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Art of the Ancient Americas



Art reflected the concerns of daily life.
The Nazca [NAHZ-ka] people of Peru lived in the driest desert in the world. They depended upon fish from the Pacific Ocean for their survival. They admired the ability of sea birds to catch fish, as pictured on this pot.
zoom The Nazca [NAHZ-ka] people of Peru lived in the driest desert in the world. They depended upon fish from the Pacific Ocean for their survival. They admired the ability of sea birds to catch fish, as pictured on this pot.

 

The ancient peoples of the Americas lived in landscapes as varied as the frozen tundra of the Arctic far north, the high mountains of South America, and the deserts and jungles in between.

Finding food was the first concern of the earliest groups of people. They were always on the move in search of the wild plants and animals they needed for survival.

The development of farming allowed people to produce and store extra food for times of the year when it was scarce. Not everyone in a community had to work to find food. Some people could devote themselves to other activities, like making pots or forming metal.

Many of the things these artisans made, such as seed pots and cooking utensils, were useful for daily life. Other objects played a part in rituals to ensure the good fortune of a community.

Since the community's welfare depended upon a good crop, these ritual objects often refer to agriculture. Common images include corn, beans, and squash, the staple crops of the ancient Americas, as well as rainfall and water. These images appear in art made by the descendents of the ancient cultures to this day.


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1. This pot from Mexico is in the shape of a pumpkin or squash, one of the staple crops of the ancient Americas. Its legs are in the shape of parrots, whose green and yellow feathers were prized because they are the color of healthy crops.
2. The pattern on this Ancient Hopi pot from Arizona was inspired by the rows of kernels on an ear of corn. Corn spread throughout the Americas from Mexico.
3. This stone metate [meh-TAH-tay], a tool for grinding corn, from Costa Rica was used only in rituals, not in daily life. It symbolized the chief's control over the community's food supply.

 

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November 2003