Mesoamerican civilization is the complex of indigenous cultures that emerged in parts of Mexico and Central America before the 16th century and Spanish conquest. Some of the most widely known are the Incas, the Aztecs, the Mayans, and the Olmecs.
Mesoamerican cultures trace back to 3500 BC – Archaic period, and last till the 16th century when Spain conquered Mexico and Central America as a part of the “Age of Discovery.” The four significant civilizations had significant cultural and lifestyle differences, most of which were only partially preserved as architectural monuments in the territories where they lived.
The Incas were hunter-gatherers at the beginning, but then, after regional unification processes, they settled in a city nowadays known as their capital – Cuzco. They expanded their empire at a fast pace, having an economy based on agriculture and a well-structured governmental system. They also invented complex highway systems and improved terrace farming.
The Aztec civilization arose on the ruins of the Toltec empire and soon became one of the most significant early civilizations in Mesoamerica. Even though they had poor soil, the Aztecs managed to build a strong economy based on trade and agriculture. They were the civilization that first had universal education and introduced to the world herbal medicine.
The Mayans settled in one place and started with agriculture, cultivating crops. They build a massive empire that had a trade-oriented economy and a sophisticated political system. Their empire included about 72 major political units. Besides that, they contributed to astronomy, medicine, and built massive pyramids only using primitive tools.
The Olmec civilization expanded very quickly, as they had very productive soil and a river for transportation. The Olmecs built the economy based on trade between the three major cities of the empire. Even though their political system was very primitive and centered around wealthy elites, the Olmecs created a writing system and a long count calendar.
All Mesoamerican cultures were wiped off the map by the European great powers that fought for influence in newly discovered regions. Most of the indigenous communities died from diseases from the European continent or had to work as slaves for their metropolises.