Mesoamerica was the region where pre-Columbian societies flourished before the Spanish colonization of the Americas in the 15th and 16th centuries and one of the six cradles of ancient civilization that arose independently. Around 7000 BCE there was the domestication of cacao, maize, beans, tomato, squash and chili, as well as the turkey and dog which facilitated the construction of agricultural villages.
Early complex civilizations included the Olmec culture in the Gulf of Mexico who traded with other cultures in Chiapas, Guatemala, and Oaxaca and laid the foundation for Mesoamerican cultural development along much of the Pacific coast. There followed the Pre-classic period, when urban polities developed among the Maya and during this period, the first true Mesoamerican writing systems arose in the Epi-Olmec and the Zapotec cultures, reaching its zenith in Classic Maya hieroglyphic script.
In Central Mexico, the height of the Classic period saw the ascendancy of the city of Teotihuacan, which formed a military and commercial empire whose political influence stretched south into the Maya area and northward. Upon the collapse of Teotihuacán around 600 CE competition between several important political centers in central Mexico – such as Xochicalco and Cholula – ensued. At this time during the Epi-Classic period, the Nahua peoples began moved south into Mesoamerica from the North, and became politically and culturally dominant in central Mexico, as they displaced speakers of Oto-Manguean languages. During the early post-Classic period, Central Mexico was dominated by the Toltec cuiture, Oaxaca by the Mixtec, and the lowland Maya area had important centers at Chichén Itzá and Mayapán. Towards the end of the post-Classic period the Aztecs of Central Mexico built a tributary empire covering most of central Mesoamerica. The distinct Mesoamerican cultural tradition ended with the Spanish conquest in the 16th century.
Mesoamerican indigenous cultures were gradually subjected to Spanish colonial rule. Aspects of the indigenous culture still survive as ancestral languages and practices.
Trade networks exchanged obsidian, jade, cacao, cinnabar, Spondylus shells, hematite, and ceramics. Though aware of the wheel and metallurgy these were not regarded as important. Mesoamerica is one of only three regions of the world where writing is known to have independently developed (the others being ancient Sumer and China). Social stratification, complex religious traditions, vigesimal numeric system, complex calendar.