Mesoamerica Timeline

Chronology of the Mesoamerican Cultures

Map of Mesoamerica
Map of Mesoamerica. Yavidaxiu

The following Mesoamerica timeline represents the standard periodization used in Mesoamerican archaeology and upon which specialists generally agree. However, some differences in terminology and time spans exist and they will be addressed within their specific areas. Furthermore, the sites listed as example for each period are by no means the only ones, and their development is not necessary limited to exact time span.

  • Paleoindian Period (ca 10,000-7000 BC): hunter-gatherer groups, evidence of Clovis points associated with big game hunting (Santa Isabel Iztapan, Guilá Naquitz, Los Grifos, Cueva del Diablo)
  • Archaic Period (7000-2500 BC): transition from hunter-gatherers to village life and agriculture by the end of this period. Smaller and more refined stone tools and reliance on marine resources (Coxcatlán, Guilá Naquitz, Gheo Shih, Chantuto, Santa Marta cave, Pulltrouser Swamp).
  • Early Preclassic/Early Formative Period (2500-900 BC): appearance of pottery, transition from village life to a more complex social and political organization and elaborate architecture (Oaxaca: San José Mogote; Chiapas: Paso de la Amada, Chiapa de Corzo; Central Mexico: Tlatilco, Chalcatzingo; Olmec area: San Lorenzo; Western Mexico: El Opeño; Maya area: Nakbé, Cerros, Southeastern Mesoamerica: Usulután)
  • Middle Preclassic/Middle Formative Period (900-300 BC): increasing social inequalities, elite groups connected with wider distribution of luxury items, public architecture and stone monuments (Olmec area: La Venta, Tres Zapotes, Central Mexico: Tlatilco, Cuicuilco; Oaxaca: Monte Alban; Chiapas: Chiapa de Corzo, Izapa; Maya area: Nakbé, Mirador, Uaxactun, Kaminaljuyu, Copan; West Mexico: El Opeño, Capacha; Southeastern Mesoamerica: Usulután).
    • Late Preclassic/Late Formative Period (300 BC-AD 200/250): population increase, emergence of regional centers by the end of the Late Formative. In the Maya area this period is marked by massive architecture decorated with giant stucco masks (Oaxaca: Monte Alban; Central Mexico: Cuicuilco, Teotihuacan; Maya area: Mirador, Abaj Takalik, Kaminaljuyú, Calakmul, Tikal, Uaxactun, Lamanai, Cerros; Chiapas: Chiapa de Corzo, Izapa; Western Mexico: El Opeño; Southeastern Mesoamerica: Usulután).
      • Early Classic Period (AD 200/250-600): this period saw the apogee of Teotihuacan in the valley of Mexico, one of the largest metropolis of the ancient world. Characteristics of this period are: diffusion of regional centers, widespread Teotihuacan-Maya political and economic connections, centralized authority. In the Maya area this period traditionally sees the erection of stone monuments (called stelae) with inscriptions about kings' lives and events. (Central Mexico: Teotihuacan, Cholula; Maya area: Tikal, Uaxactun, Calakmul, Copan, Kaminaljuyu, Naranjo, Palenque, Caracol; Zapotec: Monte Alban; Western Mexico: Teuchitlán tradition).
      • Late Classic (AD 600-800/900): The beginning of this period is characterized by the collapse of Teotihuacan in Central Mexico and the political fragmentation and high competition among many Maya sites. The end of this period saw the disintegration of political networks and decline in population in the southern Maya lowlands, whereas many centers in the northern Maya lowlands and other areas of Mesoamerica continued to flourish afterwards. (Gulf Coast: El Tajin; Maya area: Tikal, Palenque, Toniná, Dos Pilas, Uxmal, Yaxchilán, Piedras Negras, Quiriguá, Copan; Oaxaca: Monte Alban; Central Mexico: Cholula).
        • Terminal Classic (used in the Maya area) Epiclassic (central Mexico) (AD 650/700-1000): this period attested a political reorganization in the Maya lowland with a new prominence of the Northern Lowland (northern Yucatan). New architectural styles show evidence of strong economic and ideological connection between central Mexico and northern Maya Lowlands (Central Mexico: Cacaxtla, Xochicalco, Tula; Maya area: Seibal, Lamanai, Uxmal, Chichen Itzá, Sayil; Gulf Coast: El Tajin).
        • Early Postclassic (AD 900/1000-1250): Intensification of trade and connection between northern Maya area and Central Mexico, warfare-related themes in arts, constellation of small, competing kingdoms throughout Mesoamerica. (Central Mexico: Tula, Cholula; Maya area: Tulum, Chichen Itzá, Mayapan, Ek Balam; Oaxaca: Tilantongo, Tututepec, Zaachila; Gulf Coast: El Tajin).
          • Late Postclassic (AD 1250-1521): this period is traditionally framed between the emergence of the Aztec/Mexica empire and its destruction by the Spanish conquest. Characteristics of this period are: increased militarization, competing empires across Mesoamerica, which finally became tributaries of the Aztecs (apart from the Tarascans/Purépecha of Western Mexico), intensive trades. (Central Mexico: Mexico-Tenochtitlan, Cholula, Tepoztlan; Gulf Coast: Cempoala; Oaxaca: Yagul, Mitla; Maya: Mayapan, Tayasal, Utatlan, Mixco Viejo, West Mexico: Tzintzuntzan).


          This glossary entry is a part of the guide to the Ancient Mesoamerica and World History Timelines.

          Carrasco Davíd (ed.), 2001, The Oxford Encyclopedia of Mesoamerican Cultures, Oxford University Press.

          Manzanilla Linda and Leonardo Lopez Lujan (eds.), 2001 [1995], Historia Antigua de Mexico, Miguel Angel Porrúa, Mexico City.

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          Maestri, Nicoletta. "Mesoamerica Timeline." ThoughtCo, Feb. 25, 2016, Maestri, Nicoletta. (2016, February 25). Mesoamerica Timeline. Retrieved from Maestri, Nicoletta. "Mesoamerica Timeline." ThoughtCo. (accessed May 23, 2018).