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Ancient Middle America

Spring 2019 Calendar

 map: topographic
  map: Mesoamerica and Its Cultural Areas
 Pre-Hispanic Mesoamerica

OWL logo, Online Writing Lab, Purdue University.
class slides on-line
(free PowerPoint Viewer 2010)

Ancient Middle America Course Information

Search the troufs Site
(all TR courses and web pages)

Sunday, 23-Jun-2024 05:44:30 GMT

Map of Major Mayan Archaeological Sites

Map of the
Mayan World


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Out of the Past:
"The Collapse"

(60 min., 1993, UM DULUTH Library Multimedia CC165 .O97 1993b DVD Disc 4)
watch online

Also in the Out of the Past series:

"Artisans and Traders"
(60 min., 1993, UM DULUTH Library Multimedia CC165 .O97 1993b DVD Disc 2)
watch online

"New Worlds"
(60 min., 1993, UM DULUTH Library Multimedia CC165 .O97 1993b DVD Disc 1)
watch online

Abstract Notes
Cultures Sites Individuals Bibliography

view on-line at
(registration required, but is free)

Maya -- Wikipedia

Copán -- Wikipedia

List of known Xukpi rulers -- Wikipedia

The Fall of Civilizations -- Wikipedia

Search Copán on JSTOR


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Copan Sculpture

Copán, Honduras

"The program reveals that ancient civilizations suffered from the consequences of overpopulation and over-exploitation of resources and shows that, through archaeology, we can apply the lessons of the past to the present."


Interactive WebSite -- The Collapse: Why do Civilizations Fall?

The Fall of Civilizations -- Wikipedia


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Out of the Past Series -- Annenberg / CPB Exhibits

Use this humanistic approach to archaeology and anthropology to make connections between past civilizations and modern societies, including how societies function and change. This series helps bring cultural ecology to light using physical evidence and scientific detective work. On-site filming at the spectacular Classic Maya center of Copán, Honduras, shows archaeologists reconstructing this ancient society. In addition, past and present cultures in Central and North America, Africa, Europe, and the Middle East are explored. Produced by Pennsylvania State University and WQED/Pittsburgh. 1993.

The Collapse

The decline and fall of civilizations captures our interest. Could we be next, going the way of the Sumerians, the Romans, the Maya? The collapse of Copan, brought on by overpopulation and overexploitation of resources, is explored, along with other ancient cultures that have faced the problems we confront today.

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Collapse: Why Do Civilizations Fall? -- Annenberg / CPB Exhibits

"Hundreds of years ago in what is now modern Honduras, Copán was a thriving center of Maya life. Tens of thousands of people made their home in the Copán Valley. Yet despite its importance, Copán went into decline. Across the vast territory of the ancient Maya, other important sites were sharing a similar fate. Classic Maya civilization was collapsing."

"Why did this great civilization fall? The history of humankind has been marked by patterns of growth and decline. Some declines have been gradual, occurring over centuries. Others have been rapid, occurring over the course of a few years. War, drought, natural disaster, disease, overpopulation, economic disruption: any of these can bring about the collapse of a civilization. Internal causes (such as political struggles or overfarming) can combine with external causes (such as war or natural disaster) to bring about a collapse. What does this mean for modern civilizations? What can we learn from the past?"

The Fall of Civilizations -- Wikipedia

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Terms / Concepts:

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  • World population is now estimated at 7.5 billion

  • About A.D. 800 all over the lowlands people stopped erecting dated stelae

  • What changes in revolutions are the elite levels of a culture. the bottom level, the working class, remains the same

    • Rome crumbled 4th century A.D.

    • Mashkan Shapir (Mesopotamia)

  • irrigation and salination contributed to the destruction of civilization after civilization

    • but in Mexico (Mayan area) the irrigation is insignificant, no major climactic changes took place, there were no major disasters, so what caused the downfall of the Maya?

    • the most enduring explanation of the fall of the Maya has always been an ecological one


  • Maya

  • Aztec

  • Mexico City

    • Zocolo

    • The Moon Goddess (Coyolxauhqui), stone relief discovered at the foot of an early building of the Templo Mayor, TEnochtitlán, Late Post-Classic Aztec

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  • Mesoamerica

    • sometimes the invasion of foreign armies explains the collapse of a civilization

    • but the most enduring explanation of the collapse of the maya has to be an ecological one

      • overcropping land (overcultivation) led to an increase in erosion

      • major droughts, major famine may have led to a peasant revolt

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    • Copán, Honduras

      • 16 rulers
      • 400 years

      • Altar L
        • the last carved monument at Copán
        • sides never carved with the Copán Royal dynasty lineage
        • represented a metaphor for the fall of the city

      • Altar Q
      • end: 10 February 822

      • research of 150 years focused on the elite and on the city centers

      • but what was happening to the common people?

      • what were the factors, mechanisms and process of the decline?

      • Copán Mapping Project

      • today the Copán Valley supports ca. 25,000 people, which is almost the same as it was at the peak of prehistoric Copán

        • in 9 years on one farmer's fields corn crop yields declined to 1/3 of original

        • the long-fallow system of agriculture yields to shorter fallow cycles in face of an increase in population

      • Rebecca Storey (physical anthropologist)

        • 80% of the skeletons are anemic, and they are higher class

        • and the commoners fared even worse

    • Palenque

    • Tikál

      • 3,000,000 ---> "tens of thousands

      • and this happened over a period of only a century or a century and a half

    • Tenochtitlán

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  • American Southwest

    • Mesa Verde Colorado

    • Anasazi

      • until A.D. 500 were migratory hunters / collectors

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    • Chaco Cañon, NM

    • between the 11th and 13th centuries A.D. almost all of the Anasazi communities were abandoned

      • but Sand Cañon Publo persisted

        • Kiva
        • 500 people

    • Tewa Pueblo, New Mexico (Rena Swentzell)

    • Tree Ring Lab (Director Jeffrey Dean)

    • drought, population growth, overexploitation of resources

    • Sand Cañon declined with the decline in rainfall that led to severe draught

    • irrigation led to salt problems
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  • San Joaquin Valley, California

    • salt: calcium carbonate, sodium chloride (Larry Turnquist)

  • Rome

    • fell in the 4th century A.D.

  • Iraq

    • Ancient Mesopotamia

    • Mashkan Shapir


  • Frederick Catherwood (1840s)
  • John L. Stephens (1840s)
    • Incidents of Travel in Incidents of travel in Central America, Chiapas, & Yucataán
  • William Sanders
  • Elizabeth Stone
  • David Webster
  • William Fash
  • Wiliam Lipe
  • David Rue (palynologist)
  • Stephen Whittington
  • Rebecca Storey
  • An Corrin Frieter
  • Larry Turnquist
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