The Maya of pre-Columbian America depended on maize for their subsistence. The earliest domestic Mexican ceramics date from the Formative period (1500-1000 bc) in the Valley of Mexico. On the Gulf coast the Olmec culture produced hollow, naturalistic figurines. During the Classic period (ad 300? to 900?), pottery figurines from the east showed lively freedom of expression; those from the west were often grouped in impressionistic scenes of daily life.
At Teotihuacán in the central plateau, polychrome three-footed vessels were produced in molds. In the Post-Classic era the Toltecs occupied the central plateau, producing typical ceramics painted red on cream or orange on buff. Later, the Aztecs first assimilated earlier abstract decoration, then turned to red and orange bowls ornamented with birds and other life forms. Farther south, the Zapotecs and Mixtecs resisted Aztec influence. Besides modeled animals, humans, and gods, they made a highly burnished polychrome ware that influenced later Mexican pottery.