The history of the ancient Americas is genuinely unique and compelling, and filled with romantic images of powerful empires and mighty rulers. The term “Ancient Americas” refers to the continents of North and South America and the lands of Central America that connect them. The artwork presented in this gallery reveals the symbolism, artistic techniques, and styles of many of the ancient peoples of the Americas. The objects on display here take us on a trek from North America through Mesoamerica (designated as the cultural region of Mexico and Central America), and finally to the Andes region of South America. Today, we know of many civilizations that once flourished in different parts of the Americas beginning about 3000 BCE until the arrival of the Europeans during the 15th and 16th centuries CE.
Before the arrival of the Europeans to the Americas, cultures such as the Maya, Zapotec, Aztec, Moche and Inca built some of the most incredible cities, kingdoms and empires in the history of the world. Their well-organized cities contained beautifully decorated buildings and pyramids, often hosting large marketplaces with a great variety of goods such as gold, silver, jade, ceramic, obsidian, shell and colorful textiles with elaborate designs.
Moving from north to south through the Americas highlights the diversity of artistic styles through time and place. The Pueblo peoples of North America made striking decorated pottery and built significant dwellings in the canyon cliffs of the American Southwest. In Mesoamerica, the Maya built impressive cities, developed intricate writing and calendar systems, and made art of jade, ceramic, and carved stone. The Diquis fashioned superb works of caste gold and copper/gold alloys, for which the Spanish named the region Costa Rica, or “rich coast”. The Moche of South America made ceramic portrait vessels of wonderful naturalism and developed a chemical technique for plating copper with gold. The Inca built mighty buildings of stone cut so perfectly the structures did not require mortar, and crafted carefully formed vessels and ornaments made of gold, silver, stone, ceramic and shell.
Today, we appreciate the mastery of design and marvel at the vision of these inspired creators of now lost civilizations. However, the descendants of these impressive ancient peoples are not gone but continue to contribute to the vitality of contemporary life throughout the Americas.
Credit: Exhibition overview from museum website