The Caral-Supe civilization is the oldest known advanced civilization in the American continents discovered to date. Discovered only as recently as, within the first decade of the 21st century, the villages of the Caral Supe were located along the coast of central Peru. Nearly 20 separate villages have been identified, with a central place at the urban community at Caral. The city of Caral included enormous earthen platform mounds, monuments so large that they were hidden in plain sight, thought to be low hills.
The Olmec civilization flourished on the gulf coast of Mexico and constructed the first stone pyramids in the North American continent as well as the famous stone ‘baby-faced’ head monuments. The Olmec had kings, built enormous pyramids, invented the Mesoamerican ballgame, domesticated beans and developed the earliest writing in the Americas. Most importantly for us, the Olmec domesticated the cacao tree, and gave the world chocolate!
The ancient Maya Civilization occupied much of the central North American continent based on the gulf coast of what is now Mexico between 2500 BC and AD 1500. The Maya were a group of independent city-states, which shared cultural qualities such as their amazing complex artwork, particularly murals, their advanced water control system, and their graceful pyramids.
The capital city of the Zapotec Civilization is Monte Alban in the valley of Oaxaca in central Mexico. Monte Alban is one of the most intensively studied archaeological sites in the Americas, and one of the very few ‘disembedded capitals’ in the world. The capital is also known for its astronomical observatory Building J and Los Danzantes, a stunning carved record of captive and slain warriors and kings.05of 10
The people of the Nasca civilization on the south coast of Peru are best known for drawing huge geoglyphs: geometric drawings of birds and other animals made by moving around the varnished rock of the vast arid desert. They were also master makers of textiles and ceramic pottery. 06of 10
The capital of the Tiwanaku Empire was situated on the shores of Lake Titicaca on both sides of the border between what today is Peru and Bolivia. Their distinctive architecture shows evidence of construction by workgroups. During its heyday, Tiwanaku (also spelled Tiahuanaco) controlled much of the southern Andes and coastline of South America.
Wari Civilization (AD 750-1000)
In direct competition with Tiwanaku was the Wari (also spelled Huari) state. The Wari state was located in the central Andes mountains of Peru, and their impact on the succeeding civilizations is remarkable, seen at sites such as Pachacamac.08of 10
The Inca civilization was the largest civilization in the Americas when the Spanish conquistadors arrived in the early 16th century. Known for their unique writing system (called the quipu), a magnificent road system, and the lovely ceremonial center called Machu Picchu, the Inca also had some pretty interesting burial customs and an amazing ability to build earthquake-proof buildings.09of 10
The Mississippian culture is a term used by archaeologists to refer to cultures inhabiting the length of the Mississippi River, but the highest level of sophistication was reached in the central Mississippi River valley of southern Illinois, near present-day St. Louis Missouri, and the capital city of Cahokia. We know quite a bit of the Mississippians in the American southeast because they were first visited by the Spanish in the 17th century.
The best-known civilization in the Americas, I’ll wager, is the Aztec civilization, largely because they were at the height of their power and influence when the Spanish arrived. Warlike, intractable, and aggressive, the Aztecs conquered much of central America. But the Aztecs are so much more than simply warlike…