ARC 285: Archaeology of Mexico and Central America

In this course we explore the prehistory and early history of Mesoamerica, the prehispanic culture area encompassing much of modern Mexico and Central America, which was home to the fascinating Olmec, Maya, and Aztec civilizations, to name just a few.  Our quest begins with the tumultuous state of Mesoamerica on the eve of the Spanish Conquest, and we investigate the Aztec economy, politics, imperialism and religion.  We then look deep into Mesoamerican prehistory and trace the first movement of people into the region as well as the processes of domestication and settling down into the very first villages.  Our journey continues as we explore the seeds of social inequality, the emergence of chiefs and chiefdoms (Olmec), and finally the rise of the first cities and highly complex state level societies (Monte Alban, Teotihuacan, Maya, Mixtec, and Toltec).  Along the way we consider the "collapse" of these remarkable civilizations whose power and influence are still evident, not only in majestic ruins and archaeological sites, but also in the ritual and belief systems of contemporary indigenous populations throughout the region.

Course Objectives

This course is suitable for archaeology majors and students who have not taken archaeology courses before, and it can be taken for either ARC or ANT credit.  The primary objectives are:

1) To appreciate how archaeologists learn about and interpret the past, using Mesoamerica as a case study.

2) To learn what happened to people and societies in Mesoamerica throughout prehistory and at the time of European conquest, as described by archaeologists and ethno-historians.

3) To understand current anthropological debates surrounding the important socio-cultural processes of domestication, sedentism, the emergence of social inequality, and the rise and fall of complex society.

4) To critically evaluate interpretations of ancient Mesoamerican cultural adaptations and how and why those adaptations changed through time.

5) To obtain the tools and desire to value and continue learning about the human past long after this course is completed.

This course is offered online every other summer.