Printer Friendly Version

Art of the Ancient Americas



Art showed who held power.
A high-ranking official of the Moche [MO-chay] people in Peru like the one pictured on this jar would have worn jewelry on his ears, wrists, and hat.
zoom A high-ranking official of the Moche [MO-chay] people in Peru like the one pictured on this jar would have worn jewelry on his ears, wrists, and hat.

 

Some people of the ancient Americas lived in large cities ruled by kings. Other cultural groups lived in small villages led by chiefs. In both cases, the elite of a society used art to show their power.

In large cities, such as Teotihuacan (TAY-o-tee-wa-KAHN) in ancient Mexico, art decorated the king’s court and other official buildings. Sculptures and rich materials also appeared in areas for performing rituals to protect the king’s power.

Smaller communities did not have the elaborate buildings of the large cities. But leaders of both large and small communities used art in the form of jewelry, costumes, and headdresses to show their power. Not surprisingly, rare materials like jade and gold were popular symbols of status. Colorful feathers from South American jungles were commonly used in costumes, reaching even the southwestern United States through trade.

Materials were also prized for their symbolic meanings. Jade, green like growing ears of corn, was a symbol of fertility for some Central Americans. Gold suggested the power of the sun.


spacer related images 1.  + 2.  + 3.  + bracket spacer
spacer
spacer
1. This ear spool belonged to a Chimu [CHEE-moo] king of ancient Peru. Kings were buried with their jewelry for use in the afterlife.
2. Men of high rank in the Mississippian culture of the eastern United States also wore discs on their ears. This image of the sun, about the size of the palm of a hand, was carved from limestone.
3. Jalisco [ha-LEES-ko] warriors of West Mexico wore helmets topped by horns. This warrior’s helmet is decorated with two dogs instead, known to be good guides in the underworld. The sculpture probably represents a spiritual warrior created to stand guard at a tomb.

 

spacer
   
 
November 2003