art-of-the-ancient-americas

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Detailed views of the dazzling ancient monuments of Central America through the eyes (and hands) of english explorers. 

Castle at Tulum, 1844, Frederick Catherwood. Getty Research Institute.
Plate 158, No. 2 in Incidents of travel in Central America, Chiapas, and Yucatan, 1853, John Lloyd Stephens. Getty Research Institute.
[Idol and altar at Copan] in Views of ancient monuments in Central America, Chiapas, and Yucatan, 1844, Frederick Catherwood. Getty Research Institute.
Archway; Casa del Governador, Uxmal, Frederick Catherwood (author), Andrew Picken (lithographer). Getty Research Institute.

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The focus of today shall be: the Mouse Tank Petroglyphs of the Valley of Fire State Park, Nevada, USA.

Mouse Tank falls within a region which was occupied by Puebloan farmers from about AD 1 to 1200, and contains many Puebloan-style petroglyphs, as attested to by the photographs shown above. At about 1200 Southwestern farming cultures experienced significant drought, which ultimately resulted in the abandonment of the site.

Interpreting Puebloan rock art, to date, remains problematic. However, a few lines of thought can be given to aid us in our understanding. Here I will be summarizing a few key points from the work of Dr. David S. Whitley, who is generally regarded as one of the world’s leading experts on rock art.

Whitley suggests that some aspects of the rock art are likely shamanistic in intend and origin -elements of shamanism have continued through to Puebloan religions today. “Furthermore, we know that one of the characteristics of these archaic shamanistic practices was the making of rock art.” It is also thought that much of the art references the neuropsychological model of motif forms, which derived from altered states of consciousness. Whitley notes that much of the petroglyphs at Mouse Tank display entoptic patterns which are “common percepts in the first stage of a trance.” This includes spirals, parallel lines, zigzags, and other more complicated geometric forms. In essence, Whitley concludes that the Mouse Tank petroglyphs reflect “an expression of what are presumably formal religious cults and rites such as those still practiced by Pueblo groups today.” The figurative images, such as displayed in the 5th photo, likely represent ritual participants, deities, and the like.

Photos taken by & courtesy of George Lamson. Recommended reading: essentially anything from David S. Whitley, in particular: Discovering North American Rock Art (University of Arizona Press 2006) & Introduction to Rock Art Research (Left Coast Press 2011).

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Ancient Mayan Art Discovery

GUATEMALA CITY (AP) — Archaeologists have found an “extraordinary” Mayan frieze richly decorated with images of deities and rulers and a long dedicatory inscription, the Guatemalan government said Wednesday.

The frieze was discovered by Guatemalan archaeologist Francisco Estrada-Belli, a professor at Tulane University’s Anthropology Department, and his team in the northern Province of Peten, the government said in a joint statement with Estrada-Belli.

"This is an extraordinary finding that occurs only once in the life of an archaeologist," Estrada-Belli said. The archaeologists were exploring a Mayan pyramid that dates to A.D. 600 in an area that is home to other classic ruin sites when they came upon the frieze.

"It’s a great work of art that also gives us a lot of information on the role and significance of the building, which was the focus of our research," Estrada-Belli said. The high-relief stucco sculpture, which measures 26 feet by 6 feet (8 meters by 2 meters), includes three main characters wearing rich ornaments of quetzal feathers and jade sitting on the heads of monsters.

The frieze, which was found in July, depicts the image of gods and godlike rulers and gives their names. The dedicatory inscription “opens a window on a very important phase in the history of the classical period,” Estrada-Belli said.

The inscription is composed of some 30 glyphs in a band that runs at the base of the structure. The text, which was difficult to read, was deciphered by Alex Tokovinine, an epigraphist at Harvard University and contributor to the research project at Holmul, the site where the frieze was found.

source

Maya limestone relief, ca. AD 600-900, Yaxchilan, Mexico.

The scene represents a bloodletting ritual performed by the king of Yaxchilán, Shield Jaguar the Great (681-742), and his wife, Lady K’ab’al Xook (Itzamnaaj Bahlen III). The king holds a flaming torch over his wife, who is pulling a thorny rope through her tongue. Scrolls of blood can be seen around her mouth. The first two glyphs in the text at the top of the lintel indicate the event and the date on which it took place, 24 October, AD 709 (5 Eb, 15 Mak in the maya calendar). The lintel has traces of Maya blue, turquoise and red pigment. - britishmuseum.org

Censer, Seated King

4th Century AD

Maya Culture

Guatemala

Perhaps the depiction of a fourth-century Maya king, this incense burner would have been used to make offerings carried by smoke to the spirits and deities in the supernatural realm. Rulers are represented in Maya art as communicators with the supernatural and the living may have sought their continued intervention after death. The use of censers bearing the royal image may have reinforced the belief that when a ruler died he became divine. This censer is composed of two parts, the base in which the incense burned and the chimney decorated with the image of the Maya lord. This bearded figure, whose body is rather schematic in presentation, perhaps suggesting an early date, sits cross-legged wearing a richly ornamented headdress and large earspools, and holding before him what may be a royal emblem.

(Source: The Metropolitan Museum)

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The Serra da Capivara National Park, near the town of São Raimondo Nonato, Piauì, Brazil.

Within the park are over 300 discovered archaeological sites, many of these with rock shelters. These rock and wall paintings date from 50,000-30,000 years ago, and are an “outstanding testimony to one of the oldest human communities of South America.”

Moreover, the deciphering of the iconography of these rock-art paintings, which is being carried out gradually, reveals major aspects of the religious beliefs and practices of this people.

The site must have been inhabited by the early men who populated the American continents. Fragments of broken wall found in the Pedra Furada shelter appear to be the oldest traces of rock art in South America; they have been dated to 26,000-22,000 BC.

-UNESCO, the Serra da Capivara National Park became a World Heritage Site in 1991.

Photos courtesy & taken by Carlos Reis.

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ART OF THE ANCIENT AMERICAS II: TLINGIT AND HAIDA

The indigenous people that make up the Tlingit and Haida nations inhabit the coastal regions of what are now Alaska and British Columbia. With its abundant and easily harvested natural resources, the Pacific Northwest supported populations large enough to make it the most densely-inhabited indigenous region on the globe for a time. Fueled by prosperity and a great concern for social rank, the aristocracy of the North Coast tribes engaged in the ostentatious display of wealth, including rituals of hospitality and expenditure (the potlatch), and personal adornment. A chief could also demonstrate his wealth, and thereby enhance his social status, by hiring artists and buying, displaying, giving away and even destroying works of art, valued for their precious materials and fine craftsmanship, 

Images permeated Tlingit and Haida culture to a higher degree than other Native American groups. Objects ranging from prestigious 60-foot totem poles representing the chief’s ancestry, embroidered ceremonial blankets and carved amulets to simple objects meant for daily use like canoe paddles, bowls and ladles, were decorated with figural imagery, rendered in a highly-stylized formal language that is still practiced today and is a major component of the self-definition and cultural identity of both nations.

The iconography of Tlingit and Haida art is almost entirely figural, with the representation of humans and animals at its center. In North Coast mythology, animals and their behaviors are reflections and/or antiypes of human acts and traits. This is given visual form in the images of ravens, wolves, salmon, bears and seals who stand upright and mimic human facial expressions and comportment.

Dallas Museum of Art acquires a masterwork of Pre-Columbian art for its Arts of the Americas Collection

DALLAS, TX.- The Dallas Museum of Art today announced the acquisition of an artistically significant pre-Columbian Maya vessel for its Arts of the Americas collection. This Late Classic (A.D. 700–900) ceramic vase is from the site of Quirigua in Guatemala, near the border with Honduras. Small, at only seven inches high, and striking, it features a modeled face, perhaps that of a Maya god. The vase is scheduled to go on view this summer in the Museum’s Ancient Art of the Americas gallery on Level 4. 

Appearing in scholarly publications in 1913, 1916, 1935, 1943, and again in 1980 and 1988, the ceramic vessel was sold at auction in November 2014 by the St. Louis Chapter of the Archaeological Institute of America, which had acquired the object in 1912 through the St. Louis chapter’s support of field excavations by archaeologist Earl H. Morris during the Third Quirigua Expedition. Read more.