THE AMERICAS

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THE AMERICAS

PRE-COLUMBIAN EMPIRES TO
COLONIES
INTRODUCTION

While complex civilizations were
emerging in Asia, Africa, and Europe,
equally striking developments had
occurred in the Americas
The “encounter” of Europeans with the
peoples of the Americas brought the
major civilizations of the world
together for the first time and had a
profound impact on all peoples
THE BIG QUESTIONS

What were the major
characteristics of the Maya, Inca,
and Aztec civilizations?
How did the voyages of
Christopher Columbus forever
change the world?
THE FIRST AMERICANS

The earliest humans in the Americas are
believed to have migrated from Asia across
a land bridge that was exposed during the
last Ice Age
From Alaska, the earliest Americans spread
southwards throughout North and South
America
Separate languages and cultures developed
EARLY MIGRATION

GROWTH OF CIVILIZATIONS
“Native Americans” experienced their own Neolithic
Revolution (grew maize [corn], squash, and beans –
the “three sisters”)
Several complex civilizations emerged in
Mesoamerica (called pre-Columbian civilizations,
because they existed before the arrival of Columbus)
These did not emerge in river valley, but in warm and
humid rain forests
Supported by farming corn (a crop unknown to
peoples of Africa, Asia, and Europe) and used
creative farming techniques adapted to their
environments

THE MAYA (1500 B.C. – 1546 A.D.)

The earliest civilizations in Meso-America were the
Olmec and Toltecs
The Maya created a complex civilization over 3.000
years ago in present-day Guatemala
Each city had its own chief ruler (considered halfman and half-god)
Engaged in frequent warfare
Practiced human sacrifice (developed a ball game
that became popular throughout the Americas)
MAYAN CIVILIZATION
MAYAN SOCIETY

King – considered half-man
and half-god
Nobility – a small hereditary
class who performed sacred
ceremonies and assisted
rulers (astronomers/scribes)
Craftsmen – made luxuries
for nobles
Peasant farmers – laborers
who grew corn and lived in
thatched huts
KING
NOBILITY
CRAFTSMEN
PEASANTS
MAYAN ACHIEVEMENTS

BUILDERS – built huge cities, large palaces,
temples, and pyramids
WRITING SYSTEM – hieroglyphics (picture
symbols)
MATH AND SCIENCE – complex number
system, used zero, 365 day
calendar
ARTISTRY – painted
colorful mural, invented
popular ball game
DECLINE OF MAYAN
CIVILIZATION

Around the 9th century, experienced a great
crisis (possibly food shortage, epidemic, or
great war)
Mayans migrated northward to Yucatan
Peninsula (in present-day Mexico) and built
new city-states
Constant warfare from 13th to 16th centuries
and pressures from neighboring wandering
peoples, led to the final decline
MAYAN
POTTERY
MAYAN
CALENDAR
HIEROGLYPHS
THE AZTECS (1200 – 1521)
Created by an alliance of several local peoples of the
high valley in Mexico 
Created the city of Tenochtitlan
An island in the center of the Valley of Mexico
Grew crops in “floating gardens” in wet marshy
land
Engaged in frequent warfare to conquer other
people in the region
Made careful observations of the sky and aligned
their temples based on the movements of the sun
and moon and developed an accurate calendar.
AZTEC SOCIETY

Emperor – all-powerful
Nobility – held high positions
in the government, army, or
priesthood
Commoners – farmers,
fishermen, craftsmen,
warriors
Slaves – prisoners of war
(laborers)
EMPEROR
NOBILITY
COMMONERS
SLAVES
AZTEC CULTURE

 Worshipped many gods (most important was Sun God)
 Constructed calendars of stone based on observations of the
sky
 Believed Sun God needed human blood to continue daily
journeys across the sky
 Practiced human sacrifice on a massive scale (used
prisoners of war and others who volunteered for the honor)
 Believed it was necessary to keep universe in motion
AZTEC ART
HUMAN
SACRIFICE OF
THE AZTECS
AZTEC GOD
QUETZALCOATL
AZTEC CIVILIZATION
THE INCA EMPIRE (1200-1535)

 Developed along the Pacific coast and in the Andes
Mountains of South America
 Terraced mountains (grew potatoes and other root
crops)
 Kept llamas and alpacas for their meat and wool and
to carry goods
 Incas built upon these achievements, and around
1400, began extending their rule across the Andes
INCA ACHIEVEMENTS

Built stone roads (over 10 thousand miles) to unite
the distant corners of their empire
Preserved food and kept in storehouses
Never developed the wheel or writing
Instead of writing, used the quipu (bundles of
knotted and colored ropes) to count and keep
records and send messages
Constructed stone buildings (fit together perfectly
with no cement)
MACHU PICHU
QUIPU
LLAMAS USED AS
PACK ANIMALS
INCA
CIVILIZATION
SUMMARY OF PRE-COLUMBIAN
MESO-AMERICA

 HIGHLY DEVELOPED CULTURE AND SOCIETIES
 Artists made stone sculptures to decorate temples and palaces
 Made ceramic bowls carved with human and animal forms for
religious ceremonies
 GENDER ROLES
 Established at birth
 Boys were given a machete by their fathers to establish their
masculine role and were taught crafts
 Girls received a stone instrument for grinding maize and were
taught to cook
 Women harvested grain, prepared food, cared for animals,
bore children, made flour, and could hold jobs outside the
home (artisans, priestesses, merchants)
LEFT SIDE ACTIVITY
 CREATE A COMPARISON CHART SUMMARIZING
THE ACHIEVEMENTS OF THE MAYA, AZTEC, AND
INCA

PRE-COLUMBIAN
CIVILIZATIONS
MAYAS
AZTECS
INCAS
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