Monday, October 20, 2014

Cultures of the Ancient Americas; A Series in Parts... (Part 1 section 2)

The Arizona Museum of Natural History has recently received major donations of objects from the American Southwest, Mesoamerica, and the Andes region of South America.  The museum has opened a new exhibition, Cultures of the Ancient Americas, created solely from the new gifts.  These magnificent objects offer insights into the cultures that produced them and underscore the monumental achievements of ancient peoples from New Mexico to Bolivia.  We also celebrate the extraordinary generosity of our donors, who made the exhibition possible.  Moche materials are the gift of Walter Knox of Scottsdale, AZ.  Over the next several weeks AzMNH’s Museum Musings will highlight these objects and the cultures they represent, and suggest the special experience awaiting visitors to the exhibition.

Part 1: High Civilizations of Peru (continued from previous post)
Nazca civilization flourished on the south coast of Peru contemporaneously with the Moche in the north, 100 BCE to 700 CE.  The Nazca heartland was in the Ica and Nazca River drainages and to the highlands to the east.  Nazca is justifiably famous for the great "Nazca Lines," the large scale anthropomorphic and geometric designs marked in the ground in the desert areas of the Nazca region.  Some of the lines might have been related to rituals concerning water, a major concern and focus for the Nazca.  Perhaps others have astronomical significance.  Nazca ceramics are notable for their distinctive polychrome decorations of animals such as felines, reptiles, sea creatures, llamas, foxes and hummingbirds.  Plants depicted include maize, beans, chili peppers and others.

Nazca Double Spouted Vessel with Hummingbirds
Early Nazca, c. 300-400 CE
South Coast of Peru

This delightful vessel depicts 11 hummingbirds outlined in black and painted in shades of reds, browns and grey-greens on a cream colored field.  Naturalistic hummingbirds were a motif in Early Nazca ceramic decoration.  The birds are shown in various poses to fill the design.  One of the Nazca Lines is a hummingbird.

Small Jar with Mythical Creature
Nazca, c. 400-500 CE
South Coast of Peru

Mythical creatures are another motif of Nazca iconography.  This figure appears on jars and bowls, and has mixed human and animal attributes.  The lower face broadens outwards in whiskers or ears, and the tongue is greatly extended.  The forelegs end in nails, but the body of the creature is serpentine.  The design is rendered in colors of red, brown, crème, drab green and black, in a register above the slight shoulder of the vessel.

Double Spouted Human Effigy Vessel
Late Nazca, c. 500-700 CE
South Coast of Peru

This figure wears a cape on which are two figures, perhaps deities, with tendrils extending outwards from the facial form and re-curving at the ends.  This feature marks the design as Late Nazca.  He holds two decorated sticks, perhaps hunting, agricultural or military implements.  He wears his hair in bangs on the front and longer at the sides, and an interlaced band holds his headpiece in place.  Was he a warrior, farmer, trader?

 jars   jar
Pair of Double Spouted and Strap Jars
Nazca, ca. 400-600 CE
South Coast of Peru

Each small jar has a double spout and strap handles painted chocolate brown.  On the creme colored upper shoulder of the vessels the potter has painted faces surrounded by petals or rays, possibly suggesting the sun.  The larger faces have open eyes, those on the side closed, perhaps indicating day and night.

 All of the items featured here are on display at the Arizona Museum of Natural History in our newest gallery Cultures of the Ancient Americas

Join us 2 weeks from today for part 2 of this fascinating series. 

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