Andean region (n)
territory defined by the Andes Mountains in western South America. It is common to describe as Andean those people who developed complex societies in this vast region, especially those of coastal and upland Peru and Bolivia. The term may also be extended to include the ancient people who lived in present-day Ecuador, Bolivia, Peru, and the northern highlands of Chile and Argentina.

Aztecs (n, pl)
people who, in the 15th and early 16th centuries, conquered a large empire in what is now central and southern Mexico. The Aztecs began as a tribe of hunters and gatherers on the northern Mexican plateau before migrating to the valley of Mexico in the 12th century. They settled on islands in Lake Texcoco and in 1325 founded Tenochtitlán, which became the Aztec capital. The Spaniard Hernando Cortés (1485–1547) conquered this civilization in 1519.

The Aztecs’ success as a society was due to sophisticated farming practices and a powerful military organization and cultural beliefs. The society was governed by a warlord ruler and supported by a priestly and bureaucratic class. At the bottom of the society were serfs, indentured servants, and slaves.

The Aztecs shared many of the cosmological beliefs of earlier cultures, most notably the Teotihuacanos, the Toltecs, and the Mayans. Many ritual ceremonies occurred on a rotating basis, set by the Aztec calendar, which comprised a solar year of 365 days and a sacred year of 260 days. Human sacrifice was commonly practiced in Aztec ritual as part of the human obligation to the gods and to maintain the orderly succession of seasons.

ballgame (n)
ballgames were played by Native Americans who lived throughout the Americas, from the southern United States to Paraguay. The rules of the game seem to have varied from site to site over time. Ballgames were not only played for sport but were also used as a means of solving disputes and prognosticating important events. The ball was made of solid rubber and weighed about seven pounds (three kg). Players wore protective padding.

beaker (n)
a large drinking cup or vessel with a wide mouth

burnish (v)
to rub the surface of a ceramic object with a hard stone, piece of wood, or bone until a rich, glowing sheen is achieved

cache (n)
a hiding place, especially in the ground, for provisions, treasures, etc.; anything hidden or stored

cacique (n)
title given to the tribal chief, applied by the Spanish invaders to the leaders of Central and South American societies. In Spanish-speaking countries, the term survives, implying a political boss.

cayman (caiman) (n)
a crocodilian reptile related to the alligator and found in the Caribbean as well as in Central and South America

cenote (n)
from the Maya term tz'not for waterhole, a cenote is a natural depression (or sinkhole) found in the northern Yucatán peninsula. Cenotes are the principal sources of water in the Yucatán, an area of minimal rainfall and no rivers.

ceramic (adj)
made from fired clay

Chimú (n)
an extinct American Indian kingdom that flourished on the northern coast of Peru after the 9th century A.D. until the Inca conquest in the late 15th century. Distinctive Chimú art, including pottery, gold pieces, and textiles, helps date this Andean civilization.

The Chimú capital of Chan Chan, located on the northern seacoast of Peru, remains one of the world's grandest archaeological sites, with miles of streets, great walls, reservoirs, and pyramid temples, all constructed out of sun-baked, adobe bricks. At the city’s height, the population of Chan Chan is estimated to have numbered in the many thousands. The Inca conquerors of Chimú absorbed much of its old high culture into their own imperial society, including elements of Chimú political organization, irrigation systems, and road engineering.

cinnabar (n)
a heavy, reddish mercuric sulfide often used as a pigment

cosmic; cosmology (adj/n)
of or relating to the material universe outside the earth; a theory that accounts for the natural order of the universe, such as the placement and movements of stars and planets

deified; deity (adj/n)
exalted to the rank of or personified as a god; a supreme being, such as a god or goddess

eroded (adj)
the condition of being eaten or worn away; destroyed by slow consumption

façade (n)
the front of a building, especially an imposing or decorative structure

feline (adj/n)
catlike; an animal of the cat family

frescoes (n)
paintings completed by covering fresh plaster with pigments dissolved in water

hacha (n)
Spanish term for axe; a basic Mesoamerican tool made of chipped or grooved stone. From the time of the Olmec, hachas were made in many shapes and sizes and used as sacred symbols of rank, authority, and religious significance. Mayan hachas were actually flat stones carved in the shape of profile heads, animals, or skulls, and displayed at ritual ballgames. They were called hachas because of their overall axelike form.

hematite red (n)
a very common mineral known as iron oxide and often used as a pigment

hieroglyphs, hieroglyphic (n, pl/n)
characters based on recognizable, representational shapes used in a system of hieroglyphic writing; a system of writing mainly in pictorial characters

Inca (n)
South American Indians who ruled an empire in the Andean region that stretched from the northern border of Ecuador to central Chile. The Inca established their capital at Cuzco (Peru) in the 12th century and began conquests in the early 15th century, eventually forming the largest empire in the ancient Americas. By the time of the Spanish conquest in 1532, the Inca controlled an Andean population of about 12 million people.

According to Spanish accounts, Incan society was highly stratified. The emperor ruled with the aid of a military aristocracy, exercising harsh and often repressive authority. Inca technology and architecture were so highly developed that irrigation systems, palaces, temples, and fortifications still exist throughout the Andes, most notably at Machu Picchu, Pisac, Ollantaytambo, and Cuzco. The Inca economy was based on agriculture, including the production of quinoa, maize, potatoes, lima beans, peanuts (groundnuts), cotton, and llama wool.

jadeite (n)
a rare stone consisting of sodium and aluminum and often mixed with other minerals. Although typically emerald to light green in color, jadeite can also be found in white, red, red-brown, yellow-brown, and violet.

katchinas (kachinas) (n, pl)
small, carved wooden dolls that represent divine ancestral spirits distinct to Pueblo tribes. The form of the doll does not represent the identity of the spirit; rather the spirit is symbolized by the figure’s painted colors and decorated masks.

Lambayeque (n)
region embracing the northern desert coast of Peru, where an ancient civilization evolved between the 8th and 12th century, when it was incorporated in the expanding Chimú empire. Lambayeque archaeological sites include monumental adobe-brick pyramids, palaces, and other evidence of a highly stratified society at Chotuna, Chomancap, and elsewhere. Oral traditions trace the history of Lambayeque dynasties to the founder, Naymlap, who is said to have arrived with his people from the north on balsa sea-going rafts, suggesting an Ecuadorean origin.

lost-wax method (n)
the process of casting metal in which an object begins as a wax model. The model is first covered with semi-liquid clay that hardens as a thin shell and is later encased in a thick clay mold. When the mold is completely dry, it is heated to melt the wax. Liquid gold, copper, or another metal is then poured into the mold. After the metal has solidified, the cooled mold is opened and the figure, a metal copy of the wax model, can be taken out, cleaned, and polished.

maize (n)
Indian corn

mantle (n)
a loose, sleeveless cloak

Maya; Mayan (n/adj)
Mesoamerican Indians who lived in southern Mexico, Guatemala, northern Belize, Honduras, and El Salvador and developed one of the greatest civilizations of the western hemisphere. At its height (250 B.C.–A.D. 900), Mayan civilization consisted of more than 40 cities, each with a population from 5,000 to 50,000 people. These political and religious administrative centers formed independent, shifting alliances with much evidence of war, though they shared a common culture. In this way, they were similar to the competing Greek city-states of 5th century B.C.

The Maya are renowned for their innovative methods of agriculture, monumental stone buildings and pyramid temples, gold and copper works, and system of hieroglyphic writing. The Maya also developed highly sophisticated calendars and astronomical systems. Historical records are still being deciphered from the hieroglyphic inscriptions and royal figures depicted on commemorative monuments known as stelae.

By the time the Spaniards conquered the region in the early 16th century, most of the Maya were village-dwelling farmers who practiced the religious rites of their ancestors. Modern Maya-speaking people can be found in rural areas, raising crops of corn, beans, and squash and living in communities organized around central villages.

Maya classic period (n)
a term used to designate the highest period of Mayan culture, which lasted from 250 B.C. to A.D. 900

metallurgy (n)
the technique or science of working with metals. It is widely agreed that metallurgy developed first in the Andes and diffused outward from there.

Mesoamerica (n)
geographical area between North and Central America comprised of the modern nations of Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras, Belize, and El Salvador as well as the ancient cultures of the Olmec, Teotihuacanos, Maya, and Aztec. The term is used to define the cultural and historical context of the people who have inhabited this area for millennia.

Mimbres/Salado culture (n)
prehistoric North American people who lived mainly along the Mimbres River and the rugged Gila Mountains in what is now southwestern New Mexico. At its height (between 1000 and 1150), the Mimbres numbered about 5,000 and lived in villages comprising about 200 people each. Because of low rainfall in the region, members of this society depended on irrigation to grow maize, beans, and squash; they also hunted small game.

The art of the Mimbres/Salado culture reflects the influences of the related Casas Grandes people of northern Mexico and the Anasazi of northern New Mexico and Arizona. The figural forms and abstract designs found on the ceramic vessels produced by these cultures are among the most lively and sophisticated in the ancient Americas.

The Mimbres/Salado eventually dissolved as the people migrated to form new communities in association with others in the larger Pueblo cultural region of New Mexico and northern Arizona.

Moche (n)
the dominant society from the first to the 8th century A.D on the northern coast of present-day Peru. The name comes from the archaeological site known as Moche and located in the river valley of the same name. Two giant structures known as the Temple of the Sun (Huaca del Sol) and the Temple of the Moon (Huaca de la Luna) define the site. Dozens of other Moche pyramid-platform sites exist in the coastal valleys of northern Peru. Although many have been looted, others remain unexcavated.

Like other ancient American cultures, the Moche survived off of agriculture. They guided rivers flowing down from the high Andes into a system of irrigation canals, which allowed for the growth of maize, potatoes, lima beans, and other staple crops. This system of agriculture supported a dense population.

The Moche produced sophisticated art, including mold-made pottery admired for its highly naturalistic forms. These vessels—especially the fine-quality water jars with characteristic stirrup spouts—bear portrait heads of individuals, animals, plants, buildings, and fantastic beings representing supernatural forces. Painted scenes on some vessels provide visual descriptions of the complex ceremonies and daily activities of the Moche.

narrative (n)
a story or description of real or imagined events

Nayarit (n)
west-central Mexican state on the Pacific Ocean. Its terrain comprises the deep gorges and narrow valleys of the Sierra Madre Occidental mountain range, which rises steeply from the narrow Pacific coastal region.

ochre (n)
an earth tone, usually redor yellow in color, often consisting of impure iron ore and used as a pigment

Olmec (n)
the first complex, state-like society in Mesoamerica. The Olmec people lived in the hot, humid lowlands along the Gulf Coast in what are now the southern Veracruz and Tabasco states in southern Mexico. Although this remained its native land, Olmec culture influenced central Mexico, Guatemala, and El Salvador.

The first examples of Olmec art date from about 1150 B.C. and were found at San Lorenzo, the oldest-known Olmec building site. This site includes many stone monuments, especially colossal carved heads that have characteristic flat faces, thickened lips, and helmet-like headgear. Besides monumental architecture and sculpture, Olmec art includes small jade carvings, pottery, and other media.

Paracas (n)
a peninsula located in present-day southern Peru. The name Paracas is given to the location, the society, and its archaeological remains. The Paracas flourished between 900 B.C. and A.D. 400. The culture is known for its embroidered cloaks, with which mummified bodies were once wrapped, that are now recognized as some of the finest examples of pre-Columbian textile art.

pictogram (n)
a picture representing a word or idea; the earliest type of writing system

pigment (n)
a dry, colored substance that is mixed with a liquid to make paint

plaza (n)
a public square in a city or town

prognosticate (v)
to forecast or prophecy

relief (n)
a piece of sculpture that features a molded, carved, or stamped design that stands out three-dimensionally from the surface

repertoire (n)
the complete list of skills, devices, or ingredients used in a particular field, occupation, or practice

repoussé (n)
the process of "pushing out" a design from thin sheets of metal. To practice this technique, ancient American goldsmiths frequently worked with molds and used tools made from bone or deer antlers

ritual (n)
a ceremony related to religious doctrine or social customs

self-portrait (n)
a portrait of oneself done by oneself

serpentine (n)
a mineral or rock with a green, brown, or spotted surface (see jadeite)

stele; stelae (n, pl)
an upright slab or pillar, usually inscribed or sculpted and used for commemorative purposes

stylized (adj)
conforming to an artificial or abstract design rather than replicating nature

Teotihuacan (n)
city in Mexico’s Teotihuacan Valley that was probably the largest city in the New World before the Spanish conquest. Toward the close of the 6th century A.D., the city was at its height. It covered about eight square miles and may have housed more than 150,000 people.

Teotihuacanos (n, pl)
people who lived in the ancient city of Teotihuacan

tumi (n)
a Chimú, Lambayeque, or Incan ceremonial knife with a characteristic half-moon-shaped blade

votive (adj)
that which is offered to a god, often in gratitude or devotion

yoke (n)
large, u-shaped stone, often elaborately carved and thought to be a ceremonial imitation of the protective padding worn by players in the Mesoamerican ritual ballgame