The Archaeological Legacy of Mesoamerica

Topics: Mesoamerica

“The National Museum of Anthropology” is one of the most important in Mexico and Latin America. It houses a large part of the archaeological legacy of Mesoamerica and shows the most outstanding elements of the country’s ethnic diversity today, housing over 600,000 pieces of art. Once inside, one can see Aztec (Mexica), Mayan, and Teotihuacán history. The museum truly takes you back in time and lets you see the wonders that the civilizations before us were able to create.

The Aztecs divided the universe into three levels: Heaven, Earth, and the Underworld, inhabited by the god of death and his comrades.

The gods and goddesses of duality were the sources of four creative principles occupying the “four ways of the universe” that correspond to the four cardinal points. To get a better understanding of Aztec culture, one must look at their architect. Artists captured the essence of what they wanted to portray and completed the works in great detail. It is important to note that the sculpture’s size was related to the importance of what was trying to be illustrated.

Gods, for example, were subjects of grand sculptures. Aztec sculptors used stones and wood to make their sculptures. They used to be painted with inks that they obtained in nature. They also used the technique of engraving precious stones in the sculptures. The architecture was monumental; it reflected power, had a great bond with religion, and consisted mainly of symmetrical buildings.

Aztec sculptures were designed to make a deep impression on the viewer, as one can notice in the museum.

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Inside the impactful Aztec room, we’re able to see all the amazing things made by the Aztecs like figures, ornaments, bracelets, necklaces, pectorals, earrings, and so much more. The highlight in this room has to be “Calendario Azteca” or Aztec Calendar discovered in 1790. The Aztec calendar has three wheels that form an integral part of each other in this sense: Aztecs measure time in cycles. Three wheels represent a different calendar: 260-day cycle, a 365-day cycle, and a 52-year cycle – three “wheels” that worked together. Another impressive stone is the “Piedra de Moctezuma” discovered in 1988, is a monument of calendric and religious character, eleven scenes of military conquests are carved on its surface. The Aztecs made sculptures of various sizes, mainly religious themes or aspects of nature.

The origin of the Mayan culture took place some 3000 years ago, a thousand years before Christ, in the lands that today belong to Mexico and Guatemala. The Mayans represent one of the most essential and fascinating cultures in the history of Mexico since they created great pieces of art over time and many of which continue to this day. Mayans were skillful painters, architects, sculptors, and potters, in addition to writers, mathematicians, and being able to calculate time. Important because they were leaving behind an important legacy in artistic, architectural, mathematical, astronomical, and ecological matters. During their time, the Mayans were the dominant culture in the region, covering almost all of the Mesoamerican territory. Architecture is perhaps the most important field that the Mayas reached on a cultural level because they built great monuments and places that are worthy of admiration. In this case, we can highlight magnificent temples and pyramids that they made with cement and limestone. Which closely resemble the pyramids of Egypt, so it was mistakenly thought that the Mayans came from the Egyptians. Also, it is known that the Mayans built cities with large buildings built in stone in areas such as present-day Guatemala, Honduras, and Yucatan (Mexico). In their best times, the Mayans covered more than forty populations of this type with a variable population between 5,000 and 50,000 people, reaching up to two million people.

The museum has a replica of “Hochob,” which translates to a place of corncobs; the original one is in Chiapas, Mexico, and was discovered in 1887. The main structure of Hochob is one of the most representative of the Mayan area of the Chenes. It resembles the open mouth of serpents, complemented by a wide upper front mask, to the appearance of a monstrous mouth. Also, large and small stone blocks that are perfectly placed form emotional masks of the god Itzamná, who’s menacing open jaw, highlights the building’s entrance, which almost certainly housed temples, chambers, and priestly chambers.

One of the most important pieces in the Mayan room is the “Máscara de Pakal.” This is the mask with which King Pakal, ruler of the city of Palenque, was buried. It is made of 340 pieces of jade because for the Mayan civilization; this precious stone represented power. The function of the artifact was to help the monarch confront creatures from the underworld. This archaeological piece was found in 1953 and placed in the museum exhibition in 1964.

Teotihuacán, The City of the Gods, was the epicenter of an extensive culture that influenced the political, economic, social, and religious development of Mesoamerica. Despite its popularity, the Teotihuacan civilization remains hidden in mystery, as rather little is known about the so-called “City of the gods” or “Place where the gods were made” as it was abandoned in the 8th century. Teotihuacán’s history lasted nearly 700 years, from the first century of our era when it became the dominant urban center of the central highlands of Mexico. With about 150 thousand inhabitants, it was possibly the most populated.

This city has three of the most emblematic monumental structures of pre-Hispanic Mexico; the Pyramid of the Moon, that of the Sun, and that of Quetzalcoatl. Teotihuacan architecture was lavish in monuments, having some of the biggest pyramids ever made. In the museum, they have a replica of “Piramide de la Serpiente Emplumada” or “Temple of the Feathered Serpent” of the original, which was discovered in 1918, which is found in Teotihuacan. It’s a replica of how the pyramid in Teotihuacan was believed to have been decorated. In the museum, sculpture snakeheads were placed in it accompanied by aquatic objects like shells and sea snails.

Ceramics and wall painting were frequent artistic manifestations in this culture, in which mythological scenes were commonly shown. The murals generally accompanied important buildings or were located on slopes, baseboards, and inside the pyramids, as well as in entryways, rooms, and corridors. By the murals is that we can understand the degree of religiosity of the Teotihuacanos. Inside the museum, they have a mural “Mural de Tlalocan.” The mural represents the paradise that was Tlalocan and the rain god. It shows a place that’s fertile, abundant in vegetation, and infinite with water. It also shows individuals who play games, hunt butterflies, swim in the water, and cut flowers. Their clothing is very simple, as they only have undergarments. The area in which they are located has a stream of water coming from a spring that arises from what many interpret as a cave or water hole and is derived to all cultivation areas. It’s such an impressive mural, full of a thousand things with many meanings, and open to many interpretations. It is a true work of art that serves as a window for the beliefs of the Teotihuacanos.

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The Archaeological Legacy of Mesoamerica. (2022, Apr 28). Retrieved from

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