Category Archives: Student Blog Post 4

Chp. 14

Chapter 14 in Pattern in Prehistoric starts with the ecology setting Andean South America.  The rise of the Andes from the Pacific was so precise that the land that separated the mountains form the sea was slender. But, because the Andeans protected the coast from the air currents that were moving along from the Atlantic, part of that slender land is one of the world’s driest desserts.

The ocean current and the winds that run the water along the coast north cause fish, freshwater shrimp, and other resources. When the earth is going from the east the west, the water is being shoved towards the west. While the water is being thrust to the west end, the water generates waters that goes up, come from the bottom of the ocean.

Some of the early hunters gather foods that are now extinct. The also gathered foods depending on the season. They would travel up and down the mountain to gather these different kinds of foods. Each kind of food would cause people to move up and down the mountains depending on what foods would be available during different seasons.

In Andean South America, maize was one of the areas important crops. Different areas had different types of crop. Some of the other crops included, beans, potatoes and quinoa. Cotton was brought to people as cheap clothing and was then supplemented to expound different materials to make things like sandals and clothing. Textile remained in existence because it was used in various ways. One being burial. Many people were buried in this material and buried by the coastal desserts, which preserved the corpse and the material.

People at Alto Salavery prepared shark, bonito, mussel and other marine foods to feast on to survive in the late preceramic period, some came from plants. These people spent a lot of time in the water, hence the marine food, to the point that archeologist found bones growing in the ears of those who fished. The burials of these people were the same, meaning, they were buried with cotton and weaving tools, they were also buried with fishhooks and spindle whorls.

The cultural evolve are similar to those in the other compact of the self-governing complex societies and the arrangement of the particular items that enclose the first expansion of a religious cult, architectural monuments, productivity, the phased and critical stratification and the state and epic political system.

Cortes: Spain’s Trojan Horse

One topic I find really interesting the the Spanish conquest of Mexican Peninsula, specifically the campaign of Cortes. The first European to arrive in the Mexican territory was Francisco Hernandez de Cordoba, who  landed on the Yucatan Peninsula having sailed from Cuba with three ships and about 100 men in early 1517. The reports that Cordoba gave upon his return to Cuba prompted the Spanish governor there, Diego Velasquez, to send an evel larger force back to Mexico. This force was placed under the command of Hernan Cortes. In March of 1519, Cortes landed at the town of Tabasco, where he learned from the natives about the great Aztec civilization, then ruled by Montezuma II. Defying the authority of Velasquez, Cortes founded the city of Veracruz on the southeastern Mexican coast, where he stayed for some time while he trained his army into a disciplined fighting force. From there, Cortes and several hundred soldiers marched into Mexico. Their way was made with the help of a native woman who served as a translator (she would later be vilified by the natives as a betrayer of her people). Because of the somewhat instable structure within the Aztec empire, Cortes was able to form alliances with other native peoples, notably the Tlascalans, who were already at war with Montezuma.

In November of 1519, Cortes and his men arrived in Tenochtitlan, where Montezuma and his people greeted them as honored guests according to Aztec custom. There is also a case to be made that this was also partially due to Cortes’ physical resemblance to the light-skinned Quetzalcoatl. Cortes’ arrival apparently aligned with the prophesied coming of Quetzalcoatl according to aztec legend. Because the Aztecs did not immediately treat them as invaders, and Cortes was able to immediately take Montezuma and his entourage of lords hostage and gain control of Tenochtitla, despite the Aztecs having far superior numbers. The Spaniards then murdered thousands of Aztec nobles during a ritual dance ceremony, and Montezuma died under uncertain circumstances while in custody. Cuauhtemoc, his young nephew, took over as emperor, and the Aztecs drove the Spaniards from the city. With the help of the Aztecs’ native rivals, Cortes mounted an offensive against Tenochtitlan, finally defeating Cuauhtemoc’s resistance on August 13, 1521. In all, some 240,000 people were believed to have died in the city’s conquest, which effectively ended the Aztec civilization. After his victory, Cortes razed Tenochtitla and built Mexico City on its ruins; it quickly became the premier European center in the New World.

the sustainability of Incan shared inheritance

I was really surprised to learn about the Incan tradition of split inheritance. Not only did the deceased king continue living among the Incans (being included in ceremonies, for example), he also continued to collect tributes and taxes. The new ruler doesn’t has no claim to anything the old king collected or anything he will collect in the future. This seems really problematic, perhaps absurdly so. It is not really my goal to criticize Incan culture and political structure; I just really do not understand how it would have at all been sustainable for a long period of time.

If the king’s successor was usually his son, as Professor Watrall mentioned, would his son truly not have any part in his estate. Would the king live a life entirely separately from his family so they would not share in his wealth? It couldn’t have been the case that the father shared things with the son because then there would be no need for new taxes and the emphasis on expansion.

Because the king retained his wealth after death, the new king brought only what he already had (which I think is ambiguous considering the above paragraph). This meant there was a need to generate new revenues. His options, as we learned in class, were limited. One, he could raise mit’a. This is problematic because it’s not a simply tax, it is a labor tax. There is a finite amount of labor available to a ruler. One cannot make people work for more hours than there are in the day. The second option then became expanding the regime in order to have more people from which to collect mit’a from. Again, one cannot conquer lands that do not exist. A ruler will eventually run out of options for expansion. This does beg the question as to whether the Incan political order was engineered to require expansion or whether expansion became necessary to uphold order. It is sort of a teleological argument.

Professor Watrall said that the Spanish were the primary cause of collapse for the Incas. It seems, based on their model that the Incan empire would have not lasted for long even if the Spanish never brought their diseases or “conquered” them. All complex states are unsustainable, but the Incan empire seems especially fragile. Before they could ever run out of resources (what is a very common internal problem for societies), the Incas had to rely on sheer population growth just to maintain political order. Does it not also become a problem when several kings are dead? Is only the most recently deceased the one who remains in society and collects mit’a. Does the position lose any power with the death of subsequent rulers?

Do you think the Incan model could have been sustainable?

HIstory’s Correlations with Modern Society

Though all of the ancient empires and civilizations were thoroughly interesting to learn about, I could not help but feel most compelled those of the Americas. Perhaps it is an ethnocentric thing, as the effects of the rise and fall of the Aztecs, Mayans, Incas, and other civilizations have more effects on regions close to the United States than those of ancient Mesopotamia, Egypt, or China. It was, nonetheless, very telling that almost each and every civilization of Mesoamerica and the Andes collapsed as a result of European interaction – though many of these collapses were more a result of widespread epidemic than that of pure conquer. I’m a student of history, but I mainly focus on the relatively modern era of American society – 19th century and later. However, I nonetheless have found that the instances I have learned a great deal about major events that had taken place hundreds of years ago, I can typically see the repercussions of said events later in time. One instance of this would be modern society in Mesoamerica. I had taken a class that dealt with Mesoamerican society in the (relative) present by putting the pieces together of its past. The most interesting thing about this class is the idea of major racism being completely evident and common place throughout much of Latin America. This racism stems from the stigma of “Indians,” or rather, the descendents of those great and vast empires and civilizations of the Andes and Mesoamerica that we had learned about in class over the past few weeks. We know that today, most citizens of Mesoamerica, Latin America, and the Andes region speak Spanish (though, there are still some pockets in the Andes that speak their native tongue, I’m told). This in and of itself represents the Spanish’s success in essentially wiping out a civilization. However, the many citizens of this region of Spanish descent refuse to those of Native American blood as equals to them, often referring to them as “Indians” in a very derogatory tone. This, of course, occurred in the United States as well, with legislation such as Andrew Jackson’s Indian Removal Act of 1830. However, it was not as vast, as the density of Native American peoples was much greater in Mesoamerica than in North America. The repercussions of the Spanish conquest of Mesoamerica and the Andes regions can still easily be seen today. I was a little a disappointed we did not go into the Mississippians, as I would be interested to see correlations with the present when looking at the past.


After learning a little bit about Palenque, one of the four regional super powers in the Maya region, I thought it would be neat to look a little more into it. According to a National Geographic article I found, the first published account of this city was in 1567 by Father Pedro Lorenzo de la Nada, who was a Spaniard that was exploring the area near the Usumacinta River.  While exploring, he came across this city’s stone temples and plazas that was once painted in blue and red stucco. Lorenzo decided to call this place ‘Palenque,’ which meant “fortification” in Spanish.

Although Palenque was reported to have supported around only 6,220 people at its peak and was clearly not the largest of the four super powers, according to an assistant professor of art history, Michael D. Carrasco, it was important for other reasons.  Carrasco states that, “its naturalistic sculpture, architectural inventiveness and detailed epigraphic record,” is what made this place so valuable. Palenque’s abundance of epigraphy or inscriptions, as well as their recorded history, has aided many archaeologists over the years and allowed them the opportunity to build the first time line of monarchs that ruled a Maya city.

According to Carrasco, Palenque had very few rulers. It started with Pakal the Great from about 603-683 A.D., then his son, K’inich Kan Bahlam from around 635-702 A.D. and his grandson, K’inich Akul Mo’ Naab from 678-736 A.D. These kings commissioned various temples including the Temple of Inscriptions, which is one of the largest sources of Mayan glyphic text, to have such lengthy texts or scripts.

In 1952, Alberto Ruz Luillier, a Mexican archaeologist, moved a stone inside the Temple of Inscriptions and found Pakal the Great’s burial tomb and since then, this has become one of the most studied sites in Latin America.  A Maya specialist by the name of David Freidel stated that the tomb contained the rulers “sarcophagus” where etched pictures of “a handsome youth, the maize god, preparing to ascend into the sky along the cosmic World Tree” were depicted.

From the records at this site, archaeologists believe that the rise of this super power was caused by another super power, Calakmul, who began attacking them.  After the second attack in 611 A.D., Pakal the Great, who was twelve years old at the time, rose to power and began rebuilding Palenque into the super power it grew to be.

After 500 years have passed, Palenque is one of the most visited archaeological sites in Mexico. Since then, archaeologists have discovered “three royal tombs, a tomb of sacrifices, offerings to a royal and a high noble’s tomb.”

Mayan Ball Game

As we were talking about the rise and fall of the Mayans in Mesoamerica, one thing that first jumped to my mind was the ball game.  Many of the pictures then shown of the Mayan cities included these ballcourts.  Perhaps one of the first exposures any of us had to this ancient game was while watching “The Road to El Dorado” (the animated movie that was released in 2000).  So I wanted to research this game further, to see just how much is known about this ancient game.

A few sculptures of ballcourts have been discovered, providing invaluable information about the structure of the game and the spectators.  The court has high walls on the sides, which have spectators on the top.  Those citizens watching the game are depicted as male and female, adults and children.  Figures have their arms around one another, and you can actually see family groups sitting together watching the game.  The spectators all seem to be enjoying the game.  On each side of the court there is one figure on the end of the spectators who appears to be playing a drum.  As for the players and the field, the sculpture shows three players on the field for each of the two teams.  There is a single figure in the middle of the court that is not a player and could be a referee of sorts.  Also, there is no ball in this model, but there are round markers on the court (most likely divided it into sections).  There is no evidence from this model that human sacrifice was involved, but other areas played slightly different versions of the game that did involve that grisly end.

The Mayans used rubber to make the balls for the game.  They mixed liquid rubber (latex) from the rubber tree with juice from the Morning Glory vine; this added extra bounce and made it less sticky.  Some of the balls had a human skull at the center, which made it hollow and lighter, while others were solid rubber and weighed up to eight or ten pounds.  Different areas made different sized balls; they were anywhere from the size of a softball to the size of a beach ball.  Only a few ancient balls still exist today.  Players wore several key uniform items while they played.  Like the ball and the rules, these items varied slightly from place to place.  The key was to wear protective clothing that would not hinder the players’ speed and agility.

Not much is known about specific rules, but the general idea was to keep the rubber ball in play, most likely by hitting it with a player’s hip.  It is known that the game was fast paced and dangerous; the heavy ball causing many injuries.  The winners of the game were highly praised, which is probably the result of the game’s key place in the Mayan creation story.   Human sacrifice (of the losing team) was not the result of every game, but carvings and paintings do indicate that it happened.

There is definitely a lot to learn about this first team sport, a lot known and unknown.  It certainly gives a new meaning to the phrase “give it your all”.  I guess sometimes winning is everything.

Elite Control

A common theme woven into the religious fabric is this idea of an elite intermediary between the living and the divine. It is a practice that can be seen cross-culturally as well as spanning the continuum of time. Most presently in contemporary times we see this display in the Roman Catholic Church. It is the idea that a holy and pious priest intercedes on behalf on his parish to atone for the transgressions of many. However this is a practice that also dates back to early civilizations and may be chiefly exemplified in the ancient state of Mesoamerica, namely in San Jose Mogote at approximately 1300BC. At the time increasingly elaborate rituals were unifying a diversified population in the early highlands of Mesoamerica.  During this time the local rural population was servicing a powerful elite and in return the elite would provide retribution of iniquity to the gods.


This raises an interesting question regarding power dynamics and how it is promoted and reinforced through religious and ritualistic practices. I am especially curious in the rationale employed in needing an elite intermediary. Although I believe that this was an ingenious mechanism in place to maintain power and control I wonder how those in power justified this need to the masses.


One hypothesis I believe that supported this power structure was the perceived need for material to offer as sacrifice. In most cases in early ancient states it was essential to offer up material goods to the gods. This was done through many different avenues. It could be precious jewels or metals, opulent fabrics, livestock, the first yield of crops, or in some cases, human life. The wealthy are obviously the most viable and feasible population to provide these material goods. Therefore since they provided the sacrifice, they got to experience the divine contact. Another hypothesis is that the elite had more relational contact with the priests and religious officials. Hence, since they presided over this group the elites had more direct power in shaping the customs and practices of their given community. My last hypothesis is that religious practices were a highly guarded and protected cultural capital and was therefore maintained within the powerful circles. Accordingly, these groups were able to protect the construction of their religious practices.


Overall, religion is a very significant institution and in many cases considered very personal. Therefore it is logical that the community, particularly the elite, takes measures to preserve the integrity of this holy institution. Conversely, because it does exhibit a highly personalized nature it also makes sense that even those considered as part of the general population would have access to who or what they consider divine. Religion and ritual is something that is typically practiced on a daily basis and therefore needs continual performance and reinforcement. Due to the ongoing need to religion to be promoted throughout an individual’s lifetime rather than isolated incidents I would advocate against the position of needing an elite intermediary. Perhaps this is my Marxist thinking tendencies but I believe that in a small group of powerful individuals controlling the interactions with the divine they are also controlling the beliefs and practices at large of that community.

Ball Courts

When we were learning about the Maya in this last section of the class, I found myself really intrigued by the ball courts. I think it’s interesting how the game can connect distinct areas together with tradition, and it also reminded me of our own obsession with sports in American culture. Also, I definitely had a visual from watching The Road to El Dorado a few too many times as a kid.

I think that ball courts seem to symbolize and bring together many aspects of Mayan life. It was probably a form of entertainment much as our sports are today, but there were other purposes and significance. When competing Mayan areas were heading down a road to violence, a ball game could provide a release valve for all that pressure before a full scale, violent war came to fruition. The fact that this was even a possible solution seems to point to strong connections and relations between neighboring areas.

Beyond bringing separate Mayan regions together, the ball court also seems to follow Mesoamerican peoples throughout time as different groups rose and fell in prominence. Evidence of the ball game exists before and after the height of the Maya and seems to have passed from group to group. This common denominator also points to its greater significance for the Maya and other people such as the Olmec and the Aztec.

I also think it’s interesting that the ball court was a prevalent part of the “state” ideology that bound smaller groups together. It appeared in art and architecture and was possibly involved in ideas of cosmic balance, which we discussed in relation to human sacrifice. There was some aspect of the living fighting the dead and renewing a religious cycle.  Among the Maya, this took a more extreme turn by including a human sacrifice cult. This could be connected to how the ball court was kind of a lesser war. In war, foreign captives were an important gain from success in conquest because they served as sacrificial victims. Maybe sacrificing ball players after the game was accomplishing the same goals.

Overall, it seems that the ball game was both practical and ritual in nature. I imagine people have investigated aspects of ritual in modern sports, and I wonder if our system fills any of the same functions. Regardless, I’m certainly glad that MSU’s football games don’t end with human sacrifice.

Here’s a link to an article I read about the ball game if anyone is also interested: