Early Societies in Americas and Oceania

Early Societies in Americas and
Bentley Ch. 6
Agriculture in the Americas
• 8000 – 7000 BCE, later than in other parts of the
world but independently, peoples of middle
America began to experiment with the cultivation
of certain items
Chili peppers
Maize by 4000 BCE
• Oldest known civilization in the Americas
• Comparable to river valley civilizations in
other parts of the world
• Influenced all complex societies in
Mesoamerican until arrival of Europeans
Olmec Society and Economy
• Authoritarian in nature
• Common subjects labored regularly for Olmec
• Traded with other regions in Mesoamerica
• Constructed drainage systems to divert waters
and prevent flooding.
Olmec accomplishments
Astronomical observations
System of writing
Giant stone heads – movement without
wheels. Artistic / monumental work
The Maya: Classical Americas
• The Maya organized themselves politically into
small city-kingdoms
• Tikal became the most important political center
between 600 and 800 CE, with 40,000 people.
• Included temples, pyramids, palaces, and public
• Mayan kingdoms fought constantly with one
another – purpose was to capture instead of kill
Chichén Itzá: Political Unification
• In the 800s CE, the state of Chichén Itzá in the
northern Yucatan established a larger political
framework for the Mayas.
• Absorbed rather than enslaved captives.
• Became a loose empire that brought political
stability between the 800 – 1000 CE.
• However, most Maya populations had began
to desert their cities by 800 CE.
Chichén Itzá
Mayan Society and Religion
• Kings and ruling families at the top, followed
by a large class of priests, a hereditary nobility
that owned most of the land, merchants who
came from ruling classes, a middle class of
architects and artisans, and a large class of
peasants and slaves.
• Mayan priests and astronomers invented
number 0 and calculated the solar year to
within 17 seconds of modern calculations.
Mayan Religion and Writing
• Most flexible and sophisticated of all early
American writing systems, included both
ideographic elements and symbols for
• Wrote works of history, poetry, and myth.
• Religious beliefs included importance of cycles
and shedding of human blood.
• Located in Central Mexico (31 miles north of
Mexico City)
• Agricultural village by 500 BCE
• Between 400 and 600 CE, contained almost
200,000 inhabitants.
• Ruled as a theocracy of sorts; priests in charge.
• Two most prominent monuments were pyramids
of the sun and moon; Pyramid of the Sun is the
large single structure in MesoAmerica
Pyramid of the Sun
Society in Teotihuacan
• Workshops and stores throughout; extensive
trade and exchange networks
• Known for ability to produce fine
manufactured goods
• Expanded upon Olmec writing
• Recognized earth god, rain god, and
performed human sacrifices
• Declined after 650 CE
South American societies
• Developed independently of Central American
• Chavín Cult – not a cult in the modern sense
of the word, but a centralizing religion
• Popular from 900 BCE to 300 BCE
• Large temple complexes and elaborate works
of art
• Andean society became more elaborate and
complex in this time period.
Classical time frame
Emerged in Peru during the period 300 to 700 CE
Specialization of labor
Only one of several large states in the region; none
gained dominance due to geographic isolation
• No evidence of writing
• Wheel not used anywhere in the Americas  no draft
• Organized from Andes Mountains to coast – trade
along small strips / valleys of land.
• Austronesian peoples spread throughout Oceania
• Developed agriculture in certain areas such as
New Guinea
• Others remained hunter-gatherers, such as the
Aborigine of Australia
• Traveled over vast expanses of open ocean in
small boats and canoes.
• Became important in trade in the region
• Range was from Hawaii to Madagascar

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