Unmasking the Maya

The Ancients: Remembering the Past (Continued)


Long before the large-scale migration of Mexican workers to the United States --long before there was a United States -- Native Americans traveled widely, embarked on far-flung commercial ventures, and engaged in extensive cross-cultural exchange.

Through well-established trading networks the civilizations of ancient Mexico came to share basic customs and beliefs. In time, Mesoamerican products and ideas spread to the cultures of North America.

Map North and Central America

For a thousand years, Mesoamerican merchants traded ritual objects like macaw feathers and copper bells for precious turquoise mined by the Anasazi and Hohokam of the American Southwest.
Macaw Feathers
Copper Bells
  Mosaic Mirror  
  Obsidian Scraper  
  Turquoise mosaic mirrors adorned with the Feathered Serpent were crafted by artisans in Mexico and the Southwest. This exquisite example served as a royal emblem for the Maya kings of Chichen Itza, in the Yucatan Peninsula. The turquoise was probably imported from New Mexico.   This scraper used for tanning hides, found at Spiro Mound, Oklahoma, (1300-1400 A.D.), was carved of black obsidian from Pachuca, in central Mexico.


Along with commerce, the First Americans shared a tremendous enthusiasm for a ballgame that was played like soccer.

Ballcourts were a focal point of ceremonial centers, from the Maya city-state of Copan, Honduras, to the Hohokam site of Snaketown, in Phoenix, Arizona.

  Copan Ballcourt Hohokam Ballcourt Drawing
Palenque Ballcourt
  Hohokam Ballcourt


Social and religious ideas from Mesoamerica eventually reached Native American cultures east of the Mississippi River.
By 900 A.D., trade relations, and perhaps migrations, contributed to the rise of the Mississippian Culture. Ancestors of the eastern Woodland and Cherokee tribes, they adopted corn agriculture, developed a stratified society, and began building ceremonial centers dominated by huge pyramid-like mounds.
Monks Mound - Cahokia

This complex culture flourished in Cahokia, Illinois, the Virginias, Georgia, Florida and Louisiana until the 15th century.



According to an early Spanish chronicler, a Wichita Indian of Kansas, in 1544, knew some Nahuatl, the language of the Aztecs.

    Current archaeological work suggests that the ancient peoples of Mexico and North America were in contact over great distances for a long period of time.  
Previous Page Previous Page   Next Chapter Next Chapter
Introduction The Ancients Maya Today Preserving the Culture Speaking Out
Print Site Other Resources Department of Anthropology
  Weaving Border  

Enlargement of turquoise mosiac mirror