and/or placed
in the vicinity of cemeteries. Their meaning is unknown.
Permanent settlements increase in number and size, probably the result of
greater contact with peoples from the northMesoamericaand the southColombia
in northern South America. Trade and communication networks appear to be well
established. Impressive quantities of luxury goods in elite burials indicate
growing distinctions of social class, with a concentration of valued objects
in fewer hands. Several new polychrome ceramic styles appear. Jade and greenstone
carvings, important status markers for over a thousand years in north-central
Costa Rica, cease to be made, and gold, abundant in alluvial deposits in the
region's rivers, becomes the preferred material for the manufacture of prestige
ca. 500Goldworking is fully established
in the region and gold objects remain locally significant until the coming of
Europeans in the mid-sixteenth century.
Polychrome ceramic traditions begin to blossom in many regions of both Costa
Rica and Panama. Bowls, jars, ollas, and figurines are colored in vivid yellows,
reds, oranges, maroons, and blacks.
ca. 550 A.D.The populations of the islands
of the Greater AntillesJamaica, Puerto Rico, Hispaniola, and Cubaare increasing.
The islands have been inhabited by people who centuries, perhaps millennia,
earlier migrated from various mainland locations in Mexico and northern South
ca. 600Improved stone carving techniques
lead to extraordinary detail on Costa Rican effigy metates (grinding tables).
Complex human, animal, and composite beings, often part of multifigure scenes,
embellish the stone "tables." The metates go out of favor by about 900 A.D.
The boldly drawn Conte polychrome ceramics of central Panama feature creatures
that may relate to myths, shamanism, or cosmology.
Worked jade from the Maya area is traded to Costa Rica, where it is recarved.
ca. 700A shift in house shape away from
the preferred rectangular plan to circular dwellings, as seen in the site of
La Frica in the central highlands of Costa Rica, is thought to be evidence
of contact with Colombia to the south.
Along Panama's Parita River, an important cemetery comes into use at a center
today known as El Hatillo. Many spectacular gold objectsembossed plaques, flange-footed
frogs, bat- and saurian-human figure pendantscome from its burials.
ca. 750A powerful chief dies and is buried
at Sitio Conte on the banks of R Grande de Coclin central Panama. The chief
is laid to rest with twenty-two sacrificed companions and a wealth of gold finery,
including large pectoral plaques embossed with sacred images. It is the richest
Precolumbian tomb documented for Central America.
ca. 800In central and eastern Costa Rica,
freestanding stone sculptures of warriors, some reaching five feet in height,
and masked human figures are placed around ceremonial spaces at important sites
such as Las Mercedes and Guayabo de Turrialba in the Atlantic Watershed.
In Greater Nicoya, a shift of population toward the coast takes place, possibly
for greater exploitation of marine resources.
Regionally distinct ceramic traditions begin to take shape in the Greater
ca. 900Polychrome ceramics continue in
popularity. Some styles in northern Costa Rica have Maya-type images.
ca. 950In the Atlantic Watershed of Costa
Rica, several centers flourish that share similar architectural features, among
them Guayabo de Turrialba and Las Mercedes. At Guayabo, there are over forty
circular mounds as well as three aqueducts, two plazas, and one causeway. The
circular plans of house mounds and foundations indicate relationships to some
ca. 1000Metalworkers in the Chiriqu
region of southern Costa Rica and adjacent western Panama produce large numbers
of spectacular gold ornaments, primarily pendants, among them frog and turtle
depictions, as well as bat- and crocodile-headed figures.
Settlements in the region remain small; certain strong leaders or chiefs
organize alliances that bring several centers together for brief periods. The
architecture continues to consist largely of buildings with river cobble foundations
and retaining walls. Lashed cane covered with adobe make up the rest of the
structures. In Costa Rica, stone sculpture takes on three-dimensional human
form, gaining prominence over functional forms such as metates, probably the
result of changes in ritual activity. While the quality and quantity of ceramic
manufacture generally diminish except for some elite wares, production of fine
gold objects is at a peak. The Taino people, one of the groups inhabiting the
islands of the Greater Antilles, create works of great individuality in a variety
ca. 1000Figurative motifs that decorate
earlier polychrome ceramics in Panama are replaced by increasingly abstract
and geometric designs.
ca. 1050Ornately carved ceremonial metates,
important ritual/funerary objects in northern and central Costa Rica for at
least the past thousand years, are produced only in limited numbers. Those made
in the Atlantic Watershed are often round and feature atlantean figures.
ca. 1100Sitio Conte, a major burial ground
in central Panama for about 700 years, is no longer used as an elite cemetery.
ca. 1150A new, technically accomplished
ceramic ware, known as TarragBiscuit, is made in the Diqu region of southern
Costa Rica. The thin-walled, buff-colored vessels of simple yet elegant shape
or various animal forms have smooth, unpolished surfaces.
ca. 1200Ceramic vessels of the Guanacaste-Nicoya
region that earlier had Maya-style images now have white-slipped surfaces with
Mexican design elements outlined in black.
ca. 1250Highly stylized, almost two-dimensional
stone figures from the Diqu area show strong affinities to Colombian forms
in South America.
ca. 1300The Taino of the Greater Antilles
islands in the Caribbean make ritual objects of wood, stone, and shell for use
in ceremonies that include the taking of hallucinogenic snuff, or cohoba. Plazas
and ballcourts are built and used in communal ritual activities.
ca. 1350At Palmar Sur in the Diqu region,
an important chief is entombed with eighty-eight gold ornaments; some appear
to have been specifically made for burial.
ca. 1400In central and eastern Costa
Rica, thousands of small, seated human figures, known as sukias, are produced.
Typically holding tubes, perhaps flutes, to their mouths, they may have been
used in domestic contexts.
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