Monday, October 6, 2014

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



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

 

Moche 

Moche culture flourished along a 370 mile swath of the north coast of Peru, from about 100-800 CE.  Along lush valleys and in the hinterland, farmers grew maize, beans, squash and cotton.  Moche peoples constructed sophisticated irrigation works to water their crops.  In addition to working the land, the Moche made use of marine resources.  They built ceremonial centers with great pyramids and sacrificed captives to ensure the well-being of the state.  Moche artists produced incredible works in gold and copper, and Moche ceramics display an extraordinary creativity in form and design.

vessel
Stirrup Vessel of Woman with Offering
Moche I, 100-300 CE
North Coast of Peru

This exquisite stirrup vessel shows a woman holding and carefully shielding a San Pedro cactus.The San Pedro cactus was used for healing and religious divination based upon one of its active ingredients, mescaline.  She is wrapped in a tunic, half of which is painted red and the other half is the color of the beige clay of the vessel.  Her face is finely worked and neatly decorated, and the front of her garment displays red dots.


bottle
Stirrup Spout Bottle
Moche I, c. 100 BCE-200 CE
North Coast of Peru

This vessel has geometric designs in red or brown over half of the buff bottle, and on the opposite side of the spout.  The body of the bottle has four solid forms with pairs of circles resembling eyes.  On the shoulder of the spout seems to be an image of a reptile or insect.  The bodies of stirrup spout vessels were made in a mold and then the spouts were added.  Moche ceramics were typically slipped, painted and burnished. 


vessel
Stirrup Vessels, Matched Pair with Ai Apec Deity
Moche IV, 400 CE
North Coast of Peru
This rare matched pair of mold-made stirrup vessels display the image of Ai Apec, the chief deity of the Mochica on the north coast of Peru.  The god is identified by the characteristic feline fangs and associated serpent imagery.  These vessels show Ai Apec with feathered serpent headdress and belt, each with eight serpent segments.  The feet are similarly depicted as serpent heads, and serpent heads emerge on both sides of the bases of the spout.

vessel
Portrait Vessel
Moche, c. 400-500 CE
North Coast of Peru
Portrait heads are a characteristic form of Moche ceramics. They depict high status individuals of unknown identity in the form of jars or stirrup spout vessels. This man wears a headband with two long-necked birds connected to a chin strap secured by fasteners with back-swept parallel lines.  He wears ear ornaments of a type found at the site of Sip├ín, and he seems to have studs across his upper lip and onto his face.  These details are emphasized in beige.


vessel
Stirrup Vessel with Applique Figures
Moche IV, 450-650 CE
North Coast of Peru
What story is this remarkable ceramic telling?  This bottle is in the form of a feline with bared canines on which are sculpted figures in low relief rendered in red on a buff ground.  On the animal’s right side is a warrior about to club a serpent with a mace.  His headdress may represent a fish or whale, from which two feathers descend.  Below the warrior are a marine ray and a bear-like creature with something round in its mouth.  A human figure, perhaps a child, hugs the feline’s neck on its left side.  The serpent in the grasp of the warrior curves under the chest of the feline and circles over a mummy bundle.  Is the story of a life from birth to death?  A mythological tale? We may never know. 

The Arizona Museum of Natural History was very fortunate to have received such an extraordinary donation of art and artifacts of several different ancient cultures of the Americas. Each of the pieces you will view on this blog and in our gallery was a direct donation from, or a donation facilitated by Walter Knox of Scottsdale, AZ. This donation has enabled us to open our newest exhibit Cultures of the Ancient Americas. We are humbled by his generosity, and with this exhibit we honor his desire to share this collection with the public. For the next several weeks, our blog will highlight these cultures, and offer a glimpse of what is in store for visitors of our new gallery.

The Arizona Museum of Natural History is open Tuesday thru Friday from 10:00am to 5:00pm, on Saturday from 11:00am until 5:00pm, and on Sunday from 1:00pm until 5:00pm. 
Please join us for a step back in time.

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