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What are the Most Common Indigenous People of Central and South America?

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  • Written By: Sheri Cyprus
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 26 August 2016
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The Aztec, Inca, and Maya are the most common indigenous people of Central and South America. The Incas are the original people of Peru. The Mayans and the Aztecs are the first people of Mexico.

The Aztec group of indigenous people lived a hunter-gatherer life beginning in 1325 in Mexico. The Aztecs settled the capital Tenochtitlan, which is now Mexico City. Many indigenous people of Mexico have some Aztec heritage.

The Aztecs domesticated such plants as cocoa, vanilla, tomatoes, maize, tobacco, onions, bananas, squash, and beans, as well as many others. Cocoa beans were prized for making chocolate and were used as early currency. The indigenous Aztecs traded cocoa beans for clothing and tools. Sculpture was important to the Aztecs and most of their sculptures were carved from limestone. Parts of Mexico remain rich in limestone deposits today.

The Incan empire started in 1438 BC. The Incas were also called the Tiwantinsuya. Quechua is the Incan language. The Incan people predicted seasons through the careful observation of the planets and stars. They were a highly skilled indigenous tribe who designed complex roads and buildings with their skilled use of mathematics.

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Peru's indigenous Incan people were polytheists as they believed in multiple gods. Viracocha is the god that the Incas believe created the Inca and the Incan people are known as the "Children of the Sun." The Incas created adobe dwellings using rocks and mixtures of mud and grass. They farmed corn, potatoes, coffee, and grains such as quinoa.

The Mayan civilization began in 2600 BC in the Yucatan. The Mayan people spread throughout Mexico, Guatemala, western Honduras, and northern Belize. The Mayans were talented potters and weavers who were also skilled at clearing land for trade networks. The Mayans created innovative underground rainwater storage reservoirs.

The Maya are one of the most innovative and inventive of all indigenous people. They built impressive stone structures with sculptured decorative architectural details using very limited tools. The Mayans also created advanced mathematics and writing systems.

Modern Mayans number more than six million people, making the Maya one of the world's largest indigenous populations. Many Mayan indigenous groups live in Mexico such as the Yucatecs, the Tzotzil, and the Tzeltal. More than thirty Mayan indigenous groups currently inhabit Central America and each group has a separate dialect of the Mayan language.

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