Glce: 4 Compare and evaluate competing historical perspectives about the past based on proof. 2

Download 21.54 Kb.
Size21.54 Kb.

Lesson 2
Title: Early Civilizations Lesson 2, Comparing the Maya and Aztecs. (*If you have already covered South America, you may wish to include the Inca as well)

Grade Level: 6
Unit of Study: Mexico

H1.2.4 Compare and evaluate competing historical perspectives about the past based on proof.

W1.2.2 Describe the importance of the natural environment in the development of agricultural settlements in different locations (e.g., available water for irrigation, adequate precipitation, and suitable growing season).

W2.1.1 Explain how the environment favored hunter gatherer, pastoral, and small scale agricultural ways of life in different parts of the Western Hemisphere.
Key Concepts:

Early cultures (Olmec, Maya, Aztecs, Inca) had civilized characteristics such as government, written language, religion, technology, etc., defining them as civilized.

Sequence of Activities:

  1. Divide students into groups. Assign each group 2 ancient civilizations (Aztec, Maya, Inca*, Olmec if desired). Students will create a Venn Diagram comparing and contrasting the 2 groups they were assigned. After each group has completed their Venn Diagram, the entire class can work together to create a class Venn Diagram. This can be a 3 way Venn Diagram, if desired, comparing Aztec, Maya, and Inca.

  1. Teacher created extension activities, if desired.


English Language Arts


Background Information for Students and Teachers
The Aztecs/Mexicas 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. 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). The term Aztec, originally associated with the migrant Mexica, is today a collective term, applied to all the peoples linked by trade, custom, religion, and language to these founders.

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:

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

the development and maintenance of a sophisticated agricultural economy, carefully adjusted to the land

and the cultivation of an intellectual and religious outlook that held society to be an integral part of the cosmos.

The yearly round of rites and ceremonies in the cities of Tenochtitlan and neighboring Tetzcoco, and their symbolic art and architecture, gave expression to an ancient awareness of the interdependence of nature and humanity.

The Aztecs remain the most extensively documented of all Amerindian civilizations at the time of European contact in the 16th century. Spanish friars, soldiers, and historians and scholars of Indian or mixed descent left invaluable records of all aspects of life. These ethnohistoric sources, linked to modern archaeological inquiries and studies of ethnologists, linguists, historians, and art historians, portray the formation and flourishing of a complex imperial state.


The Mayan civilization is divided into three time periods which engulfed 3,000 years. The first is the Pre-Classic Period spanning from 2000 B.C.-250 A.D. The second is the Classic Period which spanned from 250 A.D.-900 A.D. The third is the Post-Classic Period which spanned from 900 A.D.-1500 A.D. The Maya lived in the eastern one third of Mesoamerica, mainly on the Yucatan Peninsula. They are a group of related Native American tribes who have the same linguistic organization.

The best known group of Maya are the Maya Proper. The Maya Proper generally occupied the Yucatan. There are other groups of Maya such as the Huastec, who occupied northern Veracruz; the Tzental who occupied Tabasco and Chiapas and the Quiche; and the Cakchiquel and the Pokomam who occupied the Highlands of Guatemala. With the exception of the Huastec, all of these Mayan groups occupied a continuous landscape and they were all part of the Mayan culture. This culture was the greatest civilization among the original cultures of the New World (western hemisphere). Even though the Mayans had common organization, they were not unified under one empire. As suggested above, there were many separate groups with similar cultural backgrounds. The Mayans had common artistic and religious components, but politically they were independent Mayan states.

Agriculture was the main basis of the Mayan economy in the pre-Colombian era. Maize was the primary crop of the Maya. Cotton, beans, squash and cacao were also grown. They had many techniques of spinning, dyeing and weaving cotton. The Mayan culture also domesticated the dog and the turkey, but had no larger animals or machines with wheels.

The Maya had a sophisticated system of writing. It was developed in order to record their transition of power through the generations. This writing was composed of inscriptions on stone and wood, and was usually used on the inside or outside of their architecture. The books they made were called folding tree books. These books were made from fig tree bark and usually placed in the royal tombs. Few of these books have survived due in part to the tropical climate of the region. Also, few of these books have survived due to the Spanish Invasion. Cortez and others claimed their symbolic writing system was the devil's work. Four of these books (codices) survive today. They are as follows: The Dresden Codex, The Madrid Codex, The Paris Codex, and the Grolier Codex.

The art of the Maya reflected their lifestyle and culture. Their art was composed of delineation and painting upon paper, building plaster, wood, stone, clay, stucco molds and terra cotta figurines. The advanced process of working with metal was also developed by the Maya, but was of scarce usage. Much of Mayan art consisted of inscriptions and architecture, ordered by the kings who wanted to have it done of themselves. They did this to ensure their place in Mayan history. They also produced fine pottery, which was comparable only to the pottery of Peru. Art was encouraged by men and women of power who strove to create the history of the Mayan people. These art works justified their society and their interactions with surrounding groups.

Cacao beans, copper bells and many other things were used as units of exchange. Copper was not only used for exchange, but for ornamentation as well. Other things, such as gold, silver, jade, shell and colorful plumage were also used as ornaments. The use and making of metal tools was relatively unknown.

The reason for the downfall of the Maya is unknown. However there are several possible reasons for their downfall including soil exhaustion, water loss and erosion, and the competition between agriculture and the surrounding Savanna. Other possibilities include catastrophes such as earthquakes and hurricanes, disease, abundant amounts of high social structure and invasions by other surrounding people and cultures.

The collapse of the Maya has many explanations ranging from the hypotheses stated above, to single catastrophic events. However, even with all these possibilities, no one really knows what happened to them. The collapse of the Maya remains one of the most intriguing events in human history.

Encarta Encyclopedia 1996, "Maya", by Microsoft
Maya Ruins in Central America in Color, by William M. Ferguson and John Q. Royce, 1986.
Late Lowland Maya Civilization, School of American Research Advanced Seminar Series, Edited by Jeremy A Sabloff and E. Wyllys Andrews V, 1986.
The Classic Maya Collapse, edited by T. Patrick Culbert, 1973.


Among the various Mesoamerican Pre-Classic period (1200 BCE-400 BCE) groups, the Olmec are the most well-known. The Olmec heartland was centered in La Venta in Tabasco, and San Lorenzo Tenochtitlan and Laguna de los Cerros in Veracruz. The Olmec were a highly developed and well organized group with a complex calendar and hieroglyphic writing system. They also created unique art objects.

Olmec cities were constructed around a central raised mound, which was used for religious ceremonies. Around 900 BCE, these raised mounds were replaced with pyramid-shaped structures. Society began to separate into divisions arranged in a hierarchy, as is shown in the change in residential patterns. The houses were made of wooden walls with clay and palm roof tops.

An irrigation system that ran through the city supplied water for crop production. Crops were supplemented by fishing and hunting. The Olmecs had access to many waterways which were used for fishing and the transportation of people and trade goods. Basalt, found in the distant Tuxtla Mountains, was used to construct plazas, religious pyramid structures, and the large stone heads the Olmecs are known for carving. As it came from other areas, basalt likely was a traded commodity that demonstrates links with other cultures in the surrounding areas.

Olmec religion strongly featured animals and animal symbolism; they likely practiced shamanism. Hallucinogenic drugs from a  marine toad and/or several mushroom species may have been used by the shamans to enter trances. The Temple of the Feathered Serpent in Teotihuacan is an example of an Olmec ceremonial site.

Olmecs are most well-known for their colossal head statues. The heads were possibly modeled after notable citizens, probably leaders. Most of the colossal heads were defaced or destroyed in some way. They were likely altered after the regional center in which it is affiliated with lost prominence, by a conquering group, or the Olmecs did this themselves after a ruler died as a sacrifice to the gods or animal spirits. The facial features of the heads were people with slanted eyes and large lips. Many have argued over whether the Olmecs were of African or Asia descent, because of these facial features. Others believe that this is just an overgeneralization. Most of the heads were deformed, which was likely done at birth for noble children, as the Mayan culture did.

Other motifs in Olmec art consist of jaguars, serpents and monkeys. Many of the art objects show a transition between human and animal figures, which demonstrates a connection between the two. Most sculptures were made of jade, which was also not found in the Olmec region. This must have been traded from an outside location.

Calhoun ISD Social Studies Curriculum Design Project

Download 21.54 Kb.

Share with your friends:

The database is protected by copyright © 2022
send message

    Main page