Chapter 11 Questions The Mesoamericans built on the achievements of the Olmecs and other predecessors and developed new forms of political organizations. The power of the religious and political leaders can be measured by the scale and impressive architecture at Teotihuacan or at the Mayan cities. Linguistic developments and even recreation in the form of a game played on ball courts were direct results of new political institutions. Each of these cities had complex social class systems, economic market places and trade, highly developed means of growing food for the large population, and extensive religious temples and rituals.
Farmers were drawn from their fields into urban craft production for a growing trade network. The construction of religious architecture is evidence of its importance as the center of religion. Pyramids built along the central avenue were dedicated to the sun, moon, and other gods. Tenochtitlan was laid out in the shape of a puma and also developed breakthroughs in agriculture such as chinampas.
The Maya cosmos was divided into three layers connected along a vertical axis that traced the course of the sun. Human existence held an intermediate position between the heavens and the underworld.
A sacred tree rose through the three layers; its roots were in the underworld and its branches reached to heaven. The pyramids were sacred mountains reaching into the heavens. Mayan cultural and technological contributions built on contributions from the Olmec, including the calendar, writing systems, and mathematics. The Mayan calendar tracked the ritual cycle and the solar calendar. Mathematical developments included the concept of zero and place value. The writing system was a form of hieroglyphic inscription, and Mayans used tree bark and deer skin for paper.
The Maya had established city-states which were united by culture but not by a common political or military system. They had artistic, agricultural, and architectural achievements. Toltecs weren’t so influential culturally but very influential regarding politics and military. They were political homogeneous, under centralized rule and expanded their control through military conquest. The basis of American economies was agriculture, and to ensure agricultural productivity, Americans believed that the gods who ruled the natural forces should be appeased.
They believed in the spiritual vitality of nature in the form of the rain god, sun god, etc. The gods were appeased through blood sacrifice, necessitating victims, and many other ways. The high mountain valleys and dry coastal plain led to new agricultural technologies and labor organizations, such as terracing hillsides and creating large irrigation works. This environment forced adjustments in transportation networks, creating enormous road and bridge building programs. Society was based on the clan (ayllu) system, and the mit’a, or rotational labor system.
The numerous small ecological areas of the region dictated these sorts of responses in order to guarantee survival. Both states shaped their agriculture to fit their unique environments, the Aztecs in Mesoamerican and the Inca in the Andes. Both states were ruled by powerful elites who depended on the tribute of subject people. Both civilizations were created militarily, with their survival depending on their army’s power. Their crops varied greatly. In the Andes, potatoes and quinoa were grown at high elevations and corn and cotton were grown at lower elevations. The Aztecs produced corn, beans, and squash.
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