Essay by beanskatingpimpHigh School, 12th grade March 2004

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Ancient Native American civilizations flourished in Mesoamerica (Mexico) for centuries before the Spanish conquest in the 16th century. The main tribes were the Maya, Olmec, Zapotec, Mextec, Toltec, and Aztec.

The Olmecs lived in the humid lowlands of southern Vera Cruz and Tabasco along the Gulf of Mexico. The word Olmec means "the dweller in the land of rubber". The Olmecs were great sculptors. They are most famous for their carvings of huge human heads made from boulders. Some of these boulders weighed as much as 50 tons. They did not have any metal tools. They carried these boulders as far as 60 miles. Nobody knows how they did this. It is believed that the stones were somehow dragged down to the nearest navigable stream and from there they transported the boulders on rafts. The Olmecs invented a calendar and influenced later cultures such as the Aztecs, Mixtec, Totonac and the Maya.

The Maya lived in an area, which is now southeast Mexico and parts of present day Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador and Belize. Like the Aztecs, they fought with other tribes and forced their defeated enemies to pay them in goods or services. The Maya had their own calendar, their own writing system, and kept records of births, marriages and military victories. They were excellent mathematicians.

The Aztecs were a small group of people who came to the valley of Mesoamerica during the 12th and 13th century A.D. They wandered as outcasts through the territories in the southwestern corner of the valley. They were poor and ragged people who lived by eating snakes and stole food. They were hated and rejected by the other tribes.

During the 14th century the Aztecs were told by their god, Huitzilopochtli, to go find a place where there would be an eagle...