Inka Aztec and Maya

Inca, Aztec and Maya

Image credits: Felipe Huaman Poma de Ayala (1550–1615). EL DÉCIMO INGA, TOPA INGA IVPANQVI / Reynó Tarma, Chinchay Cocha, Uarochiri, Canta, Atapillo, Ucros, Yachas, Chiscay, Conchoco, Huno Uayllas, Uaranga Uanoco Allauca [e] Ychoca, Uamalli. /At the Royal Library, Denmark.
Image credits: Felipe Huaman Poma de Ayala (1550–1615). EL DÉCIMO INGA, TOPA INGA IVPANQVI
/ Reynó Tarma, Chinchay Cocha, Uarochiri, Canta, Atapillo, Ucros, Yachas, Chiscay, Conchoco, Huno Uayllas, Uaranga Uanoco Allauca [e] Ychoca, Uamalli. /At the Royal Library, Denmark.

Anthropology 230

Dr. Benjamin Carter
Office: Sociology/ Anthropology Room 9
Contacts and Scheduling Office Visits

You are also responsible for reading, understanding and abiding by Dr. Carter’s Policies.

Latin America contains two geographic regions where complex societies (what some call “civilizations”) developed independently, Mesoamerica and South America. This course focuses upon the origin, development and expression of these cultures through time. Themes of power, trade, consumption, ritual, identity and symbolism will be explored through the lens of archaeology.

Meets general academic requirement DE.

Course Objectives:
In terms of content, students will be able to:

  • Locate important regions and places in Mesoamerica and South America
  • Describe the differences in environments between Mesoamerica and South America
  • Understand some reasons why complex society developed later in the Americas than in other parts of the world
  • Assess relevant archaeological information to understand the development of agriculture
  • Compare the rise of village society and how it contributes to the development of civilization in different regions
  • Articulate the development of writing and other recording techniques in the Andes and Mesoamerica, as well as the role that these play in complex societies
  • Analyze the role of warfare in the development, maintenance and demise of various societies.
  •  Evaluate the role of different societies, cultures and environments on the development and demise of complex society.
  • Appraise the articulation of different sectors of society and of different cultures in complex societies, especially on the level of empires.
  • Present the role of religion in both small-scale and imperial societies.

In terms of general skills, students will be able to:

  • Assess written works and determine what portions are the most important.
  • Evaluate the writing of others and edit it to improve conciseness, accuracy and scholarly reference.
  • Improve their ability to read critically.
  • Present a well-considered argument to the class.
  • Identify the partial nature of archaeology as well as its importance

Required Books:
You are not required to purchase any books. We will be reading articles and chapters from a variety of sources (provided via pdfs on Canvas) as well as entries from the following two books:

Peregrine, Peter N., and Melvin. Ember, eds. 2002. Encyclopedia of Prehistory: Volume 5: Middle America. Boston, MA: Springer US. Available here:

Peregrine, Peter N., and Melvin. Ember, eds. 2002. Encyclopedia of Prehistory: Volume 7: South America. 1 online resource (XXIX, 462 pages) vols. Boston, MA: Springer US.

Class Format:

Class will focus on the assigned readings and will be mostly discussion of those readings and, when appropriate – especially for additional background and images- lecture.


  • Map Quizzes (10%)
  • Your Maps (10%)
  • Daily Highlights (10%)
  • Three Section Papers (30%)
  • Two Wikipedia Assignments (15%)
  • Two Fieldtrips (10%)
  • Final Paper (5%)
  • Participation (10%)

Map Quizzes
In order to understand the societies under consideration in this class, we must understand where they are located. At the beginning of each unit, therefore, you will be given a map that you are required to memorize. You will be quizzed on these locations within the first few classes of that section (see syllabus).

Mesoamerican Map and Locations to Learn:

Your Maps
In order to better appreciate both the geography of Latin America and of Pre-Columbian changes, you will make a map for each of the sections of this class (Aztec/ Mexico, Maya, and Inca [Inka]). You will make these in Google Maps. Each will be turned in with your summaries. For additional details, go HERE.

Highlights Assignment
Each day that we have readings, you are responsible for bringing in a list of the three significant trends or highlights. Because your readings will vary greatly (from descriptions of geography to summaries to scholarly articles on specific topics), your trends may include important components, arguments and/or observations in the readings. These trends should address important anthropological issues such as:

  • What role does geography play in providing resources and opportunities?
  • How are goods and resources acquired that are not locally available?
  • How do people get and consume food?
  • How people organize their living spaces (i.e., settlement patterns)?
  • How people organize themselves politically? That is, what signs are there that some people have greater access to power and resources than others?
  • How is violence managed?
  • How is religion organized and how does it connect to other aspects of society?
  • How is society organized? Women? Children?
  • How does society change? Why?

Please justify why these three trends are significant. Please write one sentence for your trend and 2-4 sentences for your justification.

These will be turned in via Canvas.

Section Papers
At the end of each section (Aztecs, Maya and Inca), please write a 3-4 page essay (double-spaced, 12 pt Times New Roman, etc.).  This is an analytical paper- not summative, not descriptive, not argumentative. This is your opportunity to delve deeper into a particular component of our discussions- to think (on paper) about that topic.

Please choose an topic that we have discussed in class or that is present in the readings up to one week before the paper is due (look back in your highlights to see if there are topics that you would be interested in).  Your topic can be about commonalities or differences across multiple cultures  and the reasons why they might exist. Or can be a close investigation into a topic within one culture. Although you do not need to include every reading or class session in your paper, you should provide evidence from at least a couple.

Analyze this topic. Analysis includes defining the significant related components, looking for patterns and formulating and reformulating questions. If you are looking at commonalities, also highlight areas of difference. Don’t try to “prove” a point (that is,  do suspend judgement), but try to write to better understand that topic. This is NOT a formal research paper, but an investigative essay about a topic that you are interested in. You should use some quotations from the readings that we have done and cite them. Raise questions that, if addressed, might better help you understand your topic.

Although this paper is somewhat fluid, it should also be organized into a coherent paper that has an introduction and conclusion and flows in between.

Wikipedia Assignment
You will receive much more information on this assignment, but you are essentially going to edit a Wikipedia article to improve its accuracy and conciseness and add references. You will present your results and must justify any changes that you make.  You will receive more information on this assignment. Those details are HERE.

Field Trips
We will be taking two field trips; one to the American Museum of Natural History and one to the Penn Museum of Anthropology and Archaeology. I will do my best to schedule these for times that are convenient for all of us. You will receive more information, but the essential assignment is for you to write a short review of what you saw, what you thought of it, how it was presented and how it connects to the course.

Final Paper
This is a short paper comparing the three different regions that we have discussed. Your paper should be approximately 5 pages (double-spaced, Times New Roman 12 pt font, 1 inch margins). Note that there are three broad questions- you may address them in one essay or in three miniessays (miniessays should probably add up to more than 5 pages).  

Please address the following questions:

  •  Differences
    • Choose a particular trait that is unique to a group and discuss what it is and why it is valuable for understanding that particular culture.
  • Similarities
    • Choose something that is similar (at least broadly speaking) between groups we have discussed.
      • Describe the commonality. What are some possible reasons why this trait is common between groups (environment, trade, warfare, power, etc.)?
  • Your Interests
    • Please describe one aspect of the groups that we have discussed that you find particularly fascinating/ intriguing, etc.
    • Explain why you find it fascinating and what you have learned from it. How did it change your understanding of prehistory?

Additional Points:

Please  discuss AT LEAST one group from each region (“Aztec”, “Maya” and “Inca”).

Control for time and space. That is, when you talk about a particular culture, indicate where and when they are from- For example, don’t write just “The Olmec …”, but say something like:” The Olmec, who inhabited  the Vera Cruz region of Mexico between 1500-400 BC, …”

In the process of writing this paper, please be sure to CITE (in Chicago Author-Date style, see above for links). Remember that you can be general- for example, you can cite the encyclopedia articles (be sure to get the correct author) when discussing a particular group. Report where you learned particular points that you are discussing.

You are required to participate in each and every class. This will be assessed to the best of my ability. There are a few basic principles to remember to ensure a good grade.

First, COME TO CLASS. Is there any question why this is important?

Second, READ all of the required material. That does not mean look at each and every word on the assigned pages. It means actually try to understand everything that is written. This is not a quick process.

Third, THINK. I will present you with a large amount of material. You need to think about it. If you regurgitate what I say, you will likely pass. If you think about what I say and ask probing questions, you will learn. You are the only one who can decide which is more important.

****IMPORTANT***** The schedule provided at the beginning of class is only to give you an idea. The full schedule is available on Canvas.