Pre-Columbian
Civilizations

The migration of ancient man did not stop at the current modern-day boundaries of North America. Ancient man continued his travels down through Mexico, Central America, and into South America.  Over thousands of years, various advanced civilizations were established with temples, pyramids, and cities. Ancient cultures that were located "south of the border" are referred to as Pre-Columbian cultures, or those people who lived south of modern-day United States in the time before the arrival of Columbus.

 

 
 

It is important to know that the migration of ancient man did not stop at the current modern-day boundaries of North America. Ancient man continued his travels down through Mexico, Central America, and into South America. Over thousands of years, various advanced civilizations were established with temples, pyramids, and cities. Ancient cultures located south of the present-day United States border are referred to as Pre-Columbian cultures. These people lived in the time before the arrival of Columbus.

The three most notable Pre-Columbian civilizations were those of the Aztec, Maya, and Inca. Many of the Pre-Columbian cultures eventually ended with European contact, dying out from warfare as well as disease, but all three of these cultures left behind some of the most ornate and highly decorative artifacts ever made.

(Left) Pataky polycrome "footed" urn from the Nicoya/Guanacaste area of Costa Rica. This vessel features jaguar images at base and human facial features around the body. The red around the mouth represents facial hair.  Circa 1000-1500 AD

(Right) Pataky style vessel from Nicoya, Costa Rica. Tri-leg Effigy Vase (Urn Style) with extensive artwork and design. Composite effigy including human arms and an avian face. Legs are adorned with Harpy Eagle heads. The artwork on the front of this vessel depicts a human skull and bones. Circa 1000-1500 A.D.


A Saurian warrior figure gripping a spear. Found in Panama. 

Maya

The Maya were located in southern Mexico and into Central America. Mayans had the only fully developed language of the pre-Columbian cultures. This civilization also produced spectacular art, as well as sophisticated mathematical and astronomical systems.

Gold may have ultimately led to the demise of the Maya. The Maya were skilled craftsmen who possessed the ability to work the precious yellow metal into highly detailed ornaments and figures. Precious metals such as gold and silver were one of the main motivating factors that drew the Spanish to overtake them. The last Mayan stronghold fell to the Spanish Conquistadors in the late 1600's


Inca

Located south of the Aztec and Maya in the Andean Mountain range of Peru, the Inca were a great civilization who formed an empire that would eventually become the largest in pre-Columbian America. The Inca did not build cities and the population was essentially rural with small villages and towns, usually housing less than 1,000 people. The Inca Empire lasted from around 1100 until the Spanish conquest in the 1530's.

Inca Jug, ca. 1400 AD - 1530 AD, from Peru. 


Aztec Ceremonial Blade.

Aztec

The Aztec inhabited the regions of southern Mexico and into Central America and thrived in Mexico from 1175 AD to 1521 AD. The Aztec were master flintknappers, able to create some of the finest blades. Stone knives, such as the one pictured, were often used as offerings or in special rituals. The museum houses many artifacts that depict  important aspects of the Aztec way of life. Some of the popular effigy ceramic forms displayed are armored warriors, human figurines in various positions and several exotic animal vessels.


Colima Dogs

One very unique meso-american artifact that occurs with great frequency are canine vessels known as Colima Dogs. They are from Mexico and are believed to be a relative of the Chihuahua and Mexican hairless breeds of dog that we're familiar with today. 

Colima dogs were known to have a variety of uses throughout their centuries of existence, including food source, guardian to the dead, healer and watchdog. There are two types of Colima Dog, one would be fattened up for food or ritually sacrificed, and the other type is more of a pet, watchdog and even a healer. The larger ones were meant as a food source and sometimes you'll see them depicted with an ear of corn in their mouths for that reason.

Pre-Columbian Colima Dog vessel from Colima, Mexico. These were manufactured in the Late Pre-Classical Period, 250 BC - 250 AD.