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Art of the Ancient Americas



Animals provided a connection with the spirit world.
The jaguar is the largest predator of the Americas. Rulers from Mexico to the Andes of South America used it as a symbol of their power. The Maya of Mexico regarded the jaguar as a god, pictured here.
zoom The jaguar is the largest predator of the Americas. Rulers from Mexico to the Andes of South America used it as a symbol of their power. The Maya of Mexico regarded the jaguar as a god, pictured here.

 

The power of animals to do things that humans cannot fascinated people in all regions of the ancient Americas. Owls can see to hunt at night, monkeys swing among the treetops, and bears sleep all winter. These special abilities seemed magical.

Animals that can cross between the land, air, and water were thought to be able to carry messages to the powerful spirit world. Ducks, for example, can fly great distances and dive deep into the water. Frogs change from young tadpoles living in water to adult frogs that can live on land. Images of these animals often appear on ritual objects to help priests or shamans communicate with the spirit world.

Other animals were important because they were particularly quick, strong, or fierce. Rulers, hunters, and warriors used images of animals like the jaguar and eagle to remind the people around them that they had similar qualities.


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1. Frogs cross between land and water. Many cultures believed they helped the dead cross to the next world.
2. Dogs were a symbol of wealth in ancient Mexico because they were raised as food for special feasts. They were also thought to help guide the dead in the afterlife.
3. Hunters and warriors admired the speed, strength, and vision of birds of prey. A falcon decorates this ear spool found in Spiro, Oklahoma.

 

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November 2003