AncientMexico.com

While most one-person, non-commercial sites tend to be fan pages, weblogs, or online collections, Patrick Olivares has created a site one would normally expect from a museum or other educational institution. While still a work in progress, AncientMexico.com provides a highly accessible introduction to the history and culture of ancient Mesoamerica.

Under development since 1999, AncientMexico has become the most visited portal on the subject of Pre-Columbian Mexico, and receives almost a million hits per month, according to Olivares. The first impression on loading the home page is the surprising amount of "non-interactive" real estate (enough in fact, to fill an 800x600 screen) - the space instead being dedicated to displaying some eye-catching artwork reminiscent of National Geographic. At the bottom of the page, entry to the rest of the site is accessible through a series of animated thumbnails.

First among these attractions is an interactive Map, which charts the locations of 23 Mesoamerican cities. Each position on the map links to a home page for that location, with more detailed diagrams of the cities, modern photographs, artist's conceptions of period cityscapes, and historical information about the settlements. (Tenochtitlan -now Mexico City- is described as a "New World Venice" originally built on floating beds of waterplants, which then evolved into the capital of the Aztec empire, and was destroyed by the Spanish in 1519.) Much of the Map section is still under development, but the completed sections hold a good deal of promise.

After a geographical orientation, The Gods offers visitors depictions and descriptions of the Mayan Pantheon, while an interactive Timeline traces the development of Mesoamerican cities from pre-history to 1500 A.D. As noted, the early 16th century marked the arrival of the Spanish Conquistadors, and The Conquest provides a Flash presentation following Cortes et. al. from their landing at present-day Veracruz to their to their arrival at the Aztec capital. Finally, The Documents contains a handful of first-person accounts of the region's history, including an Indian description of the Aztec religion, and Cortes' own account of his meeting with Montezuma.

As if Olivares won't have enough to keep him busy, the site is only a component of a larger project, as is evidenced by links to AncientPeru and AncientChile. While more basic in design and presumably in earlier stages of development, these latter sites already include some similar features (area maps) as well as a few unique items - such as a visual depiction of the Inca universe, with its capital, Cuzco, in the center. As a work in progress, there also appears to be some troubleshooting to be done, as visitors to the sites will find a fair number of broken links. Additionally, it would appear that the site was created using a large screen monitor, since, on an 800 x 600 pixel screen, some components suffer from the lack of necessary scrollbars, while others simply don't fit into the space allotted to their frames. (If you find yourself in such a dilemma while visiting the site, you can try clicking and dragging your cursor over text to get to the bottom of a page - or opening a frame into its own window when things get too tight.)

Eventually, Olivares plans to "incorporate all the major archeological sites in pre-Colombian Mesoamerica and Andean South America, with numerous other pages graphically depicting the art, and culture of these regions." As solo projects go, it's an ambitious undertaking. But it's off to a good start, and we don't have to wait until it's finished before taking advantage of the effort.

AncientMexico can be found at http://www.ancientmexico.com/.

Jim Regan is a graphics artist and writer who lives in Halifax, Nova Scotia.

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