How do the civilizations of Mesoamerica and Andean South America compare and contrast with those of Mesopotamia, Egypt, the Indus, and Yellow River Valleys?

Quick answer:

Civilizations share many characteristics like cities, trade, specialization, government, infrastructure, technology, and communication. In Mesoamerica and South America, the Maya, Aztec, and Inca civilizations developed with most of these characteristics, yet they were also different in technology and outside contact from other world civilizations.

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

This is a complex and intricate question, so let's get you started on it by reflecting on the similarities between ancient civilizations, including those in Mesoamerica, South America, Mesopotamia, Egypt, the Indus River Valley, and the Yellow River Valley.

Ancient civilizations in these areas shared many characteristics (characteristics that are...

This Answer Now

Start your 48-hour free trial to unlock this answer and thousands more. Enjoy eNotes ad-free and cancel anytime.

Get 48 Hours Free Access

actually shared by all civilizations). We can define a civilization as the development of a more complex way of living centered around the founding and growth of cities. This is, in fact, the first characteristic of civilizations: they have cities, urban areas with relatively large populations that allow people to come together to trade.

Cities also lead to specialization in cultures. Where most, if not all, people used to farm, growing their own food and making what they needed for themselves, in a civilization, people specialize in various tasks and then barter with money or goods or services to obtain food and other necessities. Out of this specialization grows class structures as well, as some people become more well-off than others.

Civilizations also feature the development of administration. A governing class arises with a bureaucracy and a law code to support it. Further, physical infrastructure also becomes widespread as people build roads, buildings, monuments, and other necessary structures. With this infrastructure grows the technology needed to support it.

Further, civilizations develop advanced methods of communication. Their associated languages flourish as people advance in writing and develop literature.

Now let's think about the civilizations in Mesoamerica and South America. Peoples like the Maya arose in Mesoamerica, developing writing systems, creating an elaborate calendar, and building cities. Another civilization, that of the Aztecs, built the fantastic city of Tenochtitlan and extended its rule widely, developing a network of trade and a system of government. In South America, the Inca Empire flourished. Strangely, this civilization lacked writing, using a system of knots called quipu instead.

While these civilizations shared many characteristics with their counterparts throughout the rest of the world, they lacked technology that developed elsewhere. They did not, for instance, use wheels or forge metals. Further, the civilizations in the Americas were more subject to disease, for they lacked the broad contact with other peoples that would have contributed to immunity.

Approved by eNotes Editorial