Thursday, June 29, 2017

The Empires of Mexico and Peru & The earliest Americans

The earliest Americans. The first people in the Americas lived by hunting and gathering. Gradually, a new way of life emerged farming. In what are now the United States and Canada, many different cultures and societies thrived. The cultures of these peoples often depended on the geography of the region they inhabited. In the dry, desert-like conditions of the Southwest, for example, farmers lived in permanent settlements made up of communal houses, rather like apartment buildings, built out of adobe a sun-dried brick. On the northwest coast of North America, on the other hand, people relied primarily on fishing and carved great totem poles with their family histories from the enormous trees that forested the region. On the Great Plains, tribal peoples survived by hunting buffalo, following the herds wherever they went. More sophisticated cultures developed in the diverse environment of the Eastern Woodlands. The Hopewell Culture, for example, left many mounds, presumably burial sites, as well as the foundations of buildings, which archaeologists have recently uncovered.

The empires of Mexico and Peru. In Central and South America a variety of cultures also developed. Early cultures in Mesoamerica included the Olmecs in Mexico and the Maya in the Yucatan Peninsula. The Maya were farmers who were also skilled architects and engineers. They built steep pyramid-shaped temples to their gods and invented the only writing system in the Americas. Despite the brilliance of their civilization, however, which was scattered among many city-states throughout the Yucatan region and into present-day El Salvador, about A.D. 900 they suddenly abandoned their ceremonial centers.

Meanwhile, further north, other civilizations had also developed in central Mexico. About A.D. 650 a people called the Toltec invaded central Mexico from the north. Ruled by a military class, the Toltec soon spread their influence as far south as the Yucatan. Around 1200 A.D. other peoples from the north also invaded central Mexico. One of these peoples, the Aztecs, soon emerged as the strongest. The Aztecs incorporated into their culture the inventions of peoples they conquered or with whom they traded. They also made and acquired the use of the calendar and mathematics. To sustain their gods, they practiced human sacrifice.

At about the same time that Aztec civilization was at its height, another civilization was expanding in the Andes Mountains of South America. These people  the Inca based their religion on worship of the Sun and moon. Their name meant “children of the Sun." By the late 1400s, the Inca Empire extended along most of the west coast of South America and far into the Andes, covering much of the present-day nations of Peru, Ecuador, Bolivia, and Chile. The Inca built fortresses and irrigation systems and laid roads, many of them paved. The rulers of the empire prevented local famines by maintaining storehouses and distributing food supplies when crops failed. After conquering their neighbors, the Inca sought to eliminate regional diversity in their empire. They established an educational system, particularly for the children of the nobility, that taught the imperial language, Inca religion, and history. Although the Inca did nof have a writing system, they kept records by means of the quipu, a kind of knotted string used to assist the memory. They were also quite advanced in the practice of medicine, using anesthetics and even performing operations on the brain.

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