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American Peoples

LAH 2020, Spring 2010

Middle America –

• AZTECS – Mexica – 1519

• Central Valley of Mexico
• Settled in an island in the middle of
Lake Texcoco, founded Tenochtitlán
• Aztecs dominated most of Mexico
south of Tenochtitlán
Political organization

• city-states
• Political power centered on a
ruling class of priests and
nobles, presided by the supreme
• Tlatoani [title] – supreme leader
of Mexica

• Common language – Nahuatl

• Writing system – pictographs
Economic base
• Intensive agriculture; irrigation
system – highly sophisticated
• Elaborate system of dykes, canals,
and aqueducts for agriculture
• Chinampa – raised fields surrounded
by water – agriculture form borrowed
from the Mayas
• Surplus used for military purposes, in
case of famine, or natural disasters
• Social organization
• Specialization of labor; various
occupations and skills
Economic base continued
• Market exchanges – barter
• Relied on tribute and trade for food
• Long distance trade – carried out by
pochteca traders
• Macehualtin – commoners who owned
land, owed tribute, labor, and military
service to the Aztec state
• Mayeques – peasants, majority of Aztec
Agriculture and
• Diet staples: maize, beans,
chilies, squash, etc.
• High value products: cotton
cloth, feathers, jade, precious
metals, obsidian, animal skins,
cacao beans, etc.
Material culture

• Artisans – skilled workers –

potters, weavers, stonemasons,
silversmiths, scribes, and feather-
• Organized in guilds
• Monumental architecture –
temples, palaces, ceremonial

• Polytheistic society
• Two major gods: Tlaloc – rain god
• HUITZILOPOCHTLI – war god – major
cult to this god
• Human sacrifice – war captives
sacrificed to Huitzilopochtli
• Function: to maintain order of the
cosmos; to justify military expansion
(why they went to war)
Aztec worldview
• understanding of their world – Aztecs
believed that sacrificed was essential
for their survival as a society, for the
Sun to rise the following day, so they
justified their wars of conquest (other
ethnic groups)
• Blood letting rituals
• Examples, piercing tongues, genitals
(similar to Maya ritual practices)
• Sacrifice related to agricultural cycle
• European contact - 1532
• Andean highlands, territory extended
some 4,000 Km. (est. 2,484 miles) – from
present southern Colombia (border to
Ecuador) to central Chile and
northwestern Argentina
• Achieved high growth circa 1440 AD,
before European invasion
• Creation myth linked Inkas to Lake
Titicaca (southeast of Cusco)

• Land of the Four Quarters

• Capital – Cusco
• Quechua – language of empire
• No written language
• Khipu(s) - mnemonic device, cords
with knots – memory aid to keep
records; register historical events
Political power

• organized under the supreme

ruler – Sapa Inka
• Inka – supreme ruler – Sapa Inka
• Coya – Inka wife
• Ñusta – Inka princess
Economic base

• Intensive agriculture
• Irrigation canals
• Built Andean terraces – andenes –
to maximize use of available land
• Tribute demands made by the Inka
from subject peoples
Basic staples
• potatoes, various edible roots, quinoa
(cereal) in high altitude valleys;
maize at lower altitudes; cotton,
beans, squash, coca leaves, etc.
• Wool from llamas, alpacas, vicuñas,
and guanacos; alpaca and vicuña
wool extremely valued in the Andes
• Storage facilities for potatoes, cereals

• Charqui – freeze-dried llama


• Llamas used as beasts of

burden; source of fuel

• Polytheistic society

• Sun god – Inti

• Moon goddess – Quilla

Ancestor worship

• Mummies of Inca rulers – kept in

• Coricancha – Temple of the Sun –
located inside present-day Santo
Domingo Convent in Cusco
• Wak’a – huacas – sacred space,
element of nature
• Rituals and religious practices
• Sacrifice – some human sacrifice,
not as common as in

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