Offered in 2012


The Maya, Aztecs, and Other Cultures of Mesoamerica: Myths and Realities

Did the Maya really predict the end of the world on December 21, 2012? Did Cortéz really conquer the Aztecs with a force of only 500 soldiers? Who made the giant stone heads in Mexico? Were the Maya peaceful astronomers?

This foundational course explores the origins, history, and downfall of the major civilizations of Mexico and Central America, including Guatemala, Honduras, Belize, and the surrounding area. We will focus on the Olmec, Teotihuacán, Maya, and Aztec civilizations, along with the Spanish Conquest.

Please note that enrollment in this course is reserved for adults 55+.

Section Sessions Dates Time Campus Instructor(s) Cost Registration
6 - Tue
Sep 4–Oct 9
2:30–4:20 pm Van David Maxwell
$104 Register

You may take this course as part of the following program:

What will I learn?

Week 1: Introduction to Mesoamerican Archaeology

We will begin with a brief introduction to archaeology: finding sites, recognizing artifacts, excavation, and dating techniques. We finish with the earliest occupations of Mexico, elephant hunters, the origins of corn (maize) agriculture, and Monte Albán, one of the New World’s oldest cities.

Week 2: The Olmec, the Oldest Civilization in the Americas

We discuss several Olmec centres, including San Lorenzo, home of many of the Olmec colossal heads, and La Venta, possibly the earliest empire in the Americas.

Week 3: Teotihuacán, Mesoamerica’s First Major Power Centre

In this lecture, we will emphasize the Avenue of the Dead, including the Pyramids of the Sun and Moon. We will also discuss ritual behaviour and human sacrifice, apartment life, the murals of Teotihucán, and the presence of a civilization without writing.

Week 4: The Early Classic Maya

Our focus will be particularly on Tikal, Guatemala. Topics will include Early Classic ritual behaviour, warfare, and state expansion; the origins of conquest warfare at Uaxactún; the Tikal-Teotihuacán-Kaminaljuyu connection; and, finally, the conquest of Tikal and the Hiatus Period.

Week 5: The Late Classic Maya

In this lecture, we will explore the Copan, Palenque, Tikal (again), Quirigua, Caracól, and the Petexbatun regions. We will continue with the Classic Maya collapse and theories explaining this phenomenon.

Week 6: The Toltecs, the Tula, and Post-Classic Maya

We begin with central Mexico’s Toltecs and Tula and the Post-Classic Maya of Uxmal and Chichén Itzá, and conclude with the Aztecs and their capital at Tenochtitán. Topics include warfare and the Aztec state; human sacrifice and ritual; the return of Quetzalcoatl, and the coming of the Spanish.

How will I learn?

  • Lectures
  • Discussion (may vary from class to class)
  • Papers (applicable only to certificate students)

Who should take this course?

This course is for anyone who is interested in learning about the cultures and worldviews of the peoples of  Mesoamerica.

How will I be evaluated?

For certificate students only:

Your instructor will evaluate you based on an essay you will complete at the end of the course. You will receive a grade of satisfactory or unsatisfactory.

Textbooks and learning materials

Reading material (if applicable) will be available in class. Some course materials may be available online.