Pre-Columbian Mexico

The pre-Columbian history of the territory now comprising contemporary Mexico is known through the work of archaeologists and epigraphers, and through the accounts of the conquistadors, clergymen, and indigenous chroniclers of the immediate post-conquest period. While relatively few documents (or codices) of the Mixtec and Aztec cultures of the [1]

Human presence in the Mexican region was once thought to date back 40,000 years based upon what were believed to be ancient human footprints discovered in the Valley of Mexico, but after further investigation using radioactive dating, it appears this is untrue.[1] It is currently unclear whether 21,000-year-old campfire remains found in the Valley of Mexico are the earliest human remains in Mexico.[2] Indigenous peoples of Mexico began to selectively breed maize plants around 8000 BC. Evidence shows a marked increase in pottery working by 2300 B.C. and the beginning of intensive corn farming between 1800 and 1500 B.C..

Between 1800 and 300 BC, complex cultures began to form. Many matured into advanced pre-Columbian Mesoamerican civilizations such as the: Olmec, Izapa, Teotihuacan, Maya, Zapotec, Mixtec, Huastec, Purépecha, Totonac, Toltec and Aztec, which flourished for nearly 4,000 years before the first contact with Europeans.

Accomplishments

An image of one of the pyramids in the upper level of Yaxchilán

These civilizations are credited with many inventions and advancements including pyramid-temples, mathematics, astronomy, medicine, and theology.

Archaic inscriptions on rocks and rock walls all over northern Mexico (especially in the state of Nuevo León) demonstrate an early propensity for counting in Mexico. These very early and ancient count-markings were associated with astronomical events and underscore the influence that astronomical activities had upon Mexican natives, even before they possessed urbanization.

In fact, many of the later Mexican-based civilizations would carefully build their cities and ceremonial centers according to specific astronomical events. Astronomy and the notion of human observation of celestial events would become central factors in the development of religious systems, writing systems, fine arts, and architecture.

Prehistoric Mexican astronomers began a tradition of precise observing, recording, and commemorating astronomical events that later become a hallmark of Mexican civilized achievements. Cities would be founded and built on astronomical principles, leaders would be appointed on celestial events, wars would be fought according to solar-calendars, and a complex theology using astronomical metaphors would organize the daily lives of millions of people.

At some different points in time, three Mexican cities (Teotihuacan, Tenochtitlan, and Cholula) were among the largest cities in the world. These cities and several others blossomed as centers of commerce, ideas, ceremonies, and theology. In turn, they radiated influence outward into neighboring cultures in central Mexico.