Ancient Cultures of Mexico
Ranked by number of UNESCO World Heritage Sites, Mexico is first in the Americas and sixth in the world with an ancient history and fascinating culture. Chips of stone tools found in the Valley of Mexico, radiocarbon-dated to 23,000 years ago, are believed to be the most ancient evidence of human habitation in Mexico, which is widely considered to have been the site of domesticated agriculture, turning the region's paleo-Indian hunter-gatherers into agricultural villages as far back as 7000 BCE.
During the era referred to as the Classic period, the agricultural villages grew into societies with hierarchies and chiefdoms leading to the development of large ceremonial centers. The Olmec culture, which existed from around 1500 BC, was one of the earliest hierarchal civilizations in Mexico, with many of its traditions and religious practices spreading to communities further afield. It was at this time too that the first Mesoamerican writing systems were developed and military and commercial empires were formed.
The post-classic period saw the rise of the Maya civilization in the lowlands and Toltec culture in Central Mexico, which was later replaced by the Aztecs, who were known for their large scale practice of human sacrifice. Among the landmarks left by these early cultures is the City of Teotihuacan, a UNESCO World Heritage Site in the Basin of Mexico, northeast of Mexico City. It features some of the largest historical pyramid-style structures in the Americas and is a popular tourist attraction. Thought to have been established in around 100 BC, this city is believed to have been the most populated center in the so-called New World. Large multi-floor apartments appear to have been designed to accommodate large numbers of people.
The Sun Pyramid, Pyramid of the Moon and Avenue of the Dead are features of the city. The onsite museum includes intricately decorated marble and granite, with the use of red paint being typically Mesoamerican, masks and a variety of other items. Whether the City of Teotihuacan was the center of an empire, the ethnicity of its inhabitants and why they left, remain a matter for debate among scholars, but visitors to this fascinating site in Mexico tend to agree that it is exceptional and a testament to mankind's ingenuity.