Neolithic civilizations of Mesoamerica compared to those of the Old World

Mesoamerican civilizations such as the Aztecs and the Maya seem to have been much more advanced to me than the Neolithic civilizations of the Fertile Crescent (I don't know anything about the neolithic civilizations of India or China). Mesopotamia didn't have a city as large as Tenochtitlan until Babylon well into the Bronze Age. Teotihuacan and Tikal were also larger (depending on the estimates perhaps significantly so) than any of the cities of Sumer.

Am I just being influenced by the fact that we have lot more information on the comparatively recent Meso-american civilizations, or was there a significant gap in technology and social complexity? If so, why? The Americas were lacking in a lot resources that the Old World had, which is why the neolithic civilizations of the Old World eventually transitioned to the Bronze Age and beyond. Why were the Mesoamericans able to build much larger polities? Alternately, why couldn't the Mesopotamian cities grow as large?
 
Your question is confusing.

Though the mesoamerican and early mesopotamian cultures were roughly equal from a technological point of view they were developing in very different areas with different challenges not to mention they were separated by at least 2000 years of time.
 
Simplified, why were the Mesoamericans able to build much larger cities than civilizations of comparable level of development in Mesopotamia?
 
Simplified, why were the Mesoamericans able to build much larger cities than civilizations of comparable level of development in Mesopotamia?

They were growing maize in a tropical environment. This provided a LOT of food, and for comparatively little work. Of course, this assumes that conquistador claims that Mesoamerican cities were larger and finer built than anything in Europe is true-it's possible that after weeks of marching through the jungle, any kind of settlement would have looked fantastic to them, and that they hadn't seen some of the mega-cities like Paris or London.

In some ways, the American civilizations do seem more advanced than the comparable Eurasian neolithic civilizations. For example, the Mesoamerican civilizations went from sedentism to writing and 0 in a much shorter time than the Middle Eastern civilizations. On the other hand, some American civilizations seem to be behind the Eurasian civilizations. Peru never developed the wheel despite having beasts of burden to pull them, and metallurgy was never widespread or widely used in the Americas. The truth is, there isn't a set way for civilizations to develop, with one step necessarily following another. The civilizations of the New World were not advanced or retarded compared to the Old World civilizations, they were just different.
 
Would a primitive wooden wheel have been useful on a narrow mountain path?

Quite possibly, yes.

Even if it wasn't, it would still be very useful on a coastal plain, which is where the core of civilization was for much of pre-Columbian Peru. The Andean civilizations were late bloomers.
 
I'm not sure you're comparing like-age with like-age, even considering the couple of millennia in between.

For example, the conquistadores are visiting Tenochtitlan and so on at the HEIGHT of this bronze age civilisation. Before it, there would have been hundreds of years of small petty kingdoms, less development etc.

IMHO it is more precisely a parallel with Babylon at its height, than with the precursors to it.

Best Regards
Grey Wolf
 
I'm not sure you're comparing like-age with like-age, even considering the couple of millennia in between.

For example, the conquistadores are visiting Tenochtitlan and so on at the HEIGHT of this bronze age civilisation. Before it, there would have been hundreds of years of small petty kingdoms, less development etc.
And a thousand years before the Spanish came there was a city at least as large and actually more powerful than Tenochtitlan. During the Classic era a great many Mesoamerican cities were actually larger than their contemporaries like London and Paris. The Spanish came at a time when central Mexico had only just caught up with the Classic era's height of power and development, and the Maya still were not close to being as large, powerful, or developed as they used to be. They had running water, fountains, etc almost a thousand years before Columbus.
 
And a thousand years before the Spanish came there was a city at least as large and actually more powerful than Tenochtitlan. During the Classic era a great many Mesoamerican cities were actually larger than their contemporaries like London and Paris. The Spanish came at a time when central Mexico had only just caught up with the Classic era's height of power and development, and the Maya still were not close to being as large, powerful, or developed as they used to be. They had running water, fountains, etc almost a thousand years before Columbus.

Do we really have a good handle on how big Teotihuacan and it's empire was?

I've seen estimates of the city ranging from 125-250,000. There seems to be a much firmer consensus for Tenochtitlan at 200,000.
 
Do we really have a good handle on how big Teotihuacan and it's empire was?

I've seen estimates of the city ranging from 125-250,000. There seems to be a much firmer consensus for Tenochtitlan at 200,000.
Given that Teotihuacan was able to send an army to conquer Tikal and place a puppet dynasty on the throne, they were evidently pretty large. That's a longer reach than the Mexica had. They also sponsored the ruling dynasty of Copan, which is in Honduras.
 
The two are not even remotely comparable considering both the different crops of them and the fact that Mesopotamian government didn't really formulate into a stable, concrete system until Ur.
 
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nixtamalization

The treating of maize in an alkaline solution unlocks far more proteins than mechanical grinding. Maize for that matter is a huge developmental achievement for the Mesoamericans, the Aztecs and Mayans all were able to build their large civilzations based on the efforts of selective breeding going back 12,000 years.

Also you can't really call the Mesoamericans Neolithic, because it's the wrong time period and they did have Copper metallurgy.
 
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nixtamalization

The treating of maize in an alkaline solution unlocks far more proteins than mechanical grinding. Maize for that matter is a huge developmental achievement for the Mesoamericans, the Aztecs and Mayans all were able to build their large civilzations based on the efforts of selective breeding going back 12,000 years.

Also you can't really call the Mesoamericans Neolithic, because it's the wrong time period and they did have Copper metallurgy.

Interesting, I did not know that.

Fine, call them Chalcolithic then.
 
Do you have a better one?

Political organization-There were less unitary states in the Americas, although arguably the P'urepecha, the Aztecs and the Incas were moving towards creating unitary states from their tribute empires.

Military organization-The Native states did not practice fighting as a units, and their lack of stabbing weapons was a great weakness as compared to their European conquerors. The Aztecs did have slashing weapons in the form of obsidion, and their spear throwers were quite dangerous, but that's no match for a group of people in full armor fighting together.

Also, while some pro-Native writers like Charles Mann tend to make claims that bows and arrows were 'superior' to European firearms, this isn't true. Maybe on a good day an arrow could have better range than a musket, but a stiff breeze can really cut down their accuracy. Mann dismissed guns as 'noisemakers', but guns are very terrifying when shown to people who have never seen them before.

Agriculture-Native agriculture could produce a lot of food, as has already been pointed out, but it was not always very efficient. By growing different plants in the same field they ensured that the soil remained fertile, but that cuts down on total harvest as the different plant species share and compete for space. A lack of plows also prevented the Native Americans from farming on some soils that were hard but still usable. As much as hippies idolize Native American agriculture, it had some serious drawbacks as compared to European agriculture.
 
Agriculture-Native agriculture could produce a lot of food, as has already been pointed out, but it was not always very efficient. By growing different plants in the same field they ensured that the soil remained fertile, but that cuts down on total harvest as the different plant species share and compete for space. A lack of plows also prevented the Native Americans from farming on some soils that were hard but still usable. As much as hippies idolize Native American agriculture, it had some serious drawbacks as compared to European agriculture.
Um, no. Even in a monoculture, the plants are going to be competing with each other. If you grow beans with corn, the competition is offset by the nitrogen produced by the beans. By growing multiple crops on the same piece of land, you might reduce the yields slightly for each crop, but you have considerably more land than if you had grown each crop on individual fields. Two fields of corn and beans grown together produce more total food than one field of corn and one field of beans. I'm not sure how much more efficient you could be, especially if you incorporate perennial crops into the mix. It's not like the Native Americans were the only one to grow multiple crops on one field. It was common practice in Europe to plant oats and peas together.
 
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Um, no. Even in a monoculture, the plants are going to be competing with each other.

You know, I didn't think about that. This is definitely an area I need to do more research in.

Two fields of corn and beans grown together produce more total food than one field of corn and one field of beans. I'm not sure how much more efficient you could be, especially if you incorporate perennial crops into the mix.

What if you use animal dung as fertilizer, which generally wasn't available to the Native Americans? The fertilizer could overcome the difference in growing beans, and so you have more space for pure corn.

It's not like the Native Americans were the only one to grow multiple crops on one field. It was common practice in Europe to plant oats and peas together.

When they settled in the New World, European migrants were practicing monoculture. It caused problems in some areas, but ultimately it fed a much larger population than the Native Americans
 
Do you have a better one?

Sure, if we look at the capabilities of people to alter their environment then Amerindians were quite advanced considering the material limitations of their area. Maize is one of if not THE most significantly altered crop from its original form as teosinte. We could, if we wanted, categorize people by their ability to genetically alter crops.

Maize-level (the most difficult and advanced)
Wheat-level
Rice-level (Rice is easy to genetically modify, and its domestication signifies no meaningful level of development)

This would be as arbitrary and silly as categorizing civilizations by their skill at metal-working, and yet that continues to be done.
 
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