By Lynn V. Foster
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Additional resources for A Brief History of Mexico
They wore god emblems on their costumes and communicated with the ancestors during shamanistic trances brought on by autosacrifice and hallucinogens. Their cities often were constructed as cosmograms, or replicas of places of creation—pyramids represented the sacred ancestral mountains and the place where corn was born; the small temple interiors represented caves or entrances to the Underworld, places where rulers communicated with the gods. Like the Bible, the creation myths of Mesoamerica explained the genesis of the world and prescribed correct social and political behavior.
Some were surrounded by defensive walls. After the year 909, not a single ruler is proclaimed anywhere in the long count calendar. The Maya continued to thrive in northern Yucatán, parts of Belize and highland Guatemala—all regions where they live today—but not in the southern lowlands. By the time of the Spanish conquest, the southern lowlands had reverted to tropical rain forest, and the Classic period cities of stone, once so numerous, were hidden under the jungle growth. Hernán Cortés, marching through the region in 1525, considered it a wilderness.
Eventually, the kingdom of the eagle and serpent became the capital of Mesoamerica’s strongest empire. 40 DIVERSITY OF MESOAMERICAN CIVILIZATION As archaeologists now know, the Aztecs were not the first militant culture in Mesoamerica. Nor did they introduce personal bloodletting and human sacrifice to the pre-Columbian world. Rather, they incorporated the religious practices of the cultures that had preceded them— perhaps embellishing them in the process—in order to appease their gods (and, probably, intimidate their enemies).