Head of the rain god Tlaloc

Head of the rain god Tlaloc
Mexico, state of Oaxaca, Teotitlán del Camino,
Mixtec, c. A.D. 1300-1500
Ceramic, tufa, stucco, and paint
68 x 45 x 41 in. (172.7 x 114.3 x 104.1 cm)
Dallas Museum of Art, gift of Mr. and Mrs. Stanley Marcus in memory of Mary Freiberg, 1967.5

                                     ANCIENT AMERICAN ART

The term Ancient American Art refers to hundreds of objects in the collection of the Dallas Museum of Art. These objects were made by cultures that flourished in the Americas before the arrival of Europeans. They are often called “pre-Columbian,” because they were made before the voyages of Christopher Columbus. The objects range in date from about 1000 B.C. to about A.D. 1550. They represent diverse materials—stone, ceramic, gold, cloth, and feathers. They were not considered works of art in their original settings, nor were they displayed in museums.  Rarely do we know the name of the artists, but we know the names of the cultures.  The cultures featured in the teaching materials and the modern-day countries they represent are listed here:


Mexico              Colima                                   Peru                       Chimú

Maya                                                                       Cupisnique          

                                Mixtec                                                                     Moche

Olmec                                                                    Nasca                   


Guatemala            Maya                                                                      Sicán


Colombia              Calima


Through the work of archaeologists, anthropologists, and art historians we can learn more about these ancient cultures and the objects they created.


Many of the artworks highlighted in these teaching materials address similar themes that reflect the beliefs, traditions, and rituals of ancient American cultures.

The themes include:           relationships with the natural world

connections to the gods

personal adornment


precious materials

death and burial


By studying the artworks we can begin to learn more about the way the people of these ancient cultures lived and viewed the world around them, as well as consider their place in world history.


As you begin your study, these definitions of cultural areas may be helpful.


MESOAMERICA – In these teaching materials, the term Mesoamerica refers primarily to the ancient cultures of modern-day Mexico and Guatemala.  Geographically, the term encompasses an area that extends from northern Mexico, south and east through Guatemala and Belize, western Honduras and El Salvador, and on to western Nicaragua and northwestern Costa Rica.  Many ancient cultures that developed in this area shared certain characteristics:  the construction of pyramids and temples, a complex calendar, hieroglyphic writing, a belief system that included multiple gods, human sacrifice and ritual bloodletting by individuals, and a ballgame played with a  solid rubber ball and an I-shaped court.  (Coe, Snow, and Benson 1986:85)


INTERMEDIATE AREA – Lower Central America (eastern Nicaragua, Costa Rica, and Panama) together with Columbia and Ecuador form the Intermediate Area – intermediate between the continents of North and South America and between the larger culture areas of Mesoamerica and the Andes.  The cultures that developed in this area were interrelated and experienced influences from both north and south.  (Coe, Snow, and Benson 1986:157)


ANDES CULTURES AREA – In South America, the highest cultural development in ancient times occurred along the western edge of the continent.  This culture area takes its name from the high Andes Mountains that parallel the narrow Pacific coast with its many river valleys.  The Andean works of art featured in the materials come from the Central Andes, an area that encompasses modern-day Peru and Bolivia.  Distinctive cultural characteristics include the preservation of fragile materials (textiles, wood, ad feathers) through burial in one of the world’s driest deserts, art styles that relied on materials and themes from three diverse and geographically distant environments (coast, highlands, and tropical forests), widespread influence of ideas during certain periods of time, the tendency to form empires, the importance of camelid animals (llama, alpaca, and vicuña), an early mastery of working precious metals (gold, silver, and copper), and a system of recording numbers and perhaps other information using knotted cords or strings.  The countries of Colombia and Ecuador are often described as the Northern Andes; in these materials they are considered part of the Intermediate Area.  (Coe, Snow, and Benson 1986:157)



From here go to : ART OBJECTS