Mexico: Pyramids, Mayans & Aztecs                                  











The Sphinx and the Great Pyramids of Cheops, Egypt vs. the Pyramid of Cholula, Mexico

While Egypt might be the first place that comes to mind when thinking of pyramids, Mexico is also home to some of the world’s largest pyramids. Mexico has two of the world's three largest pyramids:

  1. The largest is The Great Pyramid of Cheops in Egypt 
  2. The second largest is The Pyramid of Cholula in Mexico 
  3. The third largest is Pirámide del Sol (The Pyramid of the Sun) found in the ancient city of Teotihuacán in Mexico

Who do you think built the pyramids in Mexico?

The ancient communities who built the pyramids make up what is known as “high Indian civilizations.” The most commonly known are the Maya and Aztecs. They are called “high Indian civilizations” because of their exceptional ingenuity and advancements—especially for the time.

These cultures cultivated beans, squash, and maize (corn). They also were the first to eat chocolate which was mixed with hot peppers and made a spicy rather bitter drink! (It was only later that the Europeans added sugar to chocolate.)

Their ancient societies were highly stratified and featured monumental architecture such as stepped pyramids sometimes reaching as tall at 20 stories!

What do you think highly stratified means?

Take a look at the drawing below. Can you image what life might have been like in this ancient Mayan city?

At least four Mesoamerican countries developed hieroglyphic writing. Below, you will find Aztec pictures or glyphs which are like words. 

Can you think of a language that still uses glyphs today?

Below, you will find an introduction to the Mayan system of numbers.

Can you guess how the numbering system works? 

These ancient people also established complex calendar systems generated by skilled astronomers. Some worshiped religions with multiple gods and practiced human sacrifice rituals.

Although each group of ancient people varies, there are commonalties among the civilizations that were developed over 3,000 years, from around 1500 BC to 1521 BC. Their ancestors are still alive today and make-up part of Mexico’s indigenous communities.

How do we know so much about these pyramids and these peoples’ way of life?

Well, there are many ways. In some cases, we still use some of the systems that they invented—like the calendar. They were skilled farmers and even knew how to collect water from the earth and store it in reservoirs—which we still do as well! They studied the stars and built great structures that they left behind. From examining their temples, buildings, and drawings, we get clues about their way of life, their tools, their writing, and their building abilities.



A scientist sends a robot into the belly of a pyramid to explore the inner chambers






Why might it be useful to send a robot into a pyramid instead of just walking in?


In the image above, we can see where the Aztecs lived in relation to present day Mexico.

Below, we see where the Aztecs lived in relation to the Mayas.