ANCIENT MONUMENTS OF MEXICO AND CENTRAL AMERICA
Here in this pavillion of the American Museum of Natural History is contained an exposition of the most ancient monuments of Mexico and Central America. The reproductions are chiefly from sculptures of Maya and Nahua Indians made before Columbus reached ancient Mexico.'
On the left is an exhaustive series of pottery, jade and stone work, mostly from Costa Rica, deposited in the Museum by Minor C. Keith. This collection is supplemented by more than 500 gold specimens which have been placed in cases in the center of the hall. All of them are of pre-Spanish times and were made when many ornaments were worn by the Indians. They include beads, pins, nose and arm trinkets and a large number of golden bells in the form of monkeys, jaguars, birds, butterflies, frogs and lizards. Singularly, vegetative motives are almost entirely lacking. Accompanying the gold objects are ornaments of polished jade, the designs upon which are highly conventionalized figures of birds and animals; also of interest are a few original molds made of rosin, which when used in the process of manufacture were encased in clay, the pitch being melted out and the gold poured in. Mixed casting, as well as plating, is represented.
Opposite the Costa Rican material is a number of stone sculptures made by the Maya peoplesof ancient mexico, who were remark-able above all other cultured American nations for their architecture, calendar and hieroglyphic system. Their hieroglyphic records were carved or painted originally upon the walls of their temples and palaces, or written in books made of maguey paper. A great deal of attention has been given to the Maya language, which has been forceful enough to remain unsupplanted. Many of the monuments bear designs of priest-like beings who carry serpents and other ceremonial objects in their hands.
There is a number of reproductions of the stela and altars of Copan arranged in order from the oldest and crudest forms to the latest and finest examples, covering a period of nearly three hundred years. The early step are characterized by carvings in very low relief with sharp corners, while the later monuments are cut deeper and in more rounded form. In the collection is the cast of the so-called Turtle Stone of Quirigua, which represents a two-headed monster covered with several layers of ornaments. A small model standing in front of the large cast will permit the visitor to make a close examination of the designs.
Nahua culture of ancient Mexico is represented by many pottery, copper, obsidian and jade objects and by musical instruments. In one case are facsimile reproductions of native books or codices, originally painted in freehand on strips of deer skin. The early Spaniards, in their zeal to destroy the native religion, burned hundreds of these books, which recorded their ceremonial rites and historical events. Occasionally, for preservation, some of these were pasted on the walls of the native churches and coated with light plaster, in later years to be brought to light by explorers.
The Aztecs, the principal tribe to settle in ancient Mexico, founded their capital city, called Tenochtitlan, on marshy islets in Lake Texcoco about the year 1325. Tradition states that this location was pointed out by the gods. An eagle perched upon a prickly pear cactus plant, the nopal, strangling a serpent, now forms the national seal of Mexico.
The cast of the sacrificial stone, or Stone of Tizoc, at the west end of the hall, is a record of some of the principal Aztec conquests made before 1487, and the calendar stone on the south wall is a graphic representation of the four prehistoric creations and destructions of the world, as well as a symbol of the sun and a record of the divisions of the year.
In another portion of this hall of the American Museum of Natural History is a model of a cruciform tomb found at Guiaroo, near the ruins of Mitla. A large reproduction of this tomb, in part, may be found by visiting the restaurant in the basement of the building.
Go To Next Page