Ancient Ball Courts Found in Mexico Rewrite Deadly Ballgame’s History

Ancient Ball Courts Found in Mexico Rewrite Deadly Ballgame’s History

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In Mexico, two ancient ball courts have been found in a remote highland area. This is forcing experts to rethink how an important ballgame and cultural practice emerged in ancient Mexico. The discoveries are also demonstrating the importance of highland areas, in the evolution of Mesoamerican culture.

In 2015 a group of archaeologists from the George Washington University in Washington D.C were investigating a site known as Etlatongo, in the mountains of Oaxaca, southern Mexico. They were examining an open raised area and believed they were excavating a prehistoric public building or space. However, by 2017, to their astonishment, they had found ancient ball courts.

Location of Etlatongo in Mesoamerica and the setting of its ballcourt. ( Science Advances )

Oldest Ball Court Found in the Highlands

The archaeologists had found two stone ball courts, the earliest one, dates to about 1374 BC. This was based on the radiocarbon dating of burnt wood found at the site. This means that it is the oldest one ever found in the Mexican highlands, by some 800 years. According to Science News , “the oldest known ball court dates to about 3,650 years ago at a non- Olmec coast site at Paso de la Amada.”

Both ball courts were made of stone and were walled-in areas roughly about 18 ft wide (6m). Earthen mounds were used to buttress the structures. The courts were quite similar to ball alleys. Most spectators would view the game from the mounds. These courts were regularly maintained and rebuilt, and they were in use for around 175 years.

Excavations at Etlatongo in southern Mexico probed beneath surface remains of a Spanish hacienda’s threshing floor (shown) to reveal two ancient ball courts, built atop each other. ( Formative Etlatongo Project )

Burning a Ball Court

Jeffrey Blomster an archaeologist from George Washington University, who took part in the excavation told Gizmodo that there were some architectural changes observable between the two sites, “the older court having banquettes [like a long bench] and the younger court eliminating the banquettes and instead having steeper walls adjacent to the alley.”

Close up of ballcourts’ architectural differences. (A) While Str. 1-2 has a banquette, Str. 1-3 has a major step or terrace instead that covers the earlier banquette, with a second step visible further to the west, all of which was covered by the termination event. The alley shown is from Str. 1-2 (looking west). (B) Detail of Str. 1-2’s architecture, showing alley, banquette, and eastern mound (looking east). (J. Blomster / George Washington University )

These probably reflect changes in the game over a period of time. Some of the courts have not been investigated because of their state. Blomster told Gizmodo that “we tried to be very careful and not expose more of the ballcourts than we needed to, as they are so fragile and delicate.”

Science News reports that the study found that “the second ball court was burnt and taken out of use.” This happened about 1200 BC according to radio-carbon dating and was done most likely by the local inhabitants as part of a ceremony. Why this was done is a mystery, but it seems that there were no ball courts at this site after this date.

More Than a Game

An archaeologist, David Carballo, from Boston University stated to Science News that the discovery shows “that some of the earliest villages and towns in the highlands in Mexico were playing a ballgame comparable to the most prestigious version of the sport known as ullamalitzli.”

This was a game that was played by the Aztecs and it was very popular with them, and during their competitions, they would often hold human sacrifices. Similar ballgames were also played by the Maya and other Mesoamerican societies. The games often symbolized “the regeneration of life and the maintenance of the cosmic order,” according to Gizmodo. They were also important as religious, social and political gatherings.

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The Deadly Mesoamerican Ballgame

Some 2,300 ball courts have been found across Mexico and Central America . The game involved a solid rubber ball and the aim of the game was to keep it in constant motions, like volleyball. The players used only their hips and bodies to keep the ball in play, which they did by hitting it off the walls. These games could be brutal and there are sources that state that the losers were often sacrificed to the gods.

Depiction of players hitting a rubber ball with their hips in a version of Mesoamerica’s famous ballgame. (Christoph Weiditz / )

Apart from the structures of the ball courts the team also found several artifacts and bones, both human and non-human. They also unearthed 14 fragments of figurines of ballplayers. They were wearing Olmec style clothing such as “thick belts above a loincloth and sometimes a chest plate,” reports Science News . The Olmecs were a very influential society and it appears that they influenced the development of the game and had cultural contacts with the Mexican highlands.

Partial ballgame player figurines such as this (shown from the front and side) were unearthed at a mountain site in southern Mexico. Blomster / George Washington University )

World’s Oldest Sport

Because the rubber used to make the balls came from the coastal areas, such as those controlled by the Olmecs it was long assumed that the game originated in the southern lowlands. However, the finds of the two ball courts are changing this view. Gizmodo quotes the team members who made the discovery as saying that their find is evidence that the Mexican highlands were “important players in the Mexican ballgames origin and evolution.”

The find also shows that the highlands of Mexico were important in the development and spread of Mesoamerican culture. A variant of the ballgame that was played in the ball alleys is still played in Mexico to this day. Thus, making it possibly the world’s oldest sport.

Aztec Ball Game

The Aztec ball game was actually a revision of an ancient Mesoamerican game that was played by many peoples including the Mayans. It may have originated with the ancient Olmec civilization. It became a very important part of the Aztec Empire, not just as entertainment, but for political and religious reasons as well.

Let me ask you this - if you move into a new home, what do you do first? Put up a special picture? Plug in the stereo? When the Aztecs started a new settlement, there were two things they would do. First, build a shrine to the god Huitzilopochtli, and then build a ball court next to it. In Tenochtitlan it was surrounded by the palace and temple. The Aztec ball game, known as ullamaliztli, was a priority.

A sample ullamaliztli tlachtli (ball court)
(On display at Mexico's National Anthropological Museum, 2009)

9 HarpastumCulture: Roman

An early predecessor to the modern sport of rugby, harpastum was an ancient Roman game played with a small, hard ball of the same name. Derived from two early Greek games, the goal of the game varied often, but each version included two teams. Some variations involved a single player in the middle of a scrum, attempting to grasp the harpastum and escape, with the opponents trying to keep him inside and away from the ball.

Other versions were more like rugby, with two evenly matched teams squaring off on a field, with goals on either side. Passes, as well as feints, were common, as the goal was to get the ball to the opposite end of the field, and injuries abounded since there were no rules on grappling. A predetermined amount of time was agreed upon and the winner was the team with the most points at the end.

Galen, the famous Roman physician, claimed that harpastum was one of the greatest exercises, because it was cheap, easy, and could be tailored to fit the skill level of any player.

The Sacred Aztec Ball Game

The Spanish King Carlos V and his court must have been thoroughly amazed when a group of ballplayers from Mexico -whose lands had recently been conquered in The King’s name at the beginning of the Sixteenth century- demonstrated their ability to skillfully hit a rubber ball with their hips. It was Hernando Cortés, the conquistador of the Aztec empire, who on one of his trips back to the Spanish Peninsula took these players with him, causing great admiration among the Europeans.

The audience, little accustomed to a public spectacle of semi-naked bodies, could easily appreciate the muscle contractions in these players’ bodies, as their only attire was their maxtlatl -the loincloth traditionally used by men- and leather protectors for their buttocks, knees, and ankles.

In addition to their movements, which were at the same time graceful and virile, the spectators were impressed by the speed and force of the rebound of those spherical objects made of rubber -a material native to America, unknown until then in the Old World, where balls were made of rags or leather, which made them slow and heavy.

What these men were playing is what we call Prehispanic ball game or ulama, the Aztec word derived from ollin, which means movement, struggle, and union of opposites, which in turn is derived from the root ulli or rubber. Other names for this game are tlachtli and pok-ta-pok, depending on the area where it is played.

Blood that renovates life

Although on occasions the ball game was played only as a sport or for entertainment, from ancient times the ulama had a predominantly ritual divination purpose. It was used to divine the Sun’s destiny, in order to guarantee the preservation of the cosmic and universal order.

Death by sacrifice was integrated into the symbolism of Pre-Hispanic religion and cosmogony and was an essential part of some of ancient Mexicans’ sacred rituals. In these rites, the blood that was spilled became an element that contributed to fighting the adverse forces of the gods of darkness. The ball symbolized the Sun, whereas the players represented stellar beings. In this ritual, the two teams -each with one to seven men- confronted each other, some supporting the movement of the Sun, others trying to stop it. The player who made a movement contrary to the course the ball should have –same as that of the Sun- was decapitated so as to, with his death, avert the fatal occurrence of the extinction of the Sun and, with it, the end of the Universe.

But the symbolism of the ball game wad, with it, the end of darkness. It was also a propitiatory fertility ritual: the blood of the decapitated player represented rain, the precious liquid that nourished the fields and allowed plants to strive and, therefore, men to be fed and life to continue. Because of this, at the end of the sacred ulama, there were neither victorious nor vanquished teams: the decapitated players didn’t ever lose because their sacrifice was considered an honour since, after all, it meant the triumph of the cosmic order.

The Tlachco or Ball Court, a sacred space

Although present-day ulama players can play in open areas or esplanades and before any type of audience, in Pre-Hispanic times this ritual’s symbolism necessarily required a sacred and closed space that reproduced the celestial setting where the solar movement took place.

Some researchers believe that the ball game originated among the Olmecs -the first inhabitants of the Gulf of Mexico’s coasts, in approximately 1500 B.C. However, in none of the great Olmec cities of Veracruz or Tabasco has there yet been found any vestiges of ball courts, the most significant evidence of the presence of this ritual sport. The oldest known ulama court was found in Chiapas and has been dated between the year 600 B.C. and 100 A.D. From this time and up until the European conquest, at the beginning of the Sixteenth Century. in all of the territory known as Mesoamérica (which stretches from northwestern Mexico down to Central America) the generalized practice of the ball game required a specific architectural structure.

In general terms, this structure consisted of a large patio with a peculiar shape that brings to mind the capital letter “I”, or perhaps two “T”‘s joined at the base, in such a way that it has a narrow midsection and two wider ends called cabezales or headers. Although this is the basic structure of the majority of the ulama courts, they can be found in many variants and sizes throughout the Mesoamerican territory: some are sunk in relation to the floor where the spectators watch the game others are level with the plazas. But all of them have inclined walls, or taludes, and vertical surfaces. Embedded in some of these walls are great rings of stone upon which the ball should bounce or pass through, which made the game very spectacular.

The presence of sculptured elements, such as the above-mentioned rings, markers on the ground, niches, walkways and high reliefs, allow the ritual and symbolic sense of each one of these courts to be identified.

In the area belonging to the present-day state of Oaxaca, for example, the most well-known ball courts, such as the ones in Monte Albán, Dainzú and Yagul, have the peculiarity of lacking stone rings some have niches in the cabezales and circular disks in the patio, upon which the balls were thought to have been bounced. It seems strange, on the other hand, that in Teotihuacán, the City of the Gods (in Mexico’s Central Plateau), no ulama courts have yet been discovered. However, the mural paintings of the Palace of Tepantitla portray both the players and the sacrificial rituals associated with this activity, and in the nearby La Ventilla area, a beautiful ulama marker has been found.

The archaeological sites of Tula, Xochicalco in Central Mexico, show that since 700 A.D. the particularity of this ritual sport was the presence of huge stone rings embedded in the walls that rest upon the taludes. This indicates that the game required the players to make the ball go through the ring, hitting it with their hips. In Tula, these rings were decorated with reliefs of undulating serpents and the walkway with the images of warriors, elements which strongly link this city, capital of Quetzalcóatl, the Aztec’s main god, with the Mayans of the Yucatán Peninsula.

Mexico-Tenochtitlan, the center of the Aztec empire, had numerous courts for this ritual sport, the largest of them in the Templo Mayor. The inhabitants of El Tajín, on the coast of the Gulf of Mexico, for their part, erected many courts (seventeen) in their city, the same as the people of Toluquilla and Ranas, in the Querétaro mountain area, and those of Cantona. in Puebla. It is notable that the main court in El Tajín has, as significant elements, six magnificent reliefs that associate this ceremony with the worship of pulque, and depict the crowning moment of a player’s decapitation.

The cult of the ball game in these archaeological sites surely surpasses its practice in other Mesoamerican regions. If today these archaeological sites, with their many ball courts, still strongly impress us, imagine what it would have been like in their time of splendour, with this ritual sport being played simultaneously. with all its paraphernalia, in different ulama courts.

Without a doubt, the Mayan area in the Yucatán Peninsula is where the largest number of ball courts has been found. There is practically no site in all of this extensive area where at least one structure dedicated to this mythical ritual sport wasn’t built.

Of all of them, the Great Ballcourt in Chichén Itzá, Yucatán, built around the year 900 A.D., is the most spectacular. both because of its great dimensions and its well-preserved construction and sculptures. This architectural complex boasts, among others, the Temple of the North Cabezal, where phallic cults are depicted, and the Temple of the Jaguar, with its descending serpents, associated with the itzaes’ military victories. The rings or markers in this ball court have the shape of two undulating plumed serpents, associated with Kukulcán, the Mayan representation of the Aztec god Quetzalcóatl.

The reliefs on the walkways particularly stand out: they portray richly dressed players and the decapitation of one of them as a final offering to the creation of the Universe, which is why the blood which bursts from his neck is transformed into a beam of serpents, a fertility symbol par excellence. That is why the flowering plant that, as a climbing vine, also emerges from the decapitated man’s neck and covers the background, alludes to the main significance of this ceremony: the blood that was spilled in sacrifice nourishes the earth, thus allowing the continuity of life in the Universe.

Game, sport, or ritual: ulama symbolizes the sacred movement, vital and transcendent. It is the life that is transformed into death to perpetuate life it is man’s blood that fertilizes the earth and wards off the spectre of hunger, allowing the continuity of human existence on earth and preventing the darkness of night from forever taking over the world.
Although the game of Ulama has been slowly disappearing since the Spanish Conquest, today we are fortunate to find that it is being recovered in various Mexican regions. The state of Sinaloa has the great merit of having kept the game alive until our days, spreading it to faraway regions such as the state of Quintana Roo, where it is played in Xcaret Park in various modalities and with courts constructed expressly for this purpose, for the good fortune and enjoyment of all those who visit.

Ancient Aztec temple and ball court discovered in Mexico City

Mexican archaeologist Raul Barerra gives an explanation during a tour by the archaeological site of the ancient Aztec temple of Ehecatl-Quetzalcoatl and ritual Ball Game recently discovered in downtown Mexico City Credit: AFP

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A giant temple to the Aztec god of the wind and a court where the Aztecs played a deadly ball game have been discovered in the heart of Mexico City.

Archaeologists unveiled the rare finds on Wednesday after extensive excavations, giving journalists a tour of the semi-circular temple of Ehecatl-Quetzalcoatl and nearby ball court.

Records indicate that Spanish conquistador Hernan Cortes first watched the ritual Aztec ball game at the court in 1528, invited by the last Aztec emperor, Montezuma - the man whose empire he went on to conquer.

H istorians believe the game involved players using their hips to keep a ball in play - as well as ritual human sacrifices.

Archaeologists uncovered 32 sets of human neck bones at the site, which they said were likely the remains of people who were decapitated as part of the ritual.

Only part of the structure remains - a staircase and a portion of the stands. Archaeologists estimate the original court was about 50 meters (165 feet) long.

The temple, meanwhile, is a giant semi-circle perched atop an even larger rectangular base. The whole thing once measured some 34 meters across and four meters high, archaeologists said.

The ancient structures stand in startling contrast with the sprawling mega-city that now surrounds them, which was built atop the ruins of the Aztec capital, Tenochtitlan.

T hey are just the latest ancient vestiges to be discovered in the historic city center, at what is known as the Great Temple site.

"The discovery we are looking at is a new chance to immerse ourselves in the splendor of the pre-Hispanic city of Tenochtitlan," Culture Minister Maria Cristina Garcia said.

A hotel formerly stood on the site of the newly discovered ruins until 1985, when it collapsed in a catastrophic earthquake that killed thousands of people.

The hotel's owners then noticed the ancient remains and alerted the National Institute of Anthropology and History.

Archaeologists believe the temple celebrated the god of the wind and was built between 1486 and 1502.

Officials said they plan to open the site to the public, although no date has been set.

The Brutal and Bloody History of the Mesoamerican Ball Game, Where Sometimes Loss Was Death

The Olmecs started it, the Maya tweaked it, and the Aztecs nailed it. The Mesoamerican Ballgame, played with a solid rubber ball — weighing at around 10 pounds — and teams of one to four people, makes a regular appearance throughout Pre-Columbian history. Though added later, stone ball courts have been found from Arizona to Nicaragua.

A ceramic depiction of a ball game in the Museo Rufino Tamayo of Oaxaca (photograph by Thomas Aleto)

Though the exact rules of the game aren’t known, it is generally believed that the game was played more or less like today’s volleyball (net ‐ less) or racquetball. Players wore helmets, pads and thick protective yokes around their mid ‐ section and kept the ball in play by hitting it off their hips. 

The Mesoamerican ball game makes its first appearance among the Olmec around 1500 BC in the central Gulf Coast of Mexico, an area known at the time for latex production. Many balls have been discovered in the region as part of burials and as ritual offerings at shrines, suggesting the balls and other ballgame accoutrements were a sign of status or wealth.   In fact, this idea has been reinforced by the evidence of ball courts being found near chief’s homes in Olmec sites. The game the Olmecs played was associated with prestige and social standing, and only the wealthy and therefore upper class could afford to put on a game. The giant stone heads found in the region also depict chiefs wearing the ball playing helmet. 

Olmec head in the Parque Museo La Venta in Mexico (photograph by Steven Bridger)

Carving of a human sacrifice after a ball game in Veracruz, Mexico (photograph by Thomas Aleto)

The game continued to be played throughout Mesoamerica when it was adopted by the Maya, who added their own special twist. Humans and the lords of the underworld battled it out by playing the game, according to the creation story the known as the Popol Vuh. In this way, the ball court was a portal to Xibalba — the Mayan underworld. The Maya used the game as a stand ‐ in for warfare, settling territory disputes and hereditary issues, and to foretell the future. Captives of wars were forced to play (undoubtedly rigged) games that resulted in their sacrifice when they lost. 

Sacrificed ball player in the Anthropolgy Museum of Xalapa, Mexico (photograph by Maurice Marcellin)

Two ball players on a carving in Guatemala (photograph by Simon Burchell)

The Aztecs continued this proud tradition of loser ‐ lose ‐ all, as many vases and sculptures depict the inevitable decapitation of the losing team. There are even some depictions of ball players playing with the heads of the losers in place of a ball. Whether this actually occurred is up to artistic speculation. The Spanish who observed the game reported horrendous injuries to those who played it — deep bruising requiring lancing, broken bones, and even death when a player was hit in the head or by an unprotected bit by the heavy ball.

A ball court in Oaxaca (photograph by Matt Barnett)

Shadow of a stone hole at a ball court (photograph by Erik Bremer)

The Great Ball Court at Chichén-Itzá in Mexico (photograph by Daryl Mitchell)

There are many of these fine ball courts one can visit today. The great ball court at Chichen Itza, built around 800 AD, is the largest and best preserved yet found. The Maya added the stone ring for bonus point opportunities, but putting the ball through the hoop was a very rare event. In fact, mayan ball courts can be explored at just about every archaeological site including: Palenque, Yaxchilan, Tikal, Uxmal, Ek Balam, Copan, and Calakmul. And while you can’t do much playing now at these historic sites, a slightly less gruesome version of the game called Ulama still survives is played in Mexico today.   


A direct translation of the word "Taíno" signified "men of the good". [16] Additionally, the indigenous people of Hispaniola used this term to indicate that they were "relatives". [17] [ full citation needed ] The Taíno people, or Taíno culture, has been classified by some authorities as belonging to the Arawak. Their language is considered to have belonged to the Arawak language family, the languages of which were historically present throughout the Caribbean, and much of Central and South America.

The early ethnohistorian Daniel Garrison Brinton referred to the Taíno people as the "Island Arawak", expressing their connection to the continental peoples. [18] But, contemporary scholars have also recognized that the Taíno had developed a distinct language and culture.

Taíno and Arawak appellations have been used with numerous and contradictory meanings by writers, travelers, historians, linguists, and anthropologists. Often they were used interchangeably: "Taíno" was applied to the Greater Antillean natives only, or including the Bahamian natives, or adding the Leeward Islands natives, or all those, excluding the Puerto Rican and Leeward nations. Similarly, "Island Taíno" has been used to refer to those living in the Windward Islands only, to the northern Caribbean inhabitants only, as well as to the indigenous population of all the Caribbean islands.

Modern historians, linguists and anthropologists now hold that the term Taíno should refer to all the Taíno/Arawak nations, except for the Caribs, who are not seen to belong to the same people. Linguists continue to debate whether the Carib language is an Arawakan dialect or creole language. They also speculate that it was an independent language isolate, with an Arawakan pidgin used for communication purposes with other peoples, as in trading.

Rouse classifies as Taíno as all inhabitants of the Greater Antilles (except the western tip of Cuba and small pockets of Hispaniola), the Lucayan archipelago, and the northern Lesser Antilles. He subdivides the Taíno into three main groups: Classic Taíno, from most of Hispaniola and all of Puerto Rico Western Taíno, or sub-Taíno, for the population from Jamaica, most of Cuba, and the Lucayan archipelago and Eastern Taíno for those from the Virgin Islands to Montserrat. [19]

Two schools of thought have emerged regarding the origin of the indigenous people of the Caribbean.

  • One group of scholars contends that the ancestors of the Taíno were Arawak speakers who came from the center of the Amazon Basin, and are related to the Yanomami. This is indicated by linguistic, cultural and ceramic evidence. They migrated to the Orinoco valley on the north coast. From there they reached the Caribbean by way of what is now Guyana and Venezuela into Trinidad, migrating along the Lesser Antilles to Cuba and the Bahamian archipelago. Evidence that supports this theory includes the tracing of the ancestral cultures of these people to the Orinoco Valley, and their languages to the Amazon Basin. [20][21][22]
  • The alternate theory, known as the circum-Caribbean theory, contends that the ancestors of the Taíno diffused from the Colombian Andes. Julian H. Steward, who originated this concept, suggests a migration from the Andes to the Caribbean and a parallel migration into Central America and into the Guianas, Venezuela, and the Amazon Basin of South America. [20]

Taíno culture as documented is believed to have developed in the Caribbean. The Taíno creation story says that they emerged from caves in a sacred mountain on present-day Hispaniola. [23] In Puerto Rico, 21st-century studies have shown that a high proportion of people have Amerindian mtDNA. Of the two major haplotypes found, one does not exist in the Taíno ancestral group, so other Native American people are also among the genetic ancestors. [21] [24]

Taíno society was divided into two classes: naborias (commoners) and nitaínos (nobles). They were governed by male chiefs known as caciques, who inherited their position through their mother's noble line. (This was a matrilineal kinship system, with social status passed through the female lines.) The nitaínos functioned as sub-caciques in villages, overseeing the work of naborias. Caciques were advised by priests/healers known as bohiques. Caciques enjoyed the privilege of wearing golden pendants called guanín, living in square bohíos, instead of the round ones of ordinary villagers, and sitting on wooden stools to be above the guests they received. [25] Bohiques were extolled for their healing powers and ability to speak with deities. They were consulted and granted the Taíno permission to engage in important tasks. [ citation needed ]

The Taíno had a matrilineal system of kinship, descent, and inheritance. When a male heir did not exist, the inheritance or succession would go to the oldest male child of the sister of the deceased. The Taíno had avunculocal post-marital residence, meaning a newly married couple lived in the household of the maternal uncle. He was more important in the lives of his niece's children than their biological father the uncle introduced the boys to men's societies in his sister and his family's clan. Some Taíno practiced polygamy. Men, and sometimes women, might have two or three spouses. A few caciques had as many as 30 wives, related to their wealth and ability to support them. [ citation needed ]

The Taíno women were highly skilled in agriculture. The people depended on it, but the men also fished and hunted. They made fishing nets and ropes from cotton and palm. Their dugout canoes (kanoa) were made in various sizes, which could hold from 2 to 150 people. An average-sized canoe would hold about 15–20 people. They used bows and arrows for hunting, and developed the use of poisons on their arrowheads. [ citation needed ]

Taíno women commonly wore their hair with bangs in front and longer in back, and they occasionally wore gold jewelry, paint, and/or shells. Taíno men and unmarried women did not usually wear clothes, and were naked. After marriage, women wore a small cotton apron, called a nagua. [26]

The Taíno lived in settlements called yucayeques, which varied in size depending on the location. Those in Puerto Rico and Hispaniola were the largest, and those in the Bahamas were the smallest. In the center of a typical village was a central plaza, used for various social activities, such as games, festivals, religious rituals, and public ceremonies. These plazas had many shapes, including oval, rectangular, narrow, and elongated. Ceremonies where the deeds of the ancestors were celebrated, called areitos, were performed here. [27]

Often, the general population lived in large circular buildings (bohios), constructed with wooden poles, woven straw, and palm leaves. These houses, built surrounding the central plaza, could hold 10–15 families each. [28] [ full citation needed ] The cacique and his family lived in rectangular buildings (caney) of similar construction, with wooden porches. Taíno home furnishings included cotton hammocks (hamaca), sleeping and sitting mats made of palms, wooden chairs (dujo or duho) with woven seats and platforms, and cradles for children.

The Taíno played a ceremonial ball game called batey. Opposing teams had 10 to 30 players per team and used a solid rubber ball. Normally, the teams were composed of men, but occasionally women played the game as well. [29] The Classic Taíno played in the village's center plaza or on especially designed rectangular ball courts called batey. Games on the batey are believed to have been used for conflict resolution between communities. The most elaborate ball courts are found at chiefdom boundaries. [27] Often, chiefs made wagers on the possible outcome of a game. [29]

Taíno spoke an Arawakan language and used an early form of writing Proto-writing in the form of petroglyph. [30]

Some words that they used, such as barbacoa ("barbecue"), hamaca ("hammock"), kanoa ("canoe"), tabaco ("tobacco"), yuca, batata ("sweet potato"), and juracán ("hurricane"), have been incorporated into Spanish and English. [ citation needed ]

For warfare, the men made wooden war clubs, which they called a macana. It was about one inch thick and was similar to the coco macaque.

The Taíno were the most culturally advanced of the Arawak group to settle in what is now Puerto Rico. [31] Individuals and kinship groups that previously had some prestige and rank in the tribe began to occupy the hierarchical position that would give way to the cacicazgo. [32] The Taíno founded settlements around villages and organized their chiefdoms, or cacicazgos, into a confederation. [33]

The Taino society, as described by the Spanish chroniclers, was composed of four social classes: the cacique, the nitaínos, the behiques, and the naborias. [32] According to archeological evidence, the Taíno islands were able to support a high number of people for approximately 1,500 years. [34] Every individual living in the Taíno society had a task to do. The Taíno believed that everyone living in their islands should eat properly. [34] They followed a very efficient nature harvesting and agricultural production system. [34] Either people were hunting, searching for food, or doing other productive tasks. [34]

Tribal groups settled in villages under a chieftain, known as cacique, or cacica if the ruler was a woman. Many women whom the Spaniards called cacicas were not always rulers in their own right, but were mistakenly acknowledged as such because they were the wives of caciques. [ citation needed ] Chiefs were chosen from the nitaínos and generally obtained their power from the maternal line. A male ruler was more likely to be succeeded by his sister's children than his own, unless their mother's lineage allowed them to succeed in their own right. [35]

The chiefs had both temporal and spiritual functions. They were expected to ensure the welfare of the tribe and to protect it from harm from both natural and supernatural forces. [36] They were also expected to direct and manage the food production process. The cacique's power came from the number of villages he controlled and was based on a network of alliances related to family, matrimonial, and ceremonial ties. According to an early 20th-century Smithsonian study, these alliances showed unity of the indigenous communities in a territory [37] they would band together as a defensive strategy to face external threats, such as the attacks by the Caribs on communities in Puerto Rico. [38]

The practice of polygamy enabled the cacique to have women and create family alliances in different localities, thus extending his power. As a symbol of his status, the cacique carried a guanín of South American origin, made of an alloy of gold and copper. This symbolized the first Taíno mythical cacique Anacacuya, whose name means "star of the center", or "central spirit." In addition to the guanín, the cacique used other artifacts and adornments to serve to identify his role. Some examples are tunics of cotton and rare feathers, crowns and masks or "guaizas" of cotton with feathers colored stones, shells or gold cotton woven belts and necklaces of snail beads or stones, with small masks of gold or other material. [32]

Under the cacique, the social organization was composed of two tiers: The nitaínos at the top and the naborias at the bottom. [31] The nitaínos were considered the nobles of the tribes. They were made up of warriors and family of the cacique. [39] Advisers who assisted in operational matters of assigning and supervising communal work, planting and harvesting crops, and keeping peace among the village's inhabitants, were selected from among the nitaínos. [40] The naborias were the more numerous working peasants of the lower class. [39]

The behiques were priests who represented religious beliefs. [39] Behiques dealt with negotiating with angry or indifferent gods as the accepted lords of the spiritual world. The behiques were expected to communicate with the gods, to soothe them when they were angry, and to intercede on the tribe's behalf. It was their duty to cure the sick, heal the wounded, and interpret the will of the gods in ways that would satisfy the expectations of the tribe. Before carrying out these functions, the behiques performed certain cleansing and purifying rituals, such as fasting for several days and inhaling sacred tobacco snuff. [36]

Taíno staples included vegetables, fruit, meat, and fish. There were no large animals native to the Caribbean, but they captured and ate small animals, such as hutias and other mammals, earthworms, lizards, turtles, and birds. Manatees were speared and fish were caught in nets, speared, trapped in weirs, or caught with hook and line. Wild parrots were decoyed with domesticated birds, and iguanas were taken from trees and other vegetation. The Taíno stored live animals until they were ready to be consumed: fish and turtles were stored in weirs, hutias and dogs were stored in corrals. [41]

The Taíno people became very skilled fishermen. One method used was to hook a remora, also known as a suckerfish, to a line secured to a canoe and wait for the fish to attach itself to a larger fish or even a sea turtle. Once this happened, some of the Taíno would dive into the water to assist in retrieving the catch. Another method used by the Taínos was to shred the stems and roots of poisonous senna plants and throw them into nearby streams or rivers. Upon eating the bait, the fish were stunned, allowing boys time enough to collect them. This toxin did not affect the edibility of the fish. The Taíno also collected mussels and oysters in shallow waters within the exposed mangrove roots. [42] Some young boys hunted waterfowl from flocks that "darkened the sun", according to Christopher Columbus. [34]

Taíno groups in the more developed islands, such as Puerto Rico, Hispaniola, and Jamaica, relied more on agriculture (farming and other jobs). Fields for important root crops, such as the staple yuca, were prepared by heaping up mounds of soil, called conucos. This improved soil drainage and fertility as well as delaying erosion, allowed for longer storage of crops in the ground. Less important crops such as corn were raised in simple clearings created by slash and burn technique. Typically, conucos were three feet high and nine feet in circumference and were arranged in rows. [43] The primary root crop was yuca or cassava, a woody shrub cultivated for its edible and starchy tuberous root. It was planted using a coa, a kind of hoe made completely from wood. Women processed the poisonous variety of cassava by squeezing it to extract the toxic juices. Then they would grind the roots into flour for baking bread. Batata (sweet potato) was the next most important root crop. [43]

Contrary to mainland practices, corn was not ground into flour and baked into bread, but was cooked and eaten off the cob. Corn bread becomes moldy faster than cassava bread in the high humidity of the Caribbean. Corn also was used to make an alcoholic beverage known as chicha. [44] The Taíno grew squash, beans, peppers, peanuts, and pineapples. Tobacco, calabashes (West Indian pumpkins), and cotton were grown around the houses. Other fruits and vegetables, such as palm nuts, guavas, and Zamia roots, were collected from the wild. [43]

Taíno spirituality centered on the worship of zemís. A zemí is a spirit or ancestor. The major Taíno zemis are Atabey and her son, Yúcahu. Atabey was the zemi of the moon, fresh waters, and fertility. Other names for her include Atabei, Atabeyra, Atabex, and Guimazoa. [ citation needed ] The Taínos of Quisqueya (Dominican Republic) called her son, "Yucahú Bagua Maorocotí", which means "White Yuca, great and powerful as the sea and the mountains". He was the spirit of cassava, the zemi of cassava – the Taínos' main crop – and the sea. [ citation needed ]

Guabancex was the non-nurturing aspect of the zemi Atabey who had control over natural disasters. She is identified as the goddess of the hurricanes or as the zemi of storms. Guabancex had twin sons: Guataubá, a messenger who created hurricane winds, and Coatrisquie, who created floodwaters. [45]

Iguanaboína was the goddess of the good weather. She also had twin sons: Boinayel, the messenger of rain, and Marohu, the spirit of clear skies. [46]

The minor Taíno zemis related to the growing of cassava, the process of life, creation, and death. Baibrama was a minor zemi worshiped for his assistance in growing cassava and curing people from its poisonous juice. Boinayel and his twin brother Márohu were the zemis of rain and fair weather, respectively. [47]

Maquetaurie Guayaba or Maketaori Guayaba was the zemi of Coaybay or Coabey, the land of the dead. Opiyelguabirán', a dog-shaped zemi, watched over the dead. Deminán Caracaracol, a male cultural hero from whom the Taíno believed themselves to be descended, was worshipped as a zemí. [47] Macocael was a cultural hero worshipped as a zemi, who had failed to guard the mountain from which human beings arose. He was punished by being turned into stone, or a bird, a frog, or a reptile, depending on interpretation of the myth. [ citation needed ]

Zemí was also the name the people gave to their physical representations of the Zemis, whether objects or drawings. They were made in many forms and materials and have been found in a variety of settings. The majority of zemís were crafted from wood, but stone, bone, shell, pottery, and cotton were used as well. [48] Zemí petroglyphs were carved on rocks in streams, ball courts, and on stalagmites in caves. Cemí pictographs were found on secular objects such as pottery, and on tattoos. Yucahú, the zemi of cassava, was represented with a three-pointed zemí, which could be found in conucos to increase the yield of cassava. Wood and stone zemís have been found in caves in Hispaniola and Jamaica. [49] Cemís are sometimes represented by toads, turtles, fish, snakes, and various abstract and human-like faces. [ citation needed ]

Some zemís are accompanied by a small table or tray, which is believed to be a receptacle for hallucinogenic snuff called cohoba, prepared from the beans of a species of Piptadenia tree. These trays have been found with ornately carved snuff tubes. Before certain ceremonies, Taínos would purify themselves, either by inducing vomiting (with a swallowing stick) or by fasting. [50] After communal bread was served, first to the zemí, then to the cacique, and then to the common people, the people would sing the village epic to the accompaniment of maraca and other instruments. [ citation needed ]

One Taíno oral tradition explains that the Sun and Moon come out of caves. Another story tells of people who once lived in caves and only came out at night, because it was believed that the Sun would transform them. The Taíno believed they were descended from the union of the cultural hero Deminán Caracaracol and a female turtle. [ citation needed ] The origin of the oceans is described in the story of a huge flood that occurred when a father murdered his son (who was about to murder the father). The father put his son's bones into a gourd or calabash. When the bones turned into fish, the gourd broke, and all the water of the world came pouring out. [ citation needed ]

Taínos believed that Jupias, the souls of the dead, would go to Coaybay, the underworld, and there they rest by day. At night they would assume the form of bats and eat the guava fruit. [ citation needed ]

Columbus and the crew of his ship were the first Europeans to encounter the Taíno people, as they landed in The Bahamas on October 12, 1492. After their first interaction, Columbus described the Taínos as a physically tall, well-proportioned people, with a noble and kind personality.

They traded with us and gave us everything they had, with good will . they took great delight in pleasing us . They are very gentle and without knowledge of what is evil nor do they murder or steal. Your highness may believe that in all the world there can be no better people . They love their neighbours as themselves, and they have the sweetest talk in the world, and are gentle and always laughing. [51]

At this time, the neighbors of the Taíno were the Guanahatabeys in the western tip of Cuba, the Island-Caribs in the Lesser Antilles from Guadeloupe to Grenada, and the Calusa and Ais nations of Florida. Guanahaní was the Taíno name for the island that Columbus renamed as San Salvador (Spanish for "Holy Savior"). Columbus called the Taíno "Indians", a reference that has grown to encompass all the indigenous peoples of the Western Hemisphere. A group of Taíno people accompanied Columbus on his return voyage to Spain. [52]

On Columbus' second voyage to their culture, he began to require tribute from the Taíno in Hispaniola. According to Kirkpatrick Sale, each adult over 14 years of age was expected to deliver a hawks bell full of gold every three months, or when this was lacking, twenty-five pounds of spun cotton. If this tribute was not brought, the Spanish cut off the hands of the Taíno and left them to bleed to death. [53] These cruel practices inspired many revolts by the Taíno and campaigns against the Spanish — some being successful, some not.

In 1511, several caciques in Puerto Rico, such as Agüeybaná II, Arasibo, Hayuya, Jumacao, Urayoán, Guarionex, and Orocobix, allied with the Carib and tried to oust the Spaniards. The revolt was suppressed by the Indio-Spanish forces of Governor Juan Ponce de León. [54] Hatuey, a Taíno chieftain who had fled from Hispaniola to Cuba with 400 natives to unite the Cuban natives, was burned at the stake on February 2, 1512.

In Hispaniola, a Taíno chieftain named Enriquillo mobilized more than 3,000 Taíno in a successful rebellion in the 1520s. These Taíno were accorded land and a charter from the royal administration. Despite the small Spanish military presence in the region, they often used diplomatic divisions and, with help from powerful native allies, controlled most of the region. [55] [56] In exchange for a seasonal salary, religious and language education, the Taíno were required to work for Spanish and Indian land owners. This system of labor was part of the encomienda.

Taíno society was based on a matrilineal system and descent was traced through the mother. Women lived in village groups containing their children. The men lived separately. Because of this Taíno women had extensive control over their lives, their co-villagers, and their bodies. [57] Since they lived separately from men, they were able to decide when they wanted to participate in sexual contact. This social organization partially shaped the views of conquistadors who came in contact with Taíno culture. They reportedly perceived women as "macha women" who had strong control over the men. [ citation needed ]

Taíno women played an important role in intercultural interaction between Spaniards and the Taíno people. When Taíno men were away fighting intervention from other groups, women assumed the roles of primary food producers or ritual specialists. [58] Women seem to have participated in all levels of the Taíno political hierarchy, occupying roles as high up as being cazicas. [59] Potentially, this meant Taíno women could make important choices for the village and could assign tasks to tribe members. [60] There is evidence that suggests that the women who were wealthiest among the tribe collected crafted goods that they would then use for trade or as gifts.

Despite women being seemingly independent in Taíno society, during the era of contact Spaniards took Taíno women as an exchange item, putting them in a non-autonomous position. Dr. Chanca, a physician who traveled with Christopher Columbus, reported in a letter that Spaniards took as many women as they possibly could and kept them as concubines. [ citation needed ] Some sources report that, despite women being free and powerful before the contact era, they became the first commodities up for Spaniards to trade, or often, steal. This marked the beginning of a lifetime of kidnapping and abuse of Taíno women. [61]

Early population estimates of Hispaniola, probably the most populous island inhabited by Taínos, range from 10,000 to 1,000,000 people. [62] The maximum estimates for Jamaica and Puerto Rico are 600,000 people. [19] A 2020 genetic analysis estimated the population to be no more than a few tens of thousands of people. [9] [10] The Spanish priest and defender of the Taíno Bartolomé de las Casas (who had lived in Santo Domingo) wrote in his 1561 multi-volume History of the Indies: [63]

There were 60,000 people living on this island [when I arrived in 1508], including the Indians so that from 1494 to 1508, over three million people had perished from war, slavery and the mines. Who in future generations will believe this?

Researchers today doubt Las Casas' figures for the pre-contact levels of the Taíno population, considering them an exaggeration. [64] For example, Karen Anderson Córdova estimates a maximum of 500,000 people inhabiting the island. [65] They had no resistance to Old World diseases, notably smallpox. [66] The encomienda system brought many Taíno to work in the fields and mines in exchange for Spanish protection, [67] education, and a seasonal salary. [68] Under the pretense of searching for gold and other materials, [69] many Spaniards took advantage of the regions now under control of the anaborios and Spanish encomenderos to exploit the native population by seizing their land and wealth. Historian David Stannard characterizes the encomienda as a genocidal system that "had driven many millions of native peoples in Central and South America to early and agonizing deaths." [70] It would take some time before the Taíno revolted against their oppressors — both Indian and Spanish alike — and many military campaigns before Emperor Charles V eradicated the encomienda system as a form of slavery. [71] [72]

Diseases obviously had a lot to do with the destruction of the indigenous population, but forced labor was also one of the chief reasons as to why the population was decimated. [73] The first man to introduce this forced labor among the Taínos was leader of the European colonization of Puerto Rico, Ponce de León. [73] This forced labor eventually led to the Taíno rebellions, in which the Spaniards responded with violent military expeditions known as cabalgadas. [ citation needed ] The purpose of the military expedition was to capture the indigenous peoples. [ citation needed ] This violence by the Spaniards was a reason why there was a decline in the Taíno population since it forced many of these people to emigrate to other islands and the mainland. [74]

In thirty years, between 80% and 90% of the Taíno population died. [75] [73] Because of the increased number of people (Spanish) on the island, there was a higher demand for food. Taíno cultivation was converted to Spanish methods. In hopes of frustrating the Spanish, some Taínos refused to plant or harvest their crops. The supply of food became so low in 1495 and 1496 that some 50,000 died from famine. [76] Historians have determined that the massive decline was due more to infectious disease outbreaks than any warfare or direct attacks. [77] [78] By 1507, their numbers had shrunk to 60,000. Scholars believe that epidemic disease (smallpox, influenza, measles, and typhus) was an overwhelming cause of the population decline of the indigenous people, [79] and also attributed a "large number of Taíno deaths. to the continuing bondage systems" that existed. [80] [81] Academics, such as historian Andrés Reséndez of the University of California, Davis, assert that disease alone does not explain the total destruction of indigenous populations of Hispaniola. While the populations of Europe rebounded following the devastating population decline associated with the Black Death, there was no such rebound for the indigenous populations of the Caribbean. He concludes that, even though the Spanish were aware of deadly diseases such as smallpox, there is no mention of them in the New World until 1519, meaning perhaps they didn't spread as fast as initially believed, and that unlike Europeans, the indigenous populations were subjected to slavery, exploitation, and forced labor in gold and silver mines on an enormous scale. [82] Reséndez says that "slavery has emerged as a major killer" of the indigenous people of the Caribbean. [12] Anthropologist Jason Hickel estimates that a third of indigenous workers died every six months from lethal forced labor in these mines. [83]

In February 2018, a DNA study from an ancient tooth determined that the Taíno have living descendants in Puerto Rico, and it indicated that most Puerto Ricans have a degree of Taíno ancestry. [4] DNA evidence shows that a large proportion of the current populations of the Greater Antilles have Taíno ancestry, with 61% of Puerto Ricans, up to 30% of Dominicans, and 33% of Cubans having mitochondrial DNA of Taíno origin. [84]

Frank Moya Pons, a Dominican historian, documented that Spanish colonists intermarried with Taíno women. Over time, some of their mixed-race descendants intermarried with Africans, creating a tripartite Creole culture. Census records from the year 1514 reveal that 40% of Spanish men on the island of Hispaniola had Taíno wives. [85] But ethnohistorian Lynne Guitar writes that Spanish documents declared the Taíno to be extinct in the sixteenth century, as early as 1550. [86]

Evidence suggests that some Taíno women and African men intermarried and lived in relatively isolated Maroon communities in the interior of the islands, where they developed into a mixed-race population of peasants who were relatively independent of Spanish authorities. [ citation needed ] For instance, when the colony of Jamaica was under the rule of Spain (known then as the colony of Santiago), both Taíno men and women fled to the Bastidas Mountains (currently known as the Blue Mountains). There the Taíno intermingled with escaped African slaves. They were among the ancestors of the Jamaican Maroons of the east, including those communities led by Juan de Bolas and Juan de Serras. The Maroons of Moore Town claim descent from the Taíno. [87]

Scholars also note that contemporary rural Dominicans retain elements of Taíno culture: including linguistic features, agricultural practices, food ways, medicine, fishing practices, technology, architecture, oral history, and religious views. Often urbanites have considered such cultural traits as backward, however. [86]

Sixteen autosomal studies of peoples in the Spanish-speaking Caribbean and its diaspora (mostly Puerto Ricans) have shown that between 10–20% of their DNA is indigenous. Some individuals have slightly higher scores, and others have lower scores, or no indigenous DNA at all. [88] A recent study of a population in eastern Puerto Rico, where the majority of persons tested claimed Taíno ancestry and pedigree, showed that they had 61% mtDNA (distant maternal ancestry) from the Taíno, and 0% Y-chromosome DNA (distant paternal ancestry) from the indigenous people. This demonstrated the anticipated creole population formed from the Taíno, Spanish and Africans. [89] Histories of the Caribbean commonly describe the Taino as extinct, due to being killed off by disease, slavery, and war with the Spaniards. Some present-day residents of the Caribbean self-identify as Taino, and claim that Taino culture and identity have survived into the present. [90] Groups advocating this point of view are known as Neo-Taínos, and are also established in the Puerto Rican communities located in New Jersey and New York. A few Neo-Taíno groups are pushing not only for recognition, but respect for their cultural assets. [91]

A genetic study published in 2018 provided some evidence of a present-day Caribbean population being related to the Taínos. DNA was extracted from a tooth of a 1,000-year-old female skeleton found in a cave in Lucaya, Bahamas, and the genetic results show that she is most closely related to present-day Arawakan speakers from northern South America. The study's authors write that this demonstrates continuity between pre-contact populations and present-day Latino populations in the Caribbean. [92] [93] Today, Taínos from places such as the diaspora in the United States and the islands, are gathering together. [94]

As of 2006, there were a couple of dozen activist Taino organizations from Florida to Puerto Rico and California to New York with growing memberships numbering in the thousands. These efforts are known as the "Taíno restoration", a revival movement for Taíno culture that seeks official recognition of the survival of the Taíno people. [95]

In Puerto Rico, the history of the Taíno is being taught in schools and children are encouraged to celebrate the culture and identity of Taíno through dance, costumes and crafts. Martínez Cruzado, a geneticist at the University of Puerto Rico at Mayagüez said celebrating and learning about their Taíno roots is helping Puerto Ricans feel connected to one another. [96]

While the scholar Yolanda Martínez-San Miguel sees the development of the Neo-Taino movement in Puerto Rico as a useful counter to the domination of the island by the United States and the Spanish legacies of island society, she also notes that the Neo-Taino movement in Puerto Rico "could be seen as a useless anachronistic reinvention of a 'Boricua coqui' identity. [97]

Communities of indigenous people of Taino descent have survived in isolated parts of eastern Cuba (including parts of Yateras and Baracoa) into the present, who preserve cultural practices of Taino origin. [98] [99]

Ancient Ball Courts Found in Mexico Rewrite Deadly Ballgame’s History - History

Термины в модуле (38)

The domesticated dog was brought by Paeloindian peoples, and was the only domesticated animal common to all Native American peoples

No shared package of founder crops that was widely shared among early agriculturalists

Bottle gourd
Native to Africa
Likely arrived by drifting across the Atlantic Ocean
Being cultivated in the Americas by 8000
Requires little care/intervention

Native to the Americas
Wild ancestor of nearly all modern squashes you see in the Grocery
Like bottle gourds, squash requires little care/intervention

Both squash and gourd were likely used as
Containers, floats for fishing nets, food, rattles and instruments

Use of these plants does not necessitate a shift towards sedentism
Cultivated plants complemented forager subsistence

Undergoes domestication by at least 5000
Stable isotope
analysis of human bones suggests maize was supplemented to the overall diet

Domesticated in Mexico by 1000
Younger than previously thought
Wild an ancestor of nearly all beans we eat today

Mesoamerican domesticated animals included dogs, turkey, duck, and bees

Cromlechs are circular arrangements of stones set upright

Emerged in the European Renaissance and a fascination with history, ruins, and artifacts

Excavator of the site of Knossos on the island of Crete

Used the term Minoan to describe the Bronze Age in Crete after the legendary ruler of Knossos King Minos

Evidence for social complexity is minimal during the Early Minoan Period

Communal circular tombs known as tholos tombs
Contain hundreds of remains deposited over several centuries
Associated with relatively small communities

"Horns of consecration"
Bare-breasted women grasping snakes
The double-axe motif (always associated with females)

Peak sanctuaries—shrines located on hill- and mountain-tops
Some were very elaborate and used by large numbers of people
across Crete
Others were more provincial—used entirely by local peoples

Minoans used three forms of writing:
Minoan hieroglyphics (undeciphered) ca. 2000
Linear A (undeciphered) 1800-1500
Linear B (deciphered) ca. 1500-1200

Minoan civilization maintained extensive trade networks
First evidence for plank-built sailing ships in the Mediterranean
Primarily for raw materials rather than finished products
Materials were the foundation of the wealth and power
Exactly how that power was manifest remains unknown
Were palaces and their territories independent and competing?
Or, were they all under the control of a single center of power at

While the idea of equal citizens seems appealing, much of the day-to-day
functioning of a Greek polis was facilitated by a widespread slave-trade
Aristotle referred to these people as "living tools"
Slaves were owned as property, and had no rights as a citizen
Sources of slaves varied, but the Mediterranean facilitated their
transport across vast distances

Classical period
Greece (ca. 480-380
Typified by competing polities each striving for autonomy
independence. with endemic warfare between them
None of these polities was particularly large, necessitating political and
military alliances
Athens and Thebes (central Greece)
Argos and Sparta (Peloponnese)

Despite this competition, citizens of polities had a common
A bond of shared
and shared
The Olympiad as well as panhellenic sanctuaries that hosted festivals
and games every 2 or 4 years
Anyone outside of this shared identity was a
incapable of speaking Greek properly
At times (e.g., the Persian Wars) polities bound together for the
protection of their mutual good
At other times, they fought bitterly with each other (eg., the
Peloponnesian War)

To the north of Greece was the kingdom of Macedon
Birthplace of
Alexander the Great

Building on the military successes of his father, Philip II, Alexander
conquered much of Greece, southwest Asia, and Egypt (between the
ages of 20 and 33) establishing a massive far-flung empire

Julius Caesar, a wealthy senator and military general expanded his
personal holdings and wealth by expanding into Europe and conquering
the Gallic peoples

Julius Caesar was famously murdered by a conspiracy of senators
seeking to check his tremendous social and political power
His son and heir Octavian led a military campaign against the last of the
Hellenic kingdoms (Ptolemaic Egypt)
In 27
Octavian adopted the name Augustus Caesar and established
himself as the first Roman emperor (Latin
or "general")

Rule under Emperor Augustus (27
- 14
) marked the establishment
pax Romana
, or Roman Peace, that lasted several centuries

A period of internal peace enforced by state-sponsored military power

San Lorenzo had hundreds of monuments, mounds, and other features
, depressions made by humans, were lined with waterproof
blocks and may have been used for ritual bathing
Massive mound and plaza construction occurred
Part of the site was located atop an artificially enhanced natural rise,
164 feet above the countryside

La Venta is dated to between 900 and 400
Clay and earthen pyramids were up to 100' high
Built of different colored clays
Platforms on the pyramids were painted in various colors

Down turned mouths
Watery underworld

In each major Late Classic kingdom, a central precinct was dominated by large masonry pyramid-temples, palatial residences of kings and lords, spacious public plazas with altars and stelae, and ball courts. Often these complexes grew by accretion, and in the process incorporated the elaborate tombs of rulers and other elites

Overpopulation and deteriorating agriculture

Tenochtitlán was founded in 1325
on a small, marshy island
The island lacked building materials and had other disadvantages, there
were plenty of fish and fowl
Intensive agriculture was possible by draining standing water and raising
the surface of the marsh,

Streams carrying snowmelt and rainfall from the Andes provide
most of the surface water
The desert coast of Peru was first settled after 7000
mobile groups who exploited various environmental zones
Shellfish, along with deer, small mammals, and birds were
Wild plants were collected in the coastal river valleys

After 5000
groups became more sedentary in the coastal
Increased reliance on marine and plant products, including
cultivation of squash and tubers introduced from the highlands
Fully sedentary villages were established shortly after 4000
By 3000
urban centers were present along the Peruvian
desert coast, close to major fisheries

Tw o
built from adobe bricks
The pyramids required hundreds of millions of bricks, constructed in
discrete, rectangular units
The bricks are marked with 100+ different symbols on their tops—
marks of the manufacturers
The constructed segments may have been built by groups of
associated laborers

Some describe the Moche as a unified state with its capital at the twin mounds of the Temple of the Sun and the Temple of the Moon in the Moche Valley.

Much of what is known about the Inca Empire comes from written
documents filtered through European chroniclers
In 1532, a group of Spaniards led by Francisco Pizzaro came into contact
with populations that were part of a giant centralized domain called
The capital of the empire was Cuzco
The highest-ranked leader was called Inca
At the time of Spanish contact, two brothers were competing to be Inca

According to legend, the rise of the Inca began with hostilities between
Cuzco and the neighboring people of Chanka
The Chanka laid siege on Cuzco, however Cuzco's defenders rallied to
defeat the Chanca and drive them away from the Inca capital
Cusi Inca Yupanqui
was crowned Inca after the victory around 1440
was renamed
Less than a century later, the empire stretched over 2600 miles from north to
south (the USA is about 2800 miles in width)

Inca accounts say that Cuzco was
established by Manco Capac, the first Inca
ruler but,
Archaeological evidence shows it was
already one of the largest sites in the
region by 1200
The Temple of the Sun was built by
Pachakuti at the center
Contained smaller temples, public
buildings, and elite residences
The structures were typically built of cut
stone, fit with such precision that mortar
was not required.

Deceased rulers and important officials were artificially mummified.

Cucurbita pepo
Native to the Americas
Wild ancestor of nearly all modern squashes you see in the
Like bottle gourds, squash requires little care/intervention

46 years old at his time of death
Only about 5' 3" (159 cm)
X-rays reveal broken ribs and arthritis
His last meal (8 hrs. before death) included unleavened bread, some greens,
and red-deer meat
Ötzi died between March and June around 4300

He probably came from valleys to the south in Italy, less than a day's walk
The charcoal he carried came from trees that grow south of the Alps
Pollen from his intestines came from a tree which grew in the same area
The food he ate suggest connections to a farming village

Llamas are relatives to the camel family
. Ancient people living in the Andes tamed llamas about 5,000 years ago, since then they have become important animals in Peru. The llamas had an important place in the Inca culture, they were used as transportation, their wool was used for clothing and blankets and their meat for food. Local indigenous people use them the same way as the Incas did.

The Alpacas of today, however, are thought to have been created through selective breeding only about 6,000 years ago. Though many early versions of the South American Camelids are now extinct, the Alpaca, and its closest cousin, the Vicuña, have survived.
After creation of the modern Alpaca, they became useful to their owners for a variety of purposes. In Peru and surrounding areas, from about 3500 BC, Alpaca fibers were used for clothing. When woven or knitted, the Alpaca fibers turn into a textile similar to wool. These ancient cultures also used Alpaca meat for food.
In slightly more modern times, from about 100 AD to 800 AD, the Moche people thrived in the northern regions of Peru. This network of individuals provided us with another use of Alpacas, artwork. Not only did Moche art often feature the Alpaca, but it also used Alpaca wool to create woven artistic textiles.
These historical uses for Alpacas were the most common until the rise of the Inca Empire somewhere around the 13th Century. Incas passionately bred and maintained Alpacas and a variety of other Camelids. They even sorted the animals based on their characteristics. With the growth of the Incan culture came another use for Alpacas, worship. According to ancient legends, Alpacas were seen as a gift from Mother Earth, or Pachmana. The Incan people took great care of the Alpacas, for fear that Mother Earth would take them away if her gift was not utilized properly.

How Early Megacities Emerged From the Jungles of Cambodia


This story is excerpted and adapted from Annalee Newitz’s Four Lost Cities: A Secret History of the Urban Age, published in February 2021 by W. W. Norton.

When I arrived in Phnom Penh during Cambodia’s dry season in January, I stumbled through the streets in a jet-lagged daze, barely seeing the dense city around me. My mind was on thousand-year-old Khmer temples, their golden facades crumbling into worn stone blocks and imprisoned by thickly braided tree roots. These structures, from the Khmer Empire’s capital at Angkor, have been synonymous with the myth of lost cities for at least two centuries. You can even find Lara Croft exploring the legendary ruins of the Angkorian temple Ta Prohm in the first Tomb Raider movie. But unlike Roman civilization, Khmer traditions are not lost or dead. The culture that blossomed at Angkor—a form of Theravada Buddhism combined with centralized state power—continues to shape many aspects of Cambodian life today. Once I’d gotten some sleep, I could see it on the streets of Phnom Penh, the city where Khmer royals fled in the 15th century as Angkor fell apart. Today, the nearly 600-year-old capital’s buildings are obscured by tangles of electrical cables instead of tree roots, and fences around modern-day palaces are topped with coiled razor wire so fine it shimmers in the sun like jewels.

Phnom Penh is joined to Angkor by the Tonle Sap River, which winds north from the modern city before widening into the Tonle Sap Lake that provided the ancient capital’s farms with nourishing floodwaters every year. Eleven hundred years ago, Angkor was one of the biggest metropolises in the world, thronging with nearly a million residents, tourists, and pilgrims. When the 13th-century Chinese diplomat Zhou Daguan visited, he described elaborate city walls, breathtaking statues, golden palaces, and vast reservoirs with artificial islands. And yet even as Zhou fought his way through crowded streets to witness the king’s sumptuous processions, the city was pregnant with its own demise. The Khmer kings were losing their hold over the empire’s provincial capitals abroad, and neglecting the city’s crucial water infrastructure at home. Some years, Angkor’s dams burst during rainy season other years, silt choked the canals and slowed the flow of mountain water to a trickle. And each time this happened, repairs got harder. Farming got harder. Trade slowed down, and political tensions heated up. By the mid-15th century, the city’s population had fallen from hundreds of thousands to mere hundreds.

The Angkor Archaeological Park in northern Cambodia encompasses some 150 square miles. Sergi Reboredo/VW Pics/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

Though obvious in retrospect, it was the kind of incremental catastrophe that nobody could recognize until it was too late. That’s what makes Angkor’s abandonment so haunting. On a day-to-day timescale, people living there wouldn’t necessarily have noticed the city’s dramatic transformation. There was no giant sign proclaiming the end of life as they’d known it instead, there was a mounting pile of annoyances and disappointments. Nobody was fixing the canals, and the reservoirs were flooding. Some of the once-thriving neighborhoods had fallen empty and silent. There were no more fun parades on festival days. Younger generations would realize they had fewer economic opportunities than their elders had. In the 14th century, an Angkorian kid with talent might grow up to become a full-time musician or scholar at court. Or she might have a thriving business selling spices on the heavily trafficked roads to temples at Angkor Wat and Angkor Thom. But by the late 15th century, young Angkorians had few choices. Mostly they grew up to be farmers. Some became priests or monks, tending what remained of the faded temples.

In the soft apocalypse at Angkor, we can see directly what happens when political instability meets climate catastrophe. It looks chillingly similar to what cities are enduring in the contemporary world. But in the dramatic history of the Khmer culture’s coalescence and survival, we can see something equally powerful: human resilience in the face of profound hardship.

Somehow, Angkor managed to exist at a size bigger than many modern cities for hundreds of years, despite the fact that this region of Cambodia is known for its climate extremes, with rainy season floods and dry season droughts. While their kings waged wars abroad and fought internecine battles in court at home, the Khmer people razed the tropical jungle and replaced it with an orderly city grid, complete with elevated, flood-proof houses and a canal network for drinking water and irrigation. The Khmer built towns, hospitals, and bureaucracies at a rate that would have made Rome’s emperors jealous. How did this medieval civilization thrive in an environment that would be challenging for us even today?

Banteay Srei, a 10th-century Hindu temple near Angkor. Michael Sugrue/Getty Images

The answer, say archaeologists, is not that the Khmer were somehow ahead of their time, nor that they were in league with ancient aliens. (Of course there are people who claim that Angkor was built by aliens. ) Instead, it was because Khmer urbanites came from a tradition of tropical city-building that looks very different from what we see in the more northerly regions of the Levant and Europe. For nearly 45,000 years, the Khmer’s ancestors were perfecting the techniques required to build and farm in the jungle, manipulating earth and water to make empires whose remains often melted back into nature, leaving very little trace.

It probably began with a forest fire. Fifty thousand years ago, humans in Southeast Asia were fanning out across the South Pacific in reed boats, eventually island-hopping all the way down to Australia. During that time, they settled in the lands that would one day belong to the Khmer Empire, as well as on islands that we know today as Indonesia, Singapore, the Philippines, and New Guinea. In all these places, bands of roving humans foraged at the edge of dense tropical jungles, living on plants and small animals. At some point, they would have noticed that forest fires had a paradoxical effect. Though initially deadly, the flames also cleared away underbrush and left a layer of charcoal behind. Some of humans’ most beloved foods, like yams and taro, flourished after the jungle had been torched—partly because they had more room to grow, but partly because those charred bits created a more nutrient-rich soil. After observing the benefits of wildfire, says Max Planck Institute archaeologist Patrick Roberts, humans figured out that they could start these fires themselves and reap the benefits.

Roberts is the author of Tropical Forests in Prehistory, History, and Modernity, a fascinating survey of how the equatorial jungles incubated civilizations that looked very different from early cities in other parts of the world, such as Çatalhöyük in what is now Turkey. In areas as far-flung as Southeast Asia and the Amazon, Roberts and his colleagues have found clear evidence that humans set off controlled burns. Sometimes they would work the soil with their hands afterward, mixing in the charcoal along with animal bones and feces to create more fertile ground. Over thousands of years, they learned how to encourage certain trees and plants to grow, scattering seeds from banana trees, sago palms, taro, and other starchy staples, and eventually changing the tree populations of the forests where they foraged. When they paddled between islands, they brought their seeds and burning techniques with them, carrying favored plants and small mammals back to Southeast Asia. From South Asia, they brought chickens down to the South Pacific Islands in boats as well. It wasn’t agriculture exactly—it was more like proto-farming. The groups doing this were probably still nomadic. But even millennia later, scientists can use stratigraphic techniques to see the ways these ancient people altered the jungle. Lower (older) layers are packed with a mix of fossilized pollen and seeds from a naturally occurring mix of plants, but upper layers are full of remains from plants that are noticeably skewed toward crops favored by humans.

An 11th-century channel at the West Baray of Angkor. Design Pics Inc/Alamy

While people were molding bricks to make the first houses at Çatalhöyük, people across the world in the highlands of New Guinea were digging deep trenches to drain a swamp known today as Kuk. The people of Kuk Swamp built elaborate structures to live in, and planted bananas, sugar cane, and taro in the drained farmland they’d created. Their settlement was the culmination of generations of humans working the earth. A landmark paper published by Roberts and his colleagues in 2017 in the scholarly journal Nature Plants sums up: “There is now clear evidence for the use of tropical forests by [humans] in Borneo and Melanesia by c. 45,000 years ago in South Asia by c. 36,000 years ago and in South America by c. 13,000 years ago.” By the time we reach the Angkorian period, people in Southeast Asia would have had plenty of experience building settlements in an extreme environment.

Roberts says this doesn’t mean tropical urbanites somehow “beat” more northerly communities in the race to build cities. “Clearly, urbanism is different in different parts of the world,” he told me. “We need to be more flexible in how we define this.” Cities aren’t made of the same materials throughout the world, nor do they have the same design. Roberts continued, “The tropics demonstrate that where we draw the lines of agriculture and urbanism can be very difficult to determine.” This has sometimes made it hard for archaeologists to identify urban remains that aren’t as recognizable as stone walls and figurines. To find early cities in Southeast Asia, scientists look for what they call “anthropogenic geomorphology.” (To break down all those Greek roots, “anthropogenic” means “human-caused” and “geomorphology” is the study of earth-shaping.) The term encompasses all the ways that humans have sculpted the land for their own uses, from planting trees and mixing fertilizer into the soil to draining swamps and building artificial hills as foundations for wooden huts.

Understanding the ancient origins of anthropogenic geomorphology is key for recognizing the remains of cities like Angkor, where only a tiny fraction of the urban grid was made from stone. The cities that arose out of the long history of tropical agriculture weren’t high-density clusters of stone buildings ringed by farms like many ancient cities. Instead, they were low-density sprawl that incorporated large swatches of farmland into the urban fabric. Homes and public dwellings were made from earth and perishable plant materials. Though impressive, these urban features quickly returned to wilderness after people had abandoned them. When European archaeologists first visited Angkor, they were conditioned to look for Western modes of urban development, and thus the vast majority of homes in the city remained invisible to them. They made a beeline for the stone towers of Angkor Wat and Angkor Thom, mistaking these temple complexes for small walled cities, instead of walled compounds within a massive urban sprawl. They completely missed the once-packed neighborhoods, reservoirs, and farms that had left their marks on the land for acres around.

In the seventh-century, Sambor Prei Kuk was a crowded capital city. TANG CHHIN SOTHY/AFP via Getty Images

It became very obvious to me how archaeologists could make that mistake when I visited Sambor Prei Kuk, once the crowded capital city of the seventh-century Chenla Empire in Cambodia. Now all I could see were a few scattered temple towers and a 1,300-year-old wall that looked like a hill covered with underbrush. Sitting on a broad rock and looking around, I couldn’t imagine these crumbling structures as part of a metropolis. And yet Sambor Prei Kuk, with its Hindu temples and large reservoir, was in many ways the prototype for Angkor. Shaded by the trees that give this place its name—Sambor Prei Kuk is Khmer for “the temple in the richness of the forest”—I pored over maps of the area with archaeologist Damian Evans. “There was a huge wooden city here once,” Evans said, waving his arm in the direction of a small dirt road paved in fallen leaves. “Once it rotted away, what remained were moats and ramparts and mounds.” That’s what he’s got on his map, which shows the ground elevations around us in granular detail.

Evans and his colleagues created this map and many others of the Angkor region using an imaging technology called lidar, short for “light detection and ranging.” Lidar instruments scatter laser light off the planet’s surface, capturing the photons as they bounce back up. By analyzing the light pattern with specialized software, mapmakers can recreate ground elevations down to the centimeter. Lidar is ideal for studying anthropogenic geomorphology because the rain of light slips between leaves, peeling away the forest cover to reveal the city grid that once was. With funding from the National Geographic Society and European Research Council, Evans coordinated a team that conducted broad lidar surveys of Angkor in 2012 and 2015. The system may have been high tech, but it was also DIY. Their mapping rig started with a Leica ALS70 HP lidar instrument, roughly the size and heft of two portable generators. Operators mounted the lidar inside a protective plastic pod and then attached the whole rig to the right skid of a helicopter. Secured next to it was an off-the-shelf digital camera taking pictures of everything, so they could match up the lidar data with regular old photos. The system was effective, but a little awkward for passengers. “We had to rip out most of the seats in the helicopter to put in a power supply and hard drives,” Evans recalled. But the discomfort was worth it. What they found has helped rewrite the global history of cities.

Lidar images peel back vegetation to uncover a range of revelations about the history and decline of Angkor. agefotostock/Alamy

Evans and his colleagues’ lidar maps resolved a longstanding mystery about Angkor and its environs. For centuries, archaeologists and historians had been perplexed by inscriptions on Angkorian temples that suggested the city’s population was close to a million people. That would make its size equal to the largest cities in the world at the time, competing with ancient Rome at its height. It seemed impossible, based on the remains they could see of Angkor Wat and Angkor Thom. How could so many people have stuffed themselves inside those walled enclosures? Nineteenth-century Western scholars were loath to believe an Asian city could achieve such stature, and later researchers were skeptical about the accuracy of inscriptions ordered by the king. It wasn’t until Evans and his team revealed the landscape in and around Angkor with lidar that it became obvious that those inscriptions were no exaggeration. Today, Evans argues that the population was likely 800,000 or 900,000, making Angkor one of the world’s biggest cities in its heyday. After demonstrating how much lidar could reveal, researchers used the technique to look at other parts of the Khmer Empire, too.

One of those places was Sambor Prei Kuk, the city that predated Angkor’s rise, where I was poring over a lidar map with Evans. I quickly discovered how disorienting it was to compare what a machine could see with lasers, and what I saw with my eyes. Around me were leafy trees and rolling hills. But on the map, I could see a late-700s urban plan: Elevation measurements revealed thousands of square and rectangular mounds that once served as the foundations for temples and houses. The rocks where we’d stopped for a lunch break were in the city center, surrounded by a near-perfect square where a now-eroded wall once stood tall, possibly edged by a moat. Depressions in the ground that I had taken for natural swales were actually the remains of deep reservoirs and canals. Peering more closely at the map, I noticed hundreds of tiny mounds like goosebumps around the temples.

“What are those?” I asked Evans, imagining some kind of specialized agricultural feature.

“Termite mounds,” he replied, pointing to a lump of earth nearby. “They love it at this elevation.”

Not everything the lidar sees is from a vanished civilization. But those termite mounds were a reminder of how powerful the technology is—it can pick out extremely small features in the landscape—and how deft the researchers are at identifying the difference between ancient structures and natural features of the modern forest. Trying to ignore the insect cities overrunning the land around us, I returned to contemplating the works of humanity. Elevated causeways led away from the temple entrances and stretched out into the Tonle Sap, forming long fingers of earth that are still visible in the shimmering water. At Sambor Prei Kuk, kings of the Chenla Empire worshipped the Hindu god Shiva, unlike the Angkorian kings who preferred Vishnu. One of the most striking temple towers here is an octagon of deep orange sandstone. A flying palace is carved into one wall, its soaring towers and balconies borne on the backs of birds. Inscriptions here and in the other temple remains testify to the glory of these Hindu kings, but very little is written after an inscription about the first Angkorian king, Jayavarman II, declaring himself a divine leader in 802. At that point, Angkor began to rise and Sambor Prei Kuk slowly emptied out.

Lidar imaging reveals what lies beneath the forest cover of Preah Khan, a temple at Angkor. Map data: Google, Maxar Technologies (left) Damian Evans, J. Arch. Sci. 74: 164�, 2016/CC BY 4.0 (right)

Still, Sambor Prei Kuk remains an important place for the Khmer to this day. In one temple, we found fresh baskets of incense, paper flowers, and a golden parasol sheltering a statue of the Buddha. But the centuries-old Buddha was also a modern touch. It had been built on top of an ancient lingam shrine that symbolizes the power of the Hindu god Shiva. Linga, which are found in temples throughout the Khmer Empire, can take many forms, but most often they are square pedestals with a smooth, abstract phallus shape—the lingam—mounted straight up in the middle. A stylized moat surrounds the lingam, connected to a narrow spout that juts out from the lip of the dais. This is sometimes called the yoni. Priests would pour liquid offerings over the lingam, allowing it to run into the moat before spilling out of the spout. It was an evocation of fertility, a reenactment of the way life-giving water flows down from mountain stone. Especially for people living in the river valley, where runoff from the Kulen Mountains fed the land, this would have been a powerful image.

I considered Evans’ lidar map showing the square walls around Sambor Prei Kuk’s downtown, with the temple’s earthen features spilling out into the Tonle Sap. It looked like an enormous version of the lingam shrine. As I made my way through temples and city centers across the Angkorian Empire, I saw this pattern of squares and waterways repeated on various scales, from diminutive linga to the enormous square moats nested around Angkor Thom.

But Evans was less interested in the perfection of the city’s cosmological design than he was in the commoners’ neighborhoods that lie beyond the temple enclosure’s walls. Outside, he noted, “there is no rigid urban grid,” though the lidar map offers plenty of evidence that thousands of people lived and farmed there. Architecture historian Spiro Kostof argues that all city layouts can be grouped into two basic types: organic and grid. Organic city plans are ad hoc, with winding roads and ever-changing improvised structures like the ones at Çatalhöyük or in many medieval European cities. Then there are cities built on grids, like most Roman ones, whose growth is often regulated by a centralized government. Cities in the Angkorian tradition exhibit both patterns, often with a strict grid surrounded by organic forms. These organic Angkorian neighborhoods often belonged to people who built the city and provided food for its inhabitants. Their histories did not register on Western archaeology’s radar until Evans and his colleagues used a literal radar device to call attention to them.


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