“Cultures are like books, the anthropologist Claude Lévi-Strauss once remarked, each a volume in the great library of humankind. In the sixteenth century, more books were burned than ever before or since. How many Homers vanished? How many Hesiods? What great works of painting, sculpture, architecture, and music vanished or never were created? Languages, prayers, dreams, habits, and hopes—all gone. And not just once, but over and over again. In our antibiotic era, how can we imagine what it means to have entire ways of life hiss away like steam? How can one assay the total impact of the unprecedented calamity that gave rise to the world we live in? It seems important to try.” – Charles C. Mann, author of 1491.
Openendsocialstudies.org is bringing the remnants of these vibrant cultures to life in your classroom – check out our library of free readings, lessons, and activities on precolumbian American civilizations.
- The Three Sisters: Background information on the agricultural combination of maize (corn), beans, and squash that formed the backbone of the Mesoamerican and North American civilization, plus suggested activities.
- The Maya: Illuminated Offspring of the Makers (Free online text suited for middle or high school classroom use, guided reading questions, and suggested activities): The Maya people’s rich history can be traced back nearly four thousand years, during which time they have refined and extraordinary and vibrant culture all their own.
- Teotihuacan: The Place Where the Gods were Born (Free online text suited for middle or high school classroom use, guided reading questions, and suggested activities): Who built these incredible ruins outside of present day Mexico City, which include one of the largest pyramids in all of history? How did this mysterious civilization influence its neighbors and successors?
- The Aztec: Life Under the Fifth Sun in Old Mexico: A basic overview of the Aztec-Mexica, one of the final great civilizations to arise in the western hemisphere before the paradigm shifting Columbian Exchange, including the dramatic ways in which they harnessed and changed the environment around them to grow their capital city into one of the largest in the world.
- The Inca: Andean Civilization in the Realm of the Four Parts (Free online text suited for middle or high school classroom use, guided reading questions, and suggested activities): The tremendous success of the Inca was attained by harnessing and adapting the incredible achievements of the earlier peoples of the Andes, one of only six places in the world where civilization developed independently. A lesson in two parts:
- Church, State, and the Arc of History.
- The Highest Achievements of Andean Civilization.
- Unrecognized Potential: Terra Preta, Ancient Orchards, and Life in the Amazon: Until relatively recently, was widely believed that the Amazon Rainforest was incapable of sustaining large scale human development. New findings have challenged this view, and evidence of ancient agriculture suggests that humans once developed this fragile region in ways so subtle that – in the form of carefully managed soils and prehistoric orchards – they have been hiding in plain sight all this time, challenging the basic tenants of “agriculture” as western eyes tend to recognize it.