Lecture 1. Mesoamerica: A Place Apart

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Carolyn Tate

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Shaping Place in Mesoamerica

This lecture introduces Mesoamerica, one of the six places in the world in which “civilization” developed independently of outside contact. It was home to North America’s towering pyramids and to the great civilizations of the Aztec, Maya, and other remarkable culture groups. Because life in Mesoamerica was closely linked to the cultivation of maize (corn), the geographical extent of this cultural area corresponds to the region in which farmers could produce reliable harvests. This region began to the south of the arid northern zone of Mexico at about 22 degrees North and stretched throughout the central and southern portions of Mexico, all of Guatemala and Belize, and into Honduras and El Salvador. Although this region was diverse geographically, linguistically, and ethnically, its inhabitants shared important cultural practices such as a calendar, technologies of mathematics and astronomy, spiritual principles, and methods of constructing houses and masonry architecture. Units: 1. Geography and climate 2. Major culture areas 3. Major chronological periods 4. Major foods and animals of Mesoamerica 5. We will be using the eight principles listed above to consider each city we explore and as a means of comparison to others: 1) style and proportion; 2) special landscape features; 3) axes of orientation; 4) units of measurement; 5) Monumental art works that convey messages; 6) subterranean caches; 7) superimposed buildings; 8) replication of primordial landscapes.

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