Survey of Prehistoric Mesoamerica

Course Number: ATH 235
Transcript Title: Prehistoric Mesoamerica
Created: September 1, 2012
Updated: August 27, 2019
Total Credits: 4
Lecture Hours: 40
Lecture / Lab Hours: 0
Lab Hours: 0
Satisfies Cultural Literacy requirement: No
Satisfies General Education requirement: No
Grading options: A-F (default), P-NP, audit
Repeats available for credit: 0


WR 115, RD 115 and MTH 20 or equivalent placement test scores

Course Description

Examines the development of pre-contact Mesoamerican indigenous cultures from the earliest known Paleo-Indian occupation to the impact of the Spanish invasion, surveying the dynamics of economic, social, political, cultural, and religious systems of the Maya, the Aztec, and their neighbors. Prerequisites: WR 115, RD 115 and MTH 20 or equivalent placement test scores. Audit available.

Intended Outcomes

Upon successful completion of this course, students will be able to:

  1. Define the boundaries of cultural areas in order to interpret how geography contributed to cultural development.
  2. Apply archaeological and anthropological methods to identify factors contributing to the emergence of incipient agriculture and sedentary cultures.
  3. Examine evidence for the emergence of ancestral cultures which developed into the hierarchical societies responsible for building monumental structures.
  4. Distinguish between the artistic, architectural, and religious expressions of major cultures during the Pre-Classic, Classic, and Post-Classic periods.
  5. Evaluate the impact of Spanish invasion and colonial institutions on the cultural, religious, and social condition of Mesoamerican people.

Outcome Assessment Strategies

Tests, research papers, discussion, quizzes, homework, group projects, and other forms of assessment all may be used for this course at the instructor's discretion. 

Course Activities and Design

The determination of teaching strategies used in the delivery of outcomes is generally left to the discretion of the instructor. Here are some strategies that you might consider when designing your course: lecture, small group/forum discussion, flipped classroom, dyads, oral presentation, role play, simulation scenarios, group projects, service learning projects, hands-on lab, peer review/workshops, cooperative learning (jigsaw, fishbowl), inquiry based instruction, differentiated instruction (learning centers), graphic organizers, etc.

Course Content (Themes, Concepts, Issues and Skills)

Themes, Concepts, and Issues

  • Archaeological and anthropological methods and techniques of data collection.
  • Interests, perspectives, gender and cultural bias of historians.
  • Indigenous perspectives of history.
  • Archaeological evidence of human occupation in Mesoamerica.
  • Mesoamerican geography and climate.
  • Boundaries of different culture groups.
  • Economicand agricultural diversity.
  • Hierarchically structured societies.
  • Large-scale architectural construction of temple complexes and cities.
  • Agricultural techniques, cultigens and domestication of animals.
  • Overlap of prehistoric population and settlement patterns with historic.
  • Major theories behind the development of maize and teosinte as base crops.
  • Paleo-Indian and Formative periods.
  • Pre-Class, Classic, and Post-Classic period developments.
  • The Maya and neighbors.
  • Regional development of art, astronomy, agronomy, mathematics, and literature.
  • Teotihuacan and urban revolution.
  • Trade routes.
  • Militarism, migration, and aggression between rival states.
  • Changes of political and military alliances and cultural traditions.
  • The Aztec Empire and neighbors.
  • Spanish invasion and colonial establishment.
  • Collapse of indigenous societal structure of city-states and governmental systems.
  • Spread of epidemic diseases, missionization and assimilation efforts.

Competencies and Skills

The successful student should be able to:

  1. Demonstrate a grasp of the archaeology, prehistory and history of Mesoamerican civilizations.
  2. Distinguish the diversity of cultures and the major sites, periods, and trends in the development of Mesoamerica.
  3. Relate basic characteristics of indigenous writing and calendrical systems to Mesoamerican religious and political ideology.
  4. Compare major artistic styles, belief systems, and indigenous concepts characteristic of Mesoamerican peoples.
  5. Debate current interpretations of Mesoamerican
artistic, religious, and historical traditions.