Throughout history, different areas of Mexico have been home to numerous cultures. Particularly in Ancient times, between 1800 and 300 BC, several complex cultures formed. Many of the cultures went on to mature into civilizations; many of which have been credited with advancements and inventions in mathematics, architecture, medicine, astronomy, and more. Ruins and remains of many of these Mesoamerican civilizations can still be seen throughout Mexico, and offer insight into ancient times. Listed below are some of the ancient Mexican cultures that advanced into Mesoamerican civilizations.
Olmec – The Olmec were the first large civilization in Mexico following the development of Soconusco, a region in southwest Chiapas state. Being the first Mesoamerican civilization, the Olmec essentially paved the way for the civilizations that followed. They were the first to practice a popular Mesoamerican ballgame. It is also believed that they are the first to practice ritual bloodletting.
Izapa – Izapa was a large civilization located in Chiapas, Mexico. The Izapa civilization occupied an area situated along the Izapa River, near the base of the Tacana volcano. Some archaeologists believe that Izapa could be as old as Olmec, however a lack of material that can be used for carbon dating has made identifying the height of the civilization difficult.
Teotihuacan – Teotihuacan was a civilization located in the Valley of Mexico, very close to what is now Mexico City. Teotihuacan is still home to a number of Mesoamerican pyramids that are considered architecturally significant. The area was also known for its complex residential compounds, that housed multiple families. Additionally, the Teotihuacan were known for a pottery style called “thin orange”.
Maya – The Maya civilization is perhaps one of the most well known ancient civilizations. The ancient Maya are known for their writing system, calendar system, and much more. The Maya civilization covered a large area of Mexico as well as parts of Belize, Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras. Many areas still contain ancient Maya ruins and have become popular tourist destinations.
Zapotec – The Zapotec civilization dates back more than two thousand years. Evidence of the ancient Zapotec civilization can be found at the ancient city of Monte Alban. There, buildings, tombs, ball courts, gold jewelry, and more were found and were traced back to the Zapotec.
Mixtec – The Mixtec inhabited an area known as La Mixteca, which in current times covers parts of the states of Puebla, Guerrero, and Oaxaca. The Mixtec people were divided into lowland Mixtecs and highland Mixtecs. La Mixteca was in competition with some of the Zapotec kingdoms.
Huastec – The Huastec lived in a concentrated area along the Panuco River, which runs along the Gulf of Mexico coast. The Huastecs, while building a civilization and cities, were known for wearing no clothes. They were also admired for their musical abilities.
Purepecha – The Purepecha civilization was located in the state now known as Michoacan. Purepechas are well noted for their T-shaped step pyramids. Their artisans were also known for making feather mosaics, using hummingbird feathers, which were considered a luxury item at the time.
Totonac – The Totonac people lived in the eastern mountainous and coastal regions of Mexico. It is possible that they were the builders of the city of El Tajin, though it is not known for sure. The Totonac were the main producers of vanilla in the world until the mid-19th century.
Tarascan – Tarascan was a civilization that at the time of the Spanish conquest, was considered the second largest Mesoamerican state. Most of the people of Tarascan were Purepecha, with a small percentage of several other ethnic groups. Tarascan state was an enemy of the Aztec Empire, and the two fought many wars.
Toltec – The Toltec culture came prior to the Aztecs, who considered the Toltecs as their cultural and intellectual predecessors. The Toltecs dominated an area that was known as Tula. There is a fair amount of controversy surrounding the history of the Toltec people.
Aztec – The Aztec people lived in the area of central Mexico and traditionally spoke the Nahuatl language. The Aztecs also dominated big parts of Mesoamerica between the 14th and 16th centuries. The heart of the Aztec civilization was considered to be the Valley of Mexico, with the main city of Tenochtitlan being built upon raised islets on Lake Texcoco.
Mexico is a large country with a rich history. Different areas were home to many different civilizations throughout time, and remains of many can still be seen. Many of the ancient cultures and civilizations that made their homes in modern day Mexico are credited with forming the basis of civilizations that followed.
Additional Information on Ancient Mexican Cultures and Civilizations: