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Geography of Mesoamerica
Transcript of Geography of Mesoamerica
The geography of Mesoamerica describes the geographic features of Mesoamerica, a culture area in the Americas inhabited by complex indigenous pre-Columbian cultures exhibiting a suite of shared and common cultural characteristics.
Mesoamerica share a number of common characteristics, cultural sub-areas are defined by a higher level of specificity in defining elements
This area is composed of moderate to cold valleys in the southern part of the Mexican high plateau and in the north of the Balsas River basin. It is an ecological niche characterized by its temperate climate and absence of significant water sources.
The Maya region is the largest in Mesoamerica. As such, it encompasses a vast and varied landscape, from the mountainous regions of the Sierra Madre to the semi-arid plains of northern Yucatán. Climate in the Maya region can vary tremendously, as the low-lying areas are particularly susceptible to the hurricanes and tropical storms that frequent the Caribbean. The region is generally divided into three loosely defined zones: the southern Maya highlands, the southern (or central) Maya lowlands, and the northern Maya lowlands. The southern Maya highlands include all of elevated terrain in Guatemala and the Chiapas highlands. The southern lowlands lie just north of the highlands, and incorporate the Petén of northern Guatemala, Belize, and the southern portions of the Mexican states of Campeche and Quintana Roo. The northern lowlands cover the remainder of the Yucatán Peninsula, including the Puuc hills. Geologically, the Maya region consists of a limestone plateau that rises slightly toward the south, ending where the mountainous zone interrupts the plain.
The Oaxacan region has been one of the most diverse since the Mesoamerican epoch. It is a completely mountainous territory, marked by the Sierra Madre del Sur and the Mixteca shield. It includes a portion of the Balsas River basin, characterized by its dryness and complicated geographical relief. Its river beds are shallow and of small capacity. In this sense, it appears much like Central Mexico.
Several well-known Mesoamerican cultures include the Olmec, Teotihuacan, the Maya, the Aztec and the Purépecha. Mesoamerica is often subdivided in a number of ways. One common method, albeit a broad and general classification, is to distinguish between the highlands and lowlands. Another way is to subdivide the region into sub-areas that generally correlate to either culture areas or specific physiographic regions.
Location of Mesoamerica in the Americas: this prototypic culture area is situated on the Middle American isthmus, or land bridge, adjoining southern North America with South America.
The sub-areas generally correlate with known cultural groups, such as the areas where the Maya, Huastec, and Olmec were found.
At the same time, based on cultural similarities, it is clear that various kinds of interaction occurred within sub-areas, be them historical relationships, political interaction, and economic or commercial agreements.
The rains arrive between the months of April and September, and are not abundant. This led to the early development of hydraulic projects, among them the building of canals from the rivers–reservoirs in the hillsides for storing water.
The valley of Tehuacán, located in the southeast of this region, is the early evidence of maize cultivation and some of the oldest ceramic artifacts in Mesoamerica. The Valley of Mexico, location of Lake Texcoco, was home for several important cultures, like Cuicuilco, Teotihuacan, Tula, and the Aztec capital of Tenochtitlan.
There were two principal scenarios in the cultural history of the Oaxacan people. On the one hand, the central Valley of Oaxaca saw the development of the Zapotec culture, one of the most ancient and well known of the Mesoamerican region. This culture was developed by the chiefdoms that controlled the arable land (which was very fertile, albeit dry) of the small valleys of Etla, Tlacolula, and Miahuatlán. Some of the first examples of great architecture in Mesoamerica were in this region, for example, the ceremonial center of San José Mogote. The hegemony of this center in the Valley region passed into the hands of Monte Albán, the Classic capital of the Zapotec. The fall of Teotihuacán in the 8th century CE permitted the great heights achieved by the Zapotec culture. However, the city of Monte Albán was abandoned in the 10th century CE, and gave way to a series of regional centers that fought among each other for political dominance.
The Guerrero region occupies approximately the area of the southern Mexican state of the same name. It can be divided into three regions with different characteristics: in the north, the Basin of the Balsas River, whose current is the defining characteristic of the regional geography.
Guerrero was the site of the first pottery traditions in Mesoamerica. The most ancient remains have been found in Puerto Marqués, near Acapulco, and are about 3500 years old. During the Preclassic period, the Balsas Basin became an area of vital importance for the cultural development of the Olmec, who left signs of their presence in areas such as Teopantecuanitlán and the grottos of Juxtlahuaca.
The Balsas Basin is a low-lying region, with a hot climate and scarce rainfall, whose dryness is mitigated by the presence of the Balsas River and its numerous branches. Central Guerrero corresponds to the Sierra Madre del Sur, a region rich in mineral deposits but poor in agricultural potential. Lastly, the southern part of the region consists of the Pacific coast, a wide coastal plain, full of mangroves and palms, battered by hurricanes from the south.
Mesoamerica – is literally, "middle America" – it's located in the mid-latitudes (between 10° and 22° N) of the Americas in the southern portion of North America, encompassing much of the isthmus that joins it with South America. Situated within the wider region known as Middle America, Mesoamerica extends from south-central Mexico southeastward to include the Isthmus of Tehuantepec, the Yucatán Peninsula, Guatemala, Belize, El Salvador, and the Pacific coast of Honduras, Nicaragua, and Costa Rica down to the Gulf of Nicoya.
The region possesses a complex combination of ecological systems. Archaeologist and anthropologist Michael D. Coe groups these different niches into two broad categories: lowlands (those areas between sea level and 1000 meters) and altiplanos or highlands (those situated between 1000 and 2000 meters above sea level). In the low-lying regions, sub-tropical and tropical climates are most common, as is true for most of the coastline along the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean Sea. The highlands show much more climatic diversity, ranging from dry tropical to cold mountainous climates, the dominant climate is temperate with warm temperatures and moderate rainfall.
There is a high degree of environmental variability in the Mesoamerican lowlands, ranging from the lush tropical climate of lowland Veracruz to the semi-arid brush forests of northern Yucatán. On the southeast coast of the Gulf of Mexico, in Belize, and in southern Campeche and Quintana Roo, rainfall can be quite heavy. The tropical forests found there are diverse in the vegetation species present and this, in addition to the overabundance of water, presented obstacles inhibiting the development of agriculture
The lowlands, however, offered a great variety of usable flora and fauna resources. These included resources that could not only be consumed in lieu of full-scale agriculture, but also traded to obtain other goods. Furthermore, the greater accessibility of the coast facilitated transportation, interregional communication, and trade.
The highlands of Mesoamerica generally contain two separate regions: the mountainous zone of central and western Mexico, and the highlands of Guatemala and the Mexican state of Chiapas. The topography, climate, and soil fertility of the highlands can vary dramatically. In central and western Mexico, the most fertile soil is found among the low-lying valleys. Several of these, including the Valley of Oaxaca, Puebla-Tlaxcala, and the Valley of Mexico (now the Mexican Federal District), were historically important locations where complex pre-Columbian societies developed. The tall mountainous peaks of the Sierra Madres, however, impedes the movement of clouds and reduces the amount of rainfall the region receives. Indeed, the hot arid valleys of the Mixtec area and in the state of Guerrero are among two of the driest areas in the highlands.