Mesoamerica and South America Gallery

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Ancient Cultures of Mexico

Art Ancient America 3

The Arizona Museum of Natural History presents the hall of Mesoamerican cultures because there are links between the high cultures of Mexico and Central America and the ancient Native American civilizations of the Southwest, particularly the Hohokam. Shown is a reproduction by noted Arizona artist Zarco Guerrero of an Olmec colossal head, such as are found at the sites of La Venta, San Lorenzo and Tres Zapotes. The colossal heads, carved from single boulders, stood between 1.6 and 2.4 meters high. Olmec culture in the Mexican Gulf Coast area dates from about 1400-400 B.C.

 

Art Ancient America 2

The figures flanking the doorway are similar to those from Tula, Hidalgo, and the wall paintings are in Teotihuacan style. Both Teotihuacan (100 B.C.-A.D. 750) and Tula (A.D. 750-1000) were major ceremonial and political centers in central Mexico. The exhibition displays numerous figurines from Colima, Nayarit and Jalisco in West Mexico, many of which date to the period 100 B.C.-A.D. 300.

Mesoamerican traits found among the Hohokam include construction of temple mounds, such as Mesa Grande and Pueblo Grande, ball courts, religious symbolism, figurines, palettes, copper bells and inlaid shell. The great Mesoamerican food trilogy of maize, beans and squash arrived in the Southwest from Mexico: corn and squash in the period 1000-1500 B.C, and beans around 300-500 B.C.

 

Early Cultures of Central Mexico, 1500 BC-AD 750

The first high civilization of Mesoamerica was the Olmec, 1500-400 BC, which flourished in the Gulf Coast states of Veracruz and Tabasco, although Olmec influence spread throughout central and southern Mexico.  Some of the earliest cultures of the Americas arose in the highlands of central Mexico in the vicinity of Mexico City.  By 1250 BC, Tlatilco was one of the major population centers in the Valley of Mexico.  Tlatilco culture is known for its figurines, which offer clues about dress, adornment and activities.  Later, Teotihuacan civilization arose and flourished in central Mexico around AD 100-750.  Teotihuacan is famed for its great pyramids, urbanism, painting and plastic arts, and wide influence.

 

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Tlatilco, Valley of Mexico
1200-900 BC
Tlatilco figures, primarily voluptuous female effigies, are some of the finest figurative art created in Mesoamerica.  These two figures are solid ceramic with painted and applied decoration.

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Teotihuacan
AD 650-750

At left is a mold-made fragment of an enthroned figure with remains of red and white paint, Teotihuacan IV.  On the right is a Tlaloc figure, recognizable from the circles around the eyes.  Tlaloc was a deity of water and rain, and his images are common at Teotihuacan and later Aztec culture.

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Teotihuacan
AD 400-750

On the left is a mold-made face with traces of white paint, possibly the central element in a larger sculpture, Teotihuacan III-IV.  On the right, a mold-made figure fragment of a feather and tassel headdress, Teotihuacan IV.

 

West Mexico:  Proto Classic of Jalisco, Nayarit and Colima, 100 BC-AD 300
 
The ceramic traditions of West Mexico are well known for their lifelike figurines of humans and animals.  The sculptures show men and women in a great variety of naturalistic poses, with various kinds of dress and all sorts of accoutrements.  Similarly, ceramic artists sculpted many animals in great diversity of motions.  The figurines come from shaft tomb burials in the west Mexican states of Jalisco, Nayarit and Colima.

 

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Chupícuaro, Guanajuato
400-100 BC

Chupícuaro was a major site in the Formative Period in Guanajuato, northwest Mexico, known for its ceramic styles, which may have influenced later cultural and ceramic traditions in West Mexico.  This female figurine has a red and cream slip, with inlaid teeth.
 

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Colima
Pihuamo Style
100 BC-AD 300

Standing male effigy with white resist decoration and incised pattern on the chest over a burnished red slip.  The hollow ceramic figure has white painted and applied ceramic decoration.

 

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Colima
100 BC-AD 300

Seated female effigy of hollow burnished buff ceramic.

 

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Nayarit
San Sebastian Red style
100 BC-AD 300

Male seated figure, possibly a warrior or a shaman, holds a mace and wears a two horned helmet.  The burnished red slip yields a smooth shiny surface, with faint traces of black painted decoration.

 

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Nayarit
Ixtlan del Rio style
100 BC-AD 300

Male figure of burnished polychrome with fan, hat, nose and ear plugs.

 
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Nayarit
Chinesco style
100 BC-AD 300

Beaker in the shape of a foot with burnished cream slip and red band decoration.  The toes are more claw-like than human.

 

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Jalisco
Ameca region
100 BC-AD 300

 
Female effigy censer with vessel behind head held by forehead strap.  Mottled brown or red slip.

 

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Jalisco
Ameca region
100 BC-AD 300

 
Female effigy figure with large nose and nose ring and stubby arms wearing skirt.  Brown and tan.

 

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Colima
100 BC-AD 300

 Male figurine with pouch of burnished red-brown banded slip and incised decoration.

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Colima
300 BC-AD 400

 
Dog with red-orange burnished slip.  Dogs were a favorite subject of Colima ceramic artists, and believed to be a guide to heaven and a protector of the ancestors.

 

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Colima
100 BC-AD 300

 
Pair of red slipped male and female figures.

 

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Colima
100 BC-AD 300

 
Trophy head.  Trophy heads were often depicted in the art of Mesoamerica.

 
 

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Colima
100 BC-AD 300

 
Pair of foot beakers, burnished brown/black with incised toes.

 

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Colima
Tixacacuesco-Ortices style
100 BC-AD 300

 
Plainware tripod incense burner with figure supporting a heavy burden on its head and back.

 

Classic Maya

Classic Maya civilization arose in the southern highlands and northern lowlands of Guatemala, in the Yucatan Peninsula and state of Chiapas in Mexico, and in Belize and Honduras.  Maya culture began by 1500 BC with small farmers in the area building communities based on growing maize, beans and squash. 

Classic Maya civilization arose by AD 300, with the building of monumental architecture, erecting dated carved stela, and producing polychrome pottery.  The Maya built great urban centers, developed complex religious iconography, and created a writing system that recorded historical events and accurately recorded time. 

 Maya culture included robust ceramic and figurine traditions.

  

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Chochola, Southern Yucatan
Maya Late Classic AD 600-900

 
Dark brown cylinder vessel with carved scenes of a seated figure.

 

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Maya 
Late Classic AD 600-900

 
Blackware cylindrical vessel with carved cartouche.

 

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Campeche, Mexico
Late Classic Maya AD 600-900

 
Nopiloa style effigy rattle with white paint.

 

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Lowland Guatemala
Late Classic Maya AD 600-900

 
Cylindrical bowl with two broad bands of red on orange cartouches.

 

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Campeche, Mexico     
Late Classic Maya AD 600-900

 
Jaina style mold made female hollow effigy rattle with remains of painted decoration.

 

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Tiquisate, Highland Guatemala
Classic Maya, AD 400-800

 
Mold made hollow ceramic female effigy.  The ceramicist depicted a figure wearing an elaborate floral cloak and grinding at a raised metate.

 

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Late Classic Maya
AD 600-900

 
Red on cream jar with a human face modeled on the vessel’s neck.

 

North Coast of Peru

The earliest ceramics in the Americas occur along the coasts of Columbia and Ecuador dating to about 3500-3000 BC.  Later, some of the most striking ceramic traditions developed in Peru. 

In the highlands and adjacent areas, Chaví­n culture, with distinctive architecture, sculpture and ceramics, flourished 900-200 BC.  Along river drainages on the north coast of Peru, regional cultures developed towards the end of Chaví­n, such as Salinar and Viru 500-300 BC. 

Moche, 100 BC-AD 700 was one of the most distinctive of the cultures on the north coast of Peru, with highly creative ceramic arts.  Moche potters sculpted and painted a great variety of realistic images of people and animals engaged in diverse activities. 

After a period of unification under the Huari Empire, regional states developed on the north coast of Peru, such as the Chimú, AD 900-1430, notable for mold made stirrup spout vessels smudge fired to create black textured surfaces. 

The Inca Empire, AD 1430-1532, with its capital at Cuzco, unified Peru briefly before the arrival of Europeans.  The Inca state governed 5,000 kilometres of coastline from Ecuador to Chile, and adjacent parts of Argentina and Bolivia.
 

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Salinar-Viru
c. 500-300 BC

 

Frog effigy with vestiges of cream slip.

 

 

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Early Moche I or II
400 BC-AD 200

 
Crustacean (lobster) stirrup jar with red and cream slip decoration.

 

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Middle Moche
AD 200-500

 
Red and buff stirrup jar, with human figure wearing headdress and earplugs.

 

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Early or Middle Chimú
AD 900-1200

 
Figure of a bat, blackware double vessel with handle and spout.

 

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Middle Chimú
AD 1000-1300

 
Blackware stirrup vessel showing a starving dog holding his tongue.

 

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Late Chimú 
AD 1300-1470

 
Blackware mold made stirrup vessel with fret motifs.

 

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Late Chimú
AD 1300-1470

 
Blackware molded stirrup vessel, showing a pair of animals.

 

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Inca
AD 1420-1532

 
Polychrome jar with strap handles.