Native American cultures before 1300 CE


First Humans arrive in Americas

Approx. 30,000 BCE - Approx. 10,000 BCE

Original indigenous people of Americas arrived no later than ~30,000 BCE to 10,000 BCE, having probably crossed the now submerged land bridge called the Bering Strait. Small portable art pieces used for teaching, worship and other things. For example Venus of Willendorf, c. 22,000-21,000 BCE

Farming and agriculture started

Approx. 11,000 BCE - Approx. 2,000 BCE

The hunter/gathers that migrated to the Americas possibly following big game, stated settling down as big game species began dying out. They created small farming villages eventually turning into larger cities. Larger non mobile art pieces for worship now in use as ceremonial centers begin to be built.

South American Andes

Approx. 8800 BCE - Approx. 1 BCE

The peoples of the Andean South America erected towering monuments and produced sophisticated paintings and sculptures etc., the less well studied civilizations of South America are older and in some ways surpassed the accomplishments of their Northern counterparts. Andean people mastered metal work much earlier and their monumental architecture predates the earliest Olmec monument by more than a millennium. People in Chile began mummifying their dead ~500 years before the Egyptians. These sites in central Andes area began to develop around ~3000 BCE a millennium before the invention of pottery there, carved gourds and some fragments of textiles survived this early period.

Cave dwellers of this area began their first rudimentary art by ~8800 BC, weavers began sophisticated textiles by ~2500 BCE.

Source of new pottery tradtions

4000 BCE - 1500 BCE

Ecuadorian-Colombian pottery traditions spawned not only the oldest pottery production yet discovered in Americas but also the first ceramic complexes to experiment and perfect new styles and techniques and shapes, influencing the northern cultures through trade.


Approx. 2500 BCE

Pottery production began in farming villages of Mexico, with appearance of crude coffee colored earthenware devoid of decorations with pitted surfaces.


Approx. 2500 BCE - Approx. 900 BCE

Mayan culture dates to ~2500 BCE. Earliest prehistoric site in Mayan realm was discovered at Los Tapiales in western highlands of Guatemala occupied as early as ~11,000 years ago. We know a lot about classic Mayan history and beliefs, ceremonies and daily life through excavations that increases every year . They depict rulers rather than gods in artwork and noted rulers achievements in text in texts. Mayan writing is largely phonetic (hieroglyphs of signs representing sounds), they also developed math, astronomy and an intricate and accurate calendar. They used scrapers, drills, dart points and many other tools, also went through a ceramic period. Artists and craftsmen emerged using awls needles looms cotton and sisal fibers. Famous for color "Maya Blue" a combination of indigo, vegetable dye and a specific type of clay, used to paint ceramics and murals. This pigment proved virtually indestructible unlike other colors that have all but faded away over the years.

New pottery tradition

1700 BCE - 1300 BCE

A sudden new pottery tradition appeared featuring a wide variety of shapes and types with decorations and coloring techniques as well as a wealth of clay figures, particularly female ones. The appearance of this development in pottery seems to be connected to South American pottery developments.


Approx. 1500 BCE

Tiwanaku was named after its principal archaeologist site on the southern shore of Lake Titicaca and flourished for nearly a millennium spreading to adjacent coastal areas and to other highland regions eventually spreading to Northern Chile. Tiwanaku was an important ceremonial center its inhabitants constructed grand buildings using the regions fine sand stone. Gateway of the Sun is a huge monolithic block of andesite with one doorway moved from its original location within the site and now is part of an enormous walled platform.

Mayan graves

Approx. 1500 BCE

Mayan graves dating to ~1500 BCE contained jade beads the earliest such beads found, presence of jade gives evidence of trade system as the beads originated some 250 miles away.


Approx. 1500 BCE - Approx. 400 BCE

Olmec people assumed a social organization in the Gulf of Mexico that later cultures adopted and developed. Recorded as arriving in ~1500 BCE, their appearance is not a sudden one and was traced to San Lorenzo site.

San Lorenzo

Approx. 1150 BCE

This is the oldest known Olmec center when Mesoamerica was on a neolithic level. It is most noted for the extraordinary stone monuments "colossal heads".

Chavin Culture

900 BCE - 250 BCE

Culture named for Chavin De Hauntar a ceremonial center located in northern highlands of Peru. The culture developed and spread throughout much of the coastal region and the highlands during the 1st millennium BCE. Once thought to be the mother culture of the Andean region now viewed as the culmination of development that began somewhere else some ~2000 years earlier.

Old temple in Chavin De Hauntar was an important pilgrimage site, resembles sacred complexes of the earliest Andean cultures but much larger, is U shaped stone faced structure with wings up to 83 yards long facing east between two rivers. Famous for its extensive carvings.

La Venta

900 BCE - 300 BCE

Urban complex began to rise and flourish, was a complex of increased cultural regionalism. Low clay and earthen platforms and stone fences enclose two great courtyards built to mimic a mountain. They made Celts ceremonial axes used in conjunction with statues of human forms made of jade. Traded to bring in materials such as iron which was turned into iron ore mirrors that they sold throughout Mesoamerica. Also bought obsidian they used for blades, flakes and darts.


Approx. 900 BCE - Approx. 900 CE

On western boarder of Honduras has more hieroglyphic inscriptions and well preserved carved monuments than any other site in the Americas one of the first Maya excavations sites also proved to be the richest. Stele D set up in 736 CE represents one of the city's foremost rulers.

Maya at Teotihuacan

Approx. 600 BCE - Approx. 800 CE

Civilization dates to pre-classic period ~600 BCE or even earlier and adopted a hierarchical autocratic society that evolved into a typical Maya city-state called Classic Maya and endured for 600 years. The virtues of the Maya system proved its undoing in time especially when pressures form external sources began to take their toll. By ~700 CE Teotihuacan witnessed the disintegration of its empire, city burned by unknown invaders. Within 100 years the city was abandoned. This caused the end of the stela cult causing every Maya complex in southern lowlands to suddenly stop erecting stelae, also many city public building came to a halt while some just slowed their building. Arts fluorished while expansion of territories stoped between ~672 CE and ~751 CE.

Eskimoan people

Approx. 500 BCE - Approx. 1 CE

Old Bering Sea culture began ~500 BCE occupied by Eskimoan people, that crossed Bering Strait during early 1st millennium CE, communities of sea mammal hunters and tool markers. Ipiutak mask uncovered was major Eskimoan work found at Ipuitak site at Point Hope, most finds include variety of burial goods as well as tools, burial masks fashioned out of walrus ivory. Walrus ivory was material used most often for artwork due to lack of trees in region.


Approx. 500 BCE

Cuicuilco is at its peak in Valley of Mexico housing ~20,000 people and constructs a large circular temple mound pyramid that influenced later pyramids. Currently buried in several meters of lava after a volcano erupted and was abandoned.

Zapotec Civilization

500 BC - 600 AD

San Jose Mogote was a center of some importance and showed that they traded with the Olmec when they were at San Lorenzo. The Zapotec left archaeological evidence at the ancient city of Monte Albán in the form of buildings, ball courts, magnificent tombs and grave goods including finely worked gold jewelry. Monte Albán was one of the first major cities in Mesoamerica and the center of a Zapotec state that dominated much of the territory that today belongs to the Mexican state of Oaxaca.


400 BCE - 200 CE

Paracas culture occupied a desert peninsula and nearby river on south coast of Peru, their arts that were the most outstanding were their funerary textiles used to wrap the bodies of the dead in multiple layers. These textiles are preserved in tombs due to the dry desert climate, most are woven cotton with designs embroidered on the fabric in alpaca or vicuna wool (imported) and they used 150 vivid colors which the majority came from plants.

Olmec decline

300 BCE - 200 BCE

Disintegration and decline of Olmec civilization.


Approx. 226 BCE - Approx. 800 CE

In Southern Mexico in state of Chiapas, boasts some of the best preserved structures in Mesoamerica, occupation began no later than early classic period, major construction did not begin until early 7th century CE when Teotihuacan was already in decline. The campaign to build it was for K'inich Janaab' Pakal ( ruled 615 to 638 CE).


200 BCE - 600 CE

Nasca takes its name from the nearby Nasca river valley south of Peru. Famous for its today giant earth drawings. Early centuries of the civilizations ran concurrently with the end of the Paracas culture with exceptions of the line earth drawings they emulated the Paracas style. They were renowned for their pottery and thousands of their ceramic vessels survived, the vessels usually round bottomed and double spouted connected by a bridge.


Approx. 200 BCE - Approx. 1700 CE

In Northern Colombia at Sierra Nevada De Santa Marta rises above the Caribbean the inhabitants after ~1000 CE included a group called Tairona whose gold smiths were among the finest in the Western Hemisphere. They produced technologically advanced and sophisticated pieces of works mostly in gold by cutting and hammering thin sheets of gold and by using the lost wax process. Both techniques allowed for the preserving of the scarce amount of precious metals available to them through trade as there was no local source of gold.


100 BCE - 600 CE

Northeast of Mexico City is a pre-classic scheme Olmec site. Was densely populated and used as a central civic and religious roles of the region and much of Mesoamerica. in ~600 CE a fire ravaged the city. The major monuments found at the site date between 50 CE and 250 CE, many hieroglyphs remain undecipherable as spoken language is unknown. Its peak was 600 CE before the fire and may have housed between ~125,000 and ~200,00 residents.

Southwest Native Americans

Approx. 1 BCE

Southwest Native Americans have been producing pottery since late 1st millennium BCE the most impressive examples of decorated pottery date to after 1000 CE.

Intermediate area

Approx. 0 CE

Intermediate area between highly developed civilizations of Mesoamerica and South American Andes. The people here did not produce monumental architecture and has no written records but they too were accomplished artists. The potters in this area made some of the earliest ceramics produced in the Americas, and continued to create a vast variety of terracotta vessels and figures until the Spanish conquest.


1 CE - 700 CE

Moche are famous for art objects produced in form of painted clay vessels. They occupied a series of river valleys on the north coast of Peru around same time as the Nasca flourished in the south. Their ceramics rival Greek and Maya in quality and in info they convey about the Moche society. These arts illustrating architecture, metallurgy, weaving, disease, deformities and sexual acts. Flat bottomed stirrup-spouted jars, early ones made by hand later ones were made using two piece mold, many copies exist today.

Moche tombs yielded a treasure trove of golden artifacts and >1000 ceramic vessels when they were discovered in late 1980's.

Classic Veracruz

Approx. 100 CE - Approx. 1000 CE

In Veracruz the heir to the Olmec culture was a civilization called Classic Veracruz the actual name of the people is still unknown but some of its surviving monuments rival that of the Mayan in size and complexity. Major theme of art is human sacrifice , mostly in context to ballgames.

Ancient Puebloan

Approx. 200 CE - Approx. 1300 CE

One of the greatest cultures of the American Southwest is Ancient Puebloan formerly called Anasazi, who occupied the four corners of the region where Utah, Colorado, Arizona and New Mexico meet today.

Their art reached its peak in 1000 CE.

Pueblo bonito late 1st CE and early 2nd CE had the densest population of Ancient Puebloan centered in Chaco Canyon in Northwestern New Mexico. Sometime late 12th Century CE a drought occurred and they largely abandoned their open canyon floor dwellings and moved further north to steep sided canyons of Mesa Verde in southwestern Colorado.

Height of Classic Mayan civilization

Approx. 250 CE - Approx. 950 CE

Height of Classic Mayan civilization in cities of Palenque, Tikal, and Copan.


300 CE - 1200 CE

Like west Mexican predecessors they Maya also excelled at modeling small scale figures in clay often cast in molds representing a wide range of human types and activities than shown on Maya Stelae. Both Jaina Island and nearby Piedras Island (Isla Piedras) were the sites of small towns or villages. Jaina was settled circa 300 CE, lasting until its abandonment some time circa 1200 CE. The principal occupation occurred near the end of this period, during the Late Classic and Terminal Classic eras. Present-day ruins consist of two small plaza groups and a ballcourt.

Jaina Island's notability is tied to its estimated 20,000 graves, of which over 1,000 have been archaeologically excavated. Within each grave, the human remains are accompanied by glassware, slateware, or pottery as well as one or more ceramic figurines, usually resting on the occupant's chest or held in their hands.

The name of this island necropolis probably comes from the Yucatán Maya phrase hail na, or “watery house”. Its western location may have been tied to the setting sun, and therefore to death.


Approx. 300 CE

First recorded settlement of Tikal. In Guatemala some 150 miles north of Copan one of the oldest and largest Mayan cities. Mayan engineers graded the plaza and other areas to conduct rainwater into city's reservoirs. The plaza has two pyramids towering over the forest facing each other.


Approx. 400 CE - Approx. 1300 CE

The origin of the Aztec is uncertain, but the Nahua peoples migrated into the area the Aztec arose before the triple alliance between the city-states Tenochtitlan, Texcoco, and Tlacopan, who allied to defeat the Tepanec state of Azcapotzalco, which had previously dominated the Basin of Mexico. Their elements of their own traditions suggest they were hunter gatherers in northern Mexico before their appearance in Mesoamerica in perhaps the 12th century CE.

They go on beyond 1300 CE, but for this timeline it ends here.

First ruler of Copan

426 CE

First ruler of Copan, K'inich Yax K'uk' Mo', ruled for 426 – c. 437, another name is Great-Sun First Quetzal Macaw.

Wari culture

Approx. 500 CE - Approx. 1000 CE

Wari wove designs directly into the fabric with weft threads packed densely over the warp threads known as tapestry depicting figures closely connected and so abstract they are unrecognizable. Flat abstract and repetitive figures surrounding the central figure on the gateway of the Sun. Woven textile designs by highly skilled weavers, many textile samples have survived, similar to Paracas in wool and cotton fibers used but that is where similarity ends.

Mississippian culture

Approx. 800 CE - 1600 CE

Mississippian culture emerged ~800 CE and surpassed all earlier woodland groups in size and complexity of their communities that constructed effigy mounds shaped like animals.

Almost all woodland sites often placed ceremonial pipes in the graves. Smoking pipes were important in social and many religious rituals so pipes were treated as status symbols and many wanted to be buried with them.

El Tajin

Approx. 800 CE - Approx. 1100 CE

El Tajin flourished from ~800 to 1100 CE, Pyramid of Niche was completed 800 CE was encased by another pyramid in 16th century CE, was thriving city of hundreds of acres and tens of thousands of people. Niche is one example of close connection between the form of Mesoamerican monuments and the astronomical observations and measurements of time.


Approx. 900 CE - 1200 CE

Toltec of Tula in central Mexico prevailed from ~900 to 1200 CE after its decline a period of unrest lasted till 1428 CE when Aztec defeated a rival city. End of Tula was marked by a disastrous series of droughts and factional conflicts broke out many times and the city was abandoned. Much of the history was destroyed by Aztec and Spanish so outside sources where needed to trace the historical development of the Toltec. Toltec seems to be the first in region to carve hieroglyphs this was not a Teotihuacan tradition, their pottery reflects no relationship to Teotihuacan Classic forms but does have much in common with later phases in the culture in shape and in applications for various religious motifs. They were feared warriors as well as farmers and master artisans. One of their most impressive works are four colossal atlantids built upon four stone drums standing atop Pyramid B at Tula.

Mimbres Culture

Approx. 1000 CE - Approx. 1250 CE

Mimbres culture of Southwestern New Mexico flourished between ~1000 CE and 1250 CE and is renowned for their black and white painted bowls and clay coiled pots of varying sizes and shapes.

Start of destruction of Tula

1150 CE

Toltec flourished ~900 to 1150 CE, 1150 CE marked the start of the destruction of Tula.

Inca origins

Approx. 1200 CE

The Inca people were a pastoral (kept grazing cattle/sheep; concerning or appropriate to the giving of spiritual guidance), tribe in the Cusco area around the 12th century. Did not become a major civilization till after ~1400 CE.

Raimondi Stele

1874 CE

Raimondi Stele was found in the main temple at Chavin De Hauntar and named after its discoverer, it represents a figure called the staff god, he appears in various versions form Colombia to Northern Bolivia always holding a staff, clearly illustrates the Andean artistic tendency to multiplicity and dual readings. Chavin iconography spread widely throughout the Andean region via gold works, textiles and ceramics.

Pakal's burial chamber

1949 CE

In 1949 CE a rubble filled corbel-vaulted stairway leading to Pakal's burial chamber was discovered, chamber was reached and opened in 1952 CE.