The first Mexicans were part of a great movement of people coming to the western hemisphere from Asia perhaps 30,000 years ago
Moving southward, groups of hunters and gatherers occupied the temperate and tropical valleys of central and southern Mexico
Here, planned agriculture gave rise to a more settled way of life and to new values and goals
In time, this morestable litestyle led to the development of a number of remarkable civilizations
Along the southern gulf coast a people now known as the Olmecs flourished nearly 1,000 years before the Christian era.
Olmec sculptures, like this colossal stone head found in La Venta are among the earliest known monumental remains in the Americas.
To the east of the Olmec centers, a people who called themselvesMayas built settlements around great natural spring which pierced the limestone crust of the Yucatan Peninsula
From the peninsula's bedrock, they built temples and pyramids that are still among the greatest wonders of the ancient world
The Mayas developed a pictographic language that is not yet fully understood
Their astronomers and mathematicians charted the heavens and developed a calendar ofsurprising precision
For some unknown reasons Mayan building seems to have stopped in the 9th century of the Christian era and Mayan centers were gradually abandoned
Meanwhile, other civilizations developed important cities in the high central valley of Mexico
The first and possibly most important was Teotihuacan for 800 years, this city’s influence dominated Central America.
TheTeotihuacanos were replaced by a warrior race called the Toltecs
After ruling for two centuries the Toltecs were in turn replaced by a new people drawn into the valley of Mexico
The militant Aztecs conquered more than 370 other cities and tribes in various parts of the country
'Their magnificent capital, Tenochtitlan, sprawled over a series of islands, and was enriched by a constant flow of tributefrom conquered peoples
Aztec religious practices centered around the rituals of sacrifice
To maintain the cosmic order they believed that all people had to offer what was most dear to them
The supreme sacrifice was human life, usually of prisoners captured in battle
The Aztecs believed that their sacrificial victims enjoyed a glorious destiny as companions of the sun
But to conqueredpeoples, Aztec practices seemed cruel and oppressive
By the early 16th century,resistance to Aztec rule was growing in many parts of their empire.
Even in Tenochtitlan, there were forebodings of doom
An ancient prophecy declared that a fair skinned god, Quetzalcoatl would one day appear to usher in a new age.
Aztec astronomer priests predicted the year of the god's arrival a day which correspondedto 1519 A.D.
Incredibly, that was the very year in which the Spanish adventurer, Hernan Cortez, landed on the Mexican coast in search of gold.
Within hours, Aztec runners had crossed the mountains to bring the stunning news of his arrival to the capital
The story of the Spanish conquest of Tenochtitlan is one of the greatest human adventures and tragedies of all times.
Superior weaponry,rampant superstition, and improbable luck, all combined to aid the Spaniards
But most important was a large army of Indian allies from regions hostile to the Aztecs
Other unexpected allies were epidemics for the Spaniards carried with them smallpox and other infectious diseases previously unknown in the new world
After a terrible siege, Tenochtitlan fell in 1521; and within a short time, all ofMexico came under Spanish rule
The conquerors swiftly imposed a new religion, Christianity, and more gradually their Spanish language
They also brought new animals, and new technology
Horses and cattle, the cart wheel, and the potter’s wheel were all introduced into the new world by the Spaniards.
But certain aspects of life did not change
Many Indians now found themselves serving Spanish...