Pre-Columbian Civilizations

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Long before any white man ever set foot in this hemisphere, there were fully functional and highly developed societies here. These civilizations were sophisticated, could even be considered more advanced than the European nations at the time. While the rest of the Eastern world was in the dark Middle Ages, the people here were flourishing. The Aztecs were the Native American people who dominated northern México at the time of the Spanish conquest led by Hernan CORTES in the early 16th century. According to their own legends, they originated from a place called Aztlan, somewhere in north or northwest Mexico. At that time the Aztecs (who referred to themselves as the Mexica or Tenochca) were a small, nomadic, Nahuatl-speaking aggregation of tribal peoples living on the margins of civilized Mesoamerica. Sometime in the 12th century they embarked on a period of wandering and in the 13th century settled in the central basin of México (Encarta). Continually dislodged by the small city-states that fought one another in shifting alliances, the Aztecs finally found refuge on small islands in Lake Texcoco where, in 1325, they founded the town of Tenochtitlan (modern-day Mexico City). Fearless warriors and pragmatic builders, the Aztecs created an empire during the 15th century that was surpassed in size in the Americas only by that of the Incas in Peru. As early texts and modern archaeology continue to reveal, beyond their conquests and many of their religious practices, there were many positive achievements such as the formation of a highly specialized and stratified society and an imperial administration, the expansion of a trading network as well as a tribute system, and the development and maintenance of a sophisticated agricultural economy, carefully adjusted to the land (Mexico). The Aztecs were very religious and their entire culture revolved around their beliefs. The leader of the Aztec empire was called the tlatoani. He was considered to be a divine descendant of the gods. They built large pyramids and built temples on top of them to worship their many gods. In these temples they would even have human sacrifices. They believed they had to keep the good gods strong and happy, in order for them to prevent the evil gods from destroying the empire. "It is believed that in 1487 there were more than 80,000 human sacrifices to appease the gods (Mexico)." Another pre-Columbian civilization that existed in that era was the Maya civilization. They ruled a large part of Central and South America from approximately the years 300 – 900. The Maya were also a farming society like the Aztecs. They too, worshiped many gods, whom they felt were responsible for their survival. Gods of rain, wind, and sun were among the ones most worshiped. Mayan leaders went to war to try and capture the ruler of another city. If they did they would sacrifice the prisoner, again much like the Aztecs (Mexico).

The Mayans created many things to affect the world. They created a 365 day calendar. They also made great strides in mathematics and astronomy. They used the number zero, which was very advanced for their time period. The astronomers were able to tell what day of the week a date would fall on in future years (Encarta). And they were able to calculate the length of years of other planets with remarkable precision given the instruments they had to work with (Mexico). Contrary to popular belief, the Mayan civilization was not one unified empire, but rather a multitude of separate entities with a common cultural background. Similar to the Greeks, they were religiously and artistically a nation, but politically sovereign states. As many as twenty such states existed on the Yucatan Peninsula, but although a woman has, on rare occasions, ascended to the ruling position, she has never acquired the title of 'mah kina' (one of the highest titles that can be achieved)(Encarta).

Music was central to both these and other Pre Columbian cultures as a form of...
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