John Pohl, THE CODICES John Pohl's


When Mexican historian Paul Kirchhoff first introduced the term “Mesoamerica,” he defined it as a cultural zone where the indigenous inhabitants spoke as many as sixty different languages, but were united by a common history and shared a specific set of cultural traits that made their civilization unique in the world. Among the most significant was the development of both pictographic and hieroglyphic writing as well as the production of books constructed from animal hide or amate paper. A divinatory calendar of 20 x 13 days (tonalpohualli), calculated together with a solar calendar of 365 days, is widely regarded as being more accurate than those of many other ancient civilizations throughout the world. Mesoamerican architecture was also unique and distinguished by preferences for stepped pyramids, stucco floors, and ballcourts. Finally, and perhaps most importantly for development in the Americas, was the cultivation of specialized foods including maize, beans, and squash, together with cacao (chocolate) and fermented beverages made from maguey. Many of these foods became the staples of a world-wide diet we continue to thrive on today.


Mesoamerica once boasted a population of over 50 million people living throughout an area roughly contiguous with the modern nations of México, Guatemala, Honduras, Belize, and El Salvador. Today each of these countries is distinguished by the manner in which they have blended their PreColumbian Indian and Colonial Spanish heritage.

Flag of Modern México

México:  México is named for the Méxica, an Aztec society who developed an empire that conquered and dominated much of the central and southern part of the country from A.D. 1325-1521. The flag of México features an eagle standing on a cactus clutching a serpent. This symbol signifies the legendary founding of the city of Tenochtitlán, the ancient capital of the Aztec Empire known today as México City. In 1521, Tenochtitlán was attacked by a confederated Spanish and Indian army in what became the longest continuous battle known to history.

Flag of Modern Guatemala

Guatemala:  Ruled throughout the 15th century by the Kiché, Kakchiquel, and Itzá Maya, this nation’s flag features the Quetzal, a bird reknowned for its long, shimmering green tail feathers considered to be more valuable than gold in the PreColumbian world. Indeed, Guatemalan currency today is counted in "quetzales". Conquistadors learned to call the region Guatemala, after “Quauhtemalla” an Aztec translation for the Maya Paq’uiché or “Place of Many Trees.” Guatemala’s Department of the Petén was the center of the Maya’s great Classic era florescence between A.D. 150-800. Here the magnificent ruins of such capital cities as Tikal, Uaxactún, and Piedras Negras can still be seen today.

Flag of Modern Honduras

Honduras:  This nation includes the former domain of Copán a powerful city state that controlled much of the eastern Maya region between A.D. 450 and 800. After Honduras achieved independence from Spain in 1821, it successfully resisted incorporation into the Mexican empire and was instrumental in formulating the Central American Confederation together with Costa Rica, Guatemala, El Salvador and Nicaragua. Honduras subsequently declared itself an independent nation in 1838, but it continues to honor the tradition of the confederation by including five stars for each of the former members in the Honduran flag.

Flag of Modern Belize

Belize:  Dominated for centuries by coastal city states of Maya traders who traveled the length of the Gulf Coast from Veracruz to Colombia in search of exotic goods for Mesoamerica’s royal palaces, Belize was settled in the 17th century by the English who were then competing with the Spaniards for control of the Caribbean. Many of Belize’s citizens are the descendants of West Africans who were forcibly brought to the country. Slavery was ended throughout the British empire in 1838. Formerly known as British Honduras, Belize became an independent nation in 1981.

Flag of Modern El Salvador

El Salvador:  Between 900-1400 this nation was ruled by the Pipil, confederates of city states who spoke Nahuatl and claimed a Toltec heritage extending west through coastal Guatemala to highland México. The Pipil specialized as traders in cacao and the priceless feathers of tropical birds at their capital of Cuzcatlan. The Spaniards divided the rich agricultural land into “encomiendas,” or tributary estates, awarded to high ranking colonists, and established the present capital called San Salvador in 1540. El Salvador achieved its independence from Spain in 1821.

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