Historical Backdrop

Mesoamerican Cultures and Civilizations

Early Maya Period

2000 BC - 250 AD

Rise of the Maya civilization

Olmec Civilization

Approx. 1500 BC - Approx. 600 BC

Zapotec Civilization at Mount Alban

Approx. 400 BC - Approx. 750

Beginning dates and terminal dates are approximations based on historical best estimates. The terminal date is sometimes given as 1000 AD.


Approx. 100 BC - Approx. 650

Emergence dates are uncertain. Some historians put it as early as 300 BC. The city was razed by 750 BC

Classic Maya Period

0251 - 950

Rise of the Maya Civilization.


Approx. 900 AD - 1168

Post-Classic Maya Period

950 - 1539

After the Classic Period, many of the major cities were abandoned, but a large Maya civilization persisted.

Rise and Emergence of the Aztecs

1325 AD - August 13, 1521

The terminal date references Cortes' defeat of the Aztecs at Tenochtitlán

Inca Empire

1438 - 1533

The Incas constituted the largest empire in pre-Columbian American. The Inca Empire was primarily situated in modern-day Peru, but extended to large parts of Ecuador, Bolivia, Argentina, and Chile.

Spanish Contact and Conquest in Mesoamerica

Columbus' First Voyage

August 3, 1492 - March 4, 1493

Columbus departs in 1492, making first landfall on October 12, 1492. During the first voyages, Columbus made landfalls on what would become the Bahamas, Cuba, and Hispaniola. Columbus believed he had discovered East Asia.

Columbus' Second Voage

September 24, 1493 - June 11, 1496

The second voyage was a significantly large logistical endeavor.

Spanish Mesoamerican Contact Period 1511-1697

1511 - 1697

Spanish survivors from a wrecked caravel reached the coast of Yucatan in 1511. This marked the first contact in Mesoamerica. Contact period ends in 1697 with the fall of Nojpeten, the last of the independent Maya cities.

Conquest of Cuba

1511 - 1514

Spain established a permanent colony in what would become Havana.

Cortes' Arrival and Defeat of the Aztecs

March 4, 1519 - August 13, 1521

Cortes arrives on the Yucatan Peninsula and makes his way to Tenochtitlán, arriving on November 8, 1519.

Establishment of First Catholic Mission


Fray Bartolome de las Casas established the first Catholic Mission in Venzuela in 1520

de Alvarado defeat of Maya in Guatamala

1524 - 1530

Pedro de Alvarado arrived in Guatamala in 1524. The conquest was protracted but eventually took place in 1530 when the Kaqchikel Maya surrendered.

Conquest of the Inca Empire

1532 - 1572

Beginning with Francisco Pizarro and ending with Francisco Toledo, the Inca Empire was eventually conquered over decades of fighting.

Spanish Exploration and Contact with Native People in Modern U.S.

Ponce de Leon Reaches Florida


Álvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca's Exploration and Travels

1527 - 1536

Widely regarded as a "proto-anthropologist," de Vaca came to learn Native American languages, customs, and practices during his long travels in what would become the U.S.

Hernando de Soto's Campaign

1539 - 1542

de Soto, after his campaigns in Central America, engages in exploration and exploitation in what would become the United States. He dies near the Mississippi River in 1542.

Francisco Vázquez de Coronado's Campaign

1540 - 1542