CIPR | Center For Inter-American Policy & Research

Tulane University

Mesoamerica

Mesoamerica is the cultural area encompassing present-day Mexico and most of Central America, where a number of civilizations with shared traits and cultural traditions developed before the arrival of Europeans in the 16th century. Mesoamerica refers both to the cultures that existed before European contact and the region where they flourished, which included present-day Mexico, Guatemala, Belize, Honduras, El Salvador, Nicaragua, and Costa Rica. The boundaries of Mesoamerica shifted constantly, and its traditions changed over time as cultural traits spread among the various societies. Among the important civilizations to develop in the region were the Olmec, Zapotec, Maya, and Aztec. Archaeologists typically divide Mesoamerican cultural history into five major stages: Paleo-Indian (before 8000 bc); Archaic (8000-2000 bc); Preclassic, or Formative (2000 bc-ad 200); Classic (200-900); and Postclassic (900-1521). Each stage embodies a series of major interrelated developments.

MSN Encarta: Mesoamerica
Photo: Maya Monument Rubbing by Merle Greene Robinson

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