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Mesoamerica is the region extending from central Mexico south to the northwestern border of Costa Rica that gave rise to a group of stratified, culturally related agrarian civilizations spanning an approximately 3,000-year period before the European discovery of the New World by Columbus. Mesoamerican is the adjective generally used to refer to that group of Pre-Columbian cultures. This refers to an environmental area occupied by an assortment of ancient cultures that shared religious beliefs, art, architecture, and technology that made them exceptional in the Americas for three thousand years.

Some common shared Mesoamerican traits include the three-stone hearth, a certain kind of sandal, intensive agriculture based heavily on maize (corn); worship of a set of deities including a rain god, a sun god, a feathered-serpent god (known to the Aztecs as Quetzalcoatl); a Vigesimal numbering system; the use of a 260 day ritual calendar in addition to the solar year calendar (see: Mesoamerican calendars); the construction of temples elevated atop stepped pyramids; a ritual ball-game (see:Mesoamerican ballgame); and various other artistic and cultural conventions.

Mesoamerica is also a canonical example of a Linguistic area: all of the major Mesoamerican languages show some subset of a pool of common traits, despite being made up of many different language families. Mesoamerica's economy and geopolitics benefited from extensive use of a lingua franca, the Nahuatl language, at least since the 7th century, and perhaps even going as far back as 2,000 years.

Mesoamerica is one of our planet’s six cradles of early civilizations. Many viewpoints of the ancient cultures of Belize, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and Mexico continue to the present time today. Several of these cultural inventions and traits have spread throughout the world, both past and presently speaking. Mesoamerican metacivilizations included the Olmec, Zapotec, Teotihuacan, Maya, Mixtec, Huastec, Totonac, Toltec, Tarascan, and the Aztec.

In some writings from the 1920s and 1930s the alternative term Middle America was used to refer to Mesoamerica, but that acception of the term has generally fallen out of favor. See Middle America.

See also

Human antiquity in Mesoamerica
Mesoamerican chronology, languages
Zapotec calendar, mythology
Maya calendar, numerals
Aztec calendar, mythology
Mesoamerican practices: agriculture, obsidian use, trephinning
Mesoamerican iconography: jaguar
Spanish conquest of: Yucatán, Michoacán, Guatemala


  • Gamio, Manuel. La Población del Valle de Teotihuacán. Mexico City: Talleres Gráficos de la Secretaría de Educación Pública, 1922.
  • Kirchhoff, Paul. "Mesoamérica." Acta Americana, 1 (1943):92-107.
  • Sahagún, Fray Bernardino de. Florentine Codex: General History of the Things of New Spain. C. H. Dibble and A. J. O. Anderson, trans., Santa Fe: School of American Research and the University of Utah Press (1950-).
  • Wauchope, Robert, ed. Handbook of Middle American Indians. Austin: University of Texas Press, 1964.
  • Weaver, Muriel Porter, The Aztecs, Maya, and Their Predecessors, Third Edition. New York: Academic Press, 1993.
  • West, Robert C. and John P. Augelli. Middle America: Its Lands and Peoples, Third Edition. Englewood Cliffs: Prentice Hall, 1989.
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