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Classic Period royal palace at Palenque

Mesoamerica (Spanish: Mesoamérica) is a region and cultural area in the Americas, extending approximately from central Mexico to Belize, Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, and Costa Rica, within which a number of pre-Columbian societies flourished before the Spanish colonization of the Americas in the 15th and 16th centuries.

As a cultural area, Mesoamerica is defined by a mosaic of cultural traits developed and shared by its indigenous cultures. Beginning as early as 7000 BC the domestication of maize, beans, squash and chili, as well as the turkey and dog, caused a transition from paleo-Indian hunter-gatherer tribal grouping to the organization of sedentary agricultural villages. In the subsequent formative period, agriculture and cultural traits such as a complex mythological and religious tradition, a vigesimal numeric system, and a complex calendric system, a tradition of ball playing, and a distinct architectural style, were diffused through the area. Also in this period villages began to become socially stratified and develop into chiefdoms with the development of large ceremonial centers, interconnected by a network of trade routes for the exchange of luxury goods such as obsidian, jade, cacao, cinnabar, Spondylus shells, hematite, and ceramics. While Mesoamerican civilization did know of the wheel and basic metallurgy, neither of these technologies became culturally important.

Among the earliest complex civilizations was the Olmec culture which inhabited the Gulf coast of Mexico. In the Preclassic period, complex urban polities began to develop among the Maya and the Zapotecs. During this period the first true Mesoamerican writing systems were developed in the Epi-Olmec and the Zapotec cultures, and the Mesoamerican writing tradition reached its height in the Classic Maya Hieroglyphic script. Mesoamerica is one of only five regions of the world where writing was independently developed. In Central Mexico, the height of the Classic period saw the ascendancy of the city of Teotihuacan, which formed a military and commercial empire whose political influence stretched south into the Maya area and northward. During the Epi-Classic period the Nahua peoples began moving south into Mesoamerica from the North. During the early post-Classic period Central Mexico was dominated by the Toltec culture, Oaxaca by the Mixtec, and the lowland Maya area had important centers at Chichén Itzá and Mayapán. Towards the end of the post-Classic period the Aztecs of Central Mexico built a tributary empire covering most of central Mesoamerica.


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Maya glyphs in stucco at the Museo de sitio in Palenque, Mexico. An example of text in a Mesoamerican language written in an indigenous Mesoamerican writing system

Mesoamerican languages are the languages indigenous to the Mesoamerican cultural area, which covers southern Mexico, all of Guatemala and Belize and parts of Honduras and El Salvador. The area is characterized by extensive linguistic diversity containing several hundred different languages and seven major language families. Mesoamerica is also an area of high linguistic diffusion in that long-term interaction among speakers of different languages through several millennia has resulted in the convergence of certain linguistic traits across disparate language families. The Mesoamerican sprachbund is commonly referred to as the Mesoamerican Linguistic Area.

The languages of Mesoamerica were also among the first to evolve independent traditions of writing. The oldest texts date to approximately 1000 B.C.E. while most texts in the indigenous scripts (such as Maya) date to ca. 600–900 CE. Following the arrival of the Spanish in the 16th century, and continuing up until the 19th century, most Mesoamerican languages were written in Latin script.

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The name glyph of K'inich Yat Ahk II

K'inich Yat Ahk II (Mayan pronunciation: [kʼinitʃ jat akh]), also known as Ruler 7, was the final ajaw of Piedras Negras, an ancient Maya settlement in Guatemala. He ruled during the Late Classic Period, from 781 to roughly 808 AD. Possibly a descendant of Itzam K'an Ahk II, K'inich Yat Ahk II ascended the throne upon the death of his brother, the sixth ajaw of the site, Ha' K'in Xook. While K'inich Yat Ahk II presided over the destruction of the rival Maya site Pomona, his reign seems to have ended with the capture of Piedras Negras by K'inich Tatbu Skull IV of Yaxchilan. Itzam K'an Ahk II left behind several monuments, including stelae at Piedras Negras, a stone seat known as Throne 1 which records either the death or abdication of Ha' K'in Xook, and Panel 3 which recounts the exploits of Itzam K'an Ahk II.

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