Ancient Mesoamerica (modern-day Mexico and Central America) witnessed an extraordinary flourishing of cultures from the beginnings of the Olmec civilization around 1200 BCE, through the Maya civilization and on to the catastrophic fall of the Aztec civilization in the 16th century CE. Great cities were built with towering pyramids, empires were forged and fine art was produced in everything from turquoise to exotic seashells.
In this collection, we examine some of these great peoples of the Americas. We consider their origins, religion, warfare, material culture, and their final respective downfalls due to war, the whims of climate, and, ultimately, the arrival of foreigners from across the sea. While each culture was unique, many threads weave their way through these civilizations such as their creation myths, gods, religious practices, art and architecture. Combined, these peoples have left behind one of the richest and most original cultural legacies in world history.
Mysteriously, around 600 CE, the major buildings of Teotihuacan were deliberately destroyed by fire, and artworks and religious sculptures were smashed in what must have been a complete changing of the ruling elite. The destroyers may have been from the rising city of Xochicalco or from within in an uprising motivated by a scarcity in resources, perhaps acerbated by extensive deforestation, soil erosion, and drought. Whatever the reason, after this climatic event, the wider city remained populated for another two centuries but its regional dominance became only a memory.