Alfredo López Austin
Somewhere in what today constitutes Mexican territory, about 4,500 years ago - around the twenty-fifth century BCE - groups of people who were growers of corn and other domesticated species achieved such dependence on their crops that they gradually became sedentary. In this manner, they abandoned their ancient practices of seasonal migrations that alternated agriculture with hunting and fishing. The life of these initial sedentaries, alongside the transformations that change implies, gave birth to the Mesoamerican tradition. Thus, sedentarism gradually extended throughout vast areas, and with the passing of time Mesoamerica embraced southern Mexico, all of Guatemala, Belize and El Salvador, Western Honduras, the Pacific coast of Nicaragua, and north-western Costa Rica.
Insulated from extra-continental contact, Mesoamerica underwent a long process of evolution. Within four millennia it had developed certain forms of living, ranging from an initial type of egalitarian society that lived in simple agricultural villages, to powerful states with a high degree of political and social organization. Its ethnic composition was heterogeneous. Among the many peoples that belonged to this Mesoamerican cultural complex, some of the more well known are the Olmec, the Teotihuacan, the Mayan, the Zapotec, the Mixtec, the Mexica (or Aztec), and many others.
If we had to ask ourselves about the most notable characteristics of the ancient cultural complex, the Mesoamerican geography would have to be considered. Criss-crossed by many mountain ranges, this ecological diversity was one of the important factors of a process with paradoxical results: on the one hand, it produced a variety of cultural manifestations in Mesoamerican societies; on the other, it gave birth to a cultural unit common to all societies. In effect, the geographical diversity of Mesoamerica, added to the vast linguistic and ethnic differences of its inhabitants and to their distinct local and regional histories, crystallized, through several centuries, in varied cultural expressions. Among those who inhabited such contrasting environments, such as the high valleys of Central Mexico or southern Guatemala, the tropical rainforests, the pleasant valleys of Oaxaca, the northern arid plains and marine coasts, they differed considerably in their utilization of natural resources, in their social and political organizations, and in their artistic expressions. That said, diversity itself resulted in unity. The random orography and the climatic variety encouraged, from a very early time, productive specialization in micro environments, and, from then on, a constant interchange of products was encouraged. The interchange was, if not the only one, one of the principal forces in the interrelation among the agriculturists. The permanent contact produced an early common history that resulted