Great Civilizations in the Americas Major Indian Civilizations – Some archaeologists and anthropologists use the term “nuclear” America. “Nuclear,” a common misconception among most individuals including weapons of mass destruction, what is truly intended for the meaning is the ancient cultural centers of America. The term nuclear America refers to the areas of the three great Indian civilizations – the Maya, the Aztec, and the Inca. Nuclear America included two areas. One area was in the part of Middle America that today makes up the southern half of Mexico and northern Central America. The other area covered most of the Andes Mountains on the west coast of South America. Find the two areas on the map.
The Maya – The Maya once ruled the lands in Middle America now make up the Yucatan Peninsula, Guatemala, Belize, and the western parts of Honduras and El Salvador. The earliest traces of a Maya village have been dated at 2500 BC By around AD 250, the Maya had created a civilization with cities and temples as well as active trade and productive farms in the rain forests of the tropical lowlands. The Aztecs – The Aztecs first settled in the area of Middle America that is now Mexico City about AD 1200, a little over 300 years before the Spanish conquest. They built a great city called Tenochtitlan and carried on active trade with the Maya and other Indian groups. Aztec agriculture supported a very large population.
The Aztecs had huge armies that conducted wars of conquest. The Incas – The largest and richest empire in nuclear America was created by the Incas in the fifteenth century. An empire is all the territories and people under the control of a powerful nation. The Inca Empire extended from the southern part of the present South American country of Colombia to northern Chile and Argentina, a distance of over 3,000 miles (4,827 km). That empire included the entire central part of the Andes region and the nearby coastal parts of Peru.
The ancient Maya people were a group of Native Americans who primarily in Central America. Their civilization thrived in the jungles of this region from 300 – 900 AD. Protected by rough landscape and heavy vegetation, the ruins of few Maya cities were known before the 19th century. Since that time, archaeologists have been able to learn a great deal about these people. Around 900 AD the Maya seem to have abandoned most of their cities and returned to simpler lives. Archaeologists are not certain why this happened. They have a number of theories. Perhaps their world was disrupted by warfare with the Toltecs. Perhaps there were prolonged droughts or over-farming of the land, which resulted in crop failure. Overpopulation, disease and natural disasters could also have played a droughts or over-farming of the land, which resulted in crop failure.
Overpopulation, disease and natural disasters could also have played a role in the collapse of the Mayan empire. The Maya developed a system of pictures and symbols to record their history. These writings are known as hieroglyphic inscriptions. For the most part they were carved into stones, but the Maya also wrote books. The books were made of folded pieces of paper made from the bark of the wild fig tree.
Very few of these books have survived. Most of the surviving records of Maya writings can be found on stelae. These are stone slabs that would be placed around the cities. In the Maya civilization, only the rulers and specially trained scribes could read and write. They would record the lives and deeds of rulers and nobles. They would also record the positions of the heavenly bodies, particularly the moon, Venus and Jupiter.
Elaborate hieroglyphics would also be found on pottery and buildings. The Maya would record their mythology, and keep track of rituals and offerings that took place that year. In addition, the history of the kings was also inscribed. It has taken many years for archaeologists to discover the meaning of their writings. There is still more to learn.
The Maya are most remembered for their contributions in math and science. They developed a calendar system based on the observations of the earth’s relationship to the sun with amazing accuracy. In fact, it is more accurate than the calendar we use today. They kept track of the solar and lunar years and the cycles of the visible planets. They were able to calculate the summer and winter equinox.
They determined the spring planting and fall harvest time from their observations of the earth’s rotation around the sun. Astronomers studied the heavenly bodies, charting the movement of planets and other heavenly bodies. The Maya had a number system which used a base 20. Numbers were written with dots for ones and bars for fives. They would write their numbers vertically rather than horizontally. Their number system also used a placeholder that functioned like zero, which allowed them to calculate enormous sums.
They were the first civilization to use a placeholder for zero. The zero looked somewhat like a football. The Maya were a deeply religious people. They believed in many gods. All events centered around their religious beliefs. They wanted to stay in favor with the gods.
In their belief system, the gods would bring the rain, heal the sick, bring plentiful harvests, and ensure the health and safety of the people if they were honored. If the gods were angry, they would send drought, famine and disaster to the people. In order to keep the gods happy, they believed that a daily sacrifice of blood was necessary. Blood was voluntarily offered by community members. They would open a wound and let the blood drip onto a paper.
The paper would then be burned in an offering to the gods. It was believed that the priests could see the spirits in the smoke. Kings would also give blood offerings. These, of course, were considered very sacred offerings and would please the gods. There are some records which suggest that human sacrifice was occasionally practiced. The Maya had a strong belief in the afterlife.
When a king or nobleman died, the Maya people believed that he became one with the gods and would go to live in the sky with them. The Maya worshiped their ancestors and therefore worshiped the gods. Like many early peoples, the Maya believed that death was a journey to another life. Therefore the dead were buried with food, tools, clothing, and whatever would be needed for their journey. Magnificent tombs were built to bury their rulers, and sacrifices and special funeral rituals were performed there. The commoners lived in simple stone platform homes that were covered by a thatch roof.
Generally, the homes were one room huts which were built outside the city. The kings and priests would occupy more important dwellings within the city. Great temples and monuments were built of stone. The Maya would scout the jungle, bringing back heavy stones to carve for these buildings. They had no wheels to transport these heavy stones.
They would tend to build buildings on top of each other. When one would collapse, or was determined to not be useful anymore, the Maya would cover the building with stone and build on top of it. They had great columns and palaces with private patios. Temples were built on the top of many steep steps, whose shape looked a lot like pyramids. They also constructed domed buildings which they used as observatories, to observe the heavenly bodies.
Sculptures and paintings have been found among the ruins left by the Maya. They recorded important events of the people. They show scenes of bloodletting, warfare and play in a bal …