Some of the earliest Mesoamerican cultures included the Olmecs, the Mayas, and the Aztecs.  The Olmecs lived near the Gulf of Mexico, in “swampy, lowland river valleys.”  Water drains made out of stone, hieroglyphic writings, and a calendar, were a few of their achievements.  The Mayas lived in the Yucatan Peninsula of Mexico today. 

Their priests were extremely good mathematicians and astronomers.  They developed a system of mathematics with 20 as the base, accurate calendars, and were the first Native Americans that developed a writing system.  The Aztecs lived in Central Mexico.  They were a very advanced civilization with a network of canals, bridges, and causeways.  Some of their achievements included chinampas, artificial floating islands used for farming, and a calendar.

The Olmecs, the Mayas, and the Aztecs, all considered religion very important; the Olmecs, with their human body/jaguar face, god, the Mayas with their rain god, Chac, and the Aztecs, with their sun god, Huitzilopochtli. 

All three of them believed that their gods controlled their crops and that they must please these gods in order to prevent any natural disaster.  The Mayas and Aztecs even performed human sacrifices, to keep their gods pleased. 

The Aztecs used male prisoners of war for this practice.  All three of these Mesoamerican people had some art form such as jade carvings, figurines, carved stone murals, pottery, etc., on which these gods were depicted.  Two other similarities between these three civilizations are the use of a calendar, which they used to predict eclipses, schedule religious ceremonies, and determine when to plant/harvest crops, and go off to war,  (more so the Mayas and the Aztecs), and they all had some form of a writing system. 

The governmental structures of the three civilizations were different; the Olmecs had some sort of division of labor, the Mayas had city-states and kingdoms, linked by political ties, culture, and trade, which were not unified into a single empire, and the Aztecs had a huge empire whose people were organized into a hierarchy, with an emperor at the top. 

Another major difference between them was their farming methods.  The Olmecs used the slash-and-burn farming method, in which they would clear the land by the cutting down and burning of trees, this would then enrich the soil.  After a while, the soil would become exhausted, and the whole process would be executed on a fresh piece of land. 

The Mayas also used this method, but they mainly farmed on plots that were surrounded by canals.  The Aztecs on the other hand had little farming land, so they made, chinampas, artificial floating islands, made out of the mud on rafts, which they farmed on.

Three of the earliest Mesoamerican cultures, the Olmecs, the Mayas, and the Aztecs, had many similarities, and also some differences.  They all lived in different locations, had different forms of government, used different farming methods, and each group worshipped a different god. 

However, all of the groups thought that religion was extremely important and that they must keep their god pleased or trouble would come their way.  Similar achievements included a calendar and some form of a writing system.

author avatar
William Anderson (Schoolworkhelper Editorial Team)
William completed his Bachelor of Science and Master of Arts in 2013. He current serves as a lecturer, tutor and freelance writer. In his spare time, he enjoys reading, walking his dog and parasailing. Article last reviewed: 2022 | St. Rosemary Institution © 2010-2024 | Creative Commons 4.0


    • Olmecs are the mother culture, since they existed before aztecs, they could not be shaped by aztecs. But aztecs could have shape themselves because of olmecs

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