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Lyons Den Books
The Ancient American World

The Ancient American World

(New York: Oxford University Press, 2005. ISBN 0195174658)

Ancient American World is one of eight titles in the World in Ancient Times series. The series combines the knowledge of scholars with the storytelling know-how of novelists. By using primary sources from the past, Ancient American World engages young readers in the story of what we know and how we know it. The ancient world will never be the same!

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activity  FIND AND SAY

  • Ancient American World takes you on a tour of ancient civilizations in Mesoamerica. What the heck is Mesoamerica? It's an area south of the United States. It includes parts of modern Mexico and at least four countries in Central America. To prepare for the tour, do the following:
  • Some sites on the map below are written in Nahuatl (nah WHAT). One million people in Mexico still speak this ancient language. Point to the following cities on the map and say their names three times. (No cheating-three times!)

Oaxaca - wah HAH kuh
Teotihuacan - Tay oh tee HWAH kahn
Tenochtitlan - Tee noch TEET lahn

  • Other sites are written in the Spanish language. Point to these cities and . . . well, you know what to do. Three times.

Copán - co PAHN
Chichén Itzá - chih CHEHN eet ZAH (or chicken pizza if you're feeling witty)
Monte Albán - MOHN te ahl BAHN

Valley of Mexico map
map courtesty of

activity STIR AND SIP

  • Aztec emperors controlled most of Mesoamerica from the 14th century CE (1300's) until the 16th century CE (1500's). If you think people in the Aztec empire invented chocolate, think again. Mesoamericans who lived thousands of years earlier figured out how to grow cacao plants and process the beans. The result: chocolate.
  • Ancient Mesoamericans made a frothy chocolate drink with cocoa, cold water, and spices. To taste a modern version of their treat, try the following:
  • Visit a large grocery store or a Mexican food market. Buy a small jar of ancho chile powder and a box of powdered achiote root, or annatto.
  • Make your usual cup of hot chocolate with milk.
  • Add a dash of ancho chile powder for a spicy taste.
  • For color and deeper flavor, add a pinch of annatto.

activity FIND AND SAY

  • Spaniards invaded Mesoamerica in 1519 CE. By 1521, they controlled the entire Aztec empire. Eleven years later, they conquered the Inca empire in South America. Ancient American World takes you on a tour of the Inca empire and all the civilizations that came before it. To prepare for the tour, do the following:
  • Three Inca cities are shown on the map below. Machu Picchu is a Quechua (kuh CHEW ah) word. At least eight million people in South America still speak this ancient Inca language. Point to Machu Picchu and pronounce it three times.

Machu Picchu - MAH chew PEEK shu

  • The city of Quito is near the northern boundary of the old Inca empire. To the south is Cuzco, the capital city of the empire. Both have Spanish pronunciations. Point to them on the map and say them three times.

Quito - KEET oh
Cuzco - KOOZ koh

Peru map
Map courtesy of


(This activity requires computer skills. Don't be shy. Ask for help if you need it.)

  • Open a blank document in the word processing program on your computer.
  • Guamán Poma was a native Peruvian. He drew the picture below sometime during the 16th century (1500's). Copy and paste the picture into the blank document.
  • Print the page. Add color to the drawing if you like. Be sure to give credit to the artist. Write the words "Illustration by Guamán Poma" under the picture.

Illustration by Guamán Poma

  • Visit Look up this list of words:

  • With your very best cursive (yes, cursive-we should all practice this skill) handwriting, copy the following paragraph below the picture. Use the word list to fill in the blanks.

    This Inca woman is weaving with a backstrap _____ . She has tied long pieces of of yarn to two sticks. These longer pieces of yarn are the ______ . With a stick called a ______, she passes shorter lengths of yarn called the weft, or ______ , over and under the warp.


  • Weaving is the oldest craft in ancient America.  By the time the Inca empire began in 1438 CE, it was already 4,000 years old. To learn how ancient weavers wove without a loom, read "A Warped Idea" in Ancient American World, p.114.
  • For a cool photograph of 4000-year-old woven bags, see p. 116 in Ancient American World.