COTM: Introduction and the Notion of Influence

Week 1:

I would like to begin the month with a brief introduction to the cultures and recommendations for further investigation in regards to the degrees of influences between these cultures.


The Maya are a Mesoamerican civilization, which is known for its highly developed written language, architecture, art, astronomy and mathematics. The Mayan Civilization developed in the Pre-Classic period (2000 BC) and reached its peak during the Classic period (AD 500). They first settled in the Yucatan and eventually flourished in southeast Mexico, Honduras, Guatemala, Belize, and El Salvador.

Guatemala: Lake Atitlan Maya Women - Photo by Urs Hauenstein

Today, there are around six million “Maya” within many different groups that live in southern Mexico, Guatemala, Yucatan, and Belize. I quote “Maya” because one of my professors who has made studying these groups his life explained that they do not refer to themselves as Maya, they simply go by their individual group names. These diverse groups (Quiche, Tzotzil, Tzeltal, Chontal, and Lacandon, to name a few) speak around 30 different languages and maintain much of their traditional way of life.

I encourage everyone to research these groups further!


The Olmecs were based out of southern Mexico (Veracruz and Tabasco) and essentially established practices that would carry on to cultures that followed. Compared to other Mesoamerican cultures, relatively little is known about the Olmecs, but they are well-known for their colossal heads that were carved to commemorate rulers. An interesting fact about this is that a lot of these monuments have been vandalized, and one of the theories involves Olmecs of the time opposing the ruler and defacing the megalithic heads to express how they felt. Of course, there are modern-day vandals, as well.

Considering that these monuments make up a significant part of their culture and provide a segue into the understanding of their values and practices, I recommend researching these colossal heads!


Considering that there is a wealth of information about the Aztecs online for many reasons (mostly due to their domination of central Mexico and amount of artifacts and features left behind), and that I don’t have any special information or tidbits given by professors, and also that it is midterms week for me, I will simply provide an interesting link to a video and a timeline to spark more of your interest (if it even NEEDS sparking!) and lead you to do more research.

The following link is to Part 1 of 5 of “Aztec Temple of Blood” from the Discovery Channel:

The following picture is a timeline to help everyone clarify the periods of occupation:

The website this timeline is from does an excellent job of summarizing the major periods of Mesoamerican civilization. Click the picture to visit the website.


As far as the notion of influence, this will carry on throughout the entire month. To get started, I want to recommend a book written by one of my professors. At least read the abstract, and I encourage everyone to find a cheap rate online and buy it! He writes mostly about the Teotihuacanos and their influence on the Maya, but this is still the best place to start.


Next week, I will dive into what I find to be the most fascinating aspect of these cultures: rituals and supernatural beliefs! Until next time, get in touch with your inner autodidact and look deeper into these cultures!

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