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Art of the Ancient Americas



Contact between Europeans and the Native people of the Americas brought changes for both.
Spanish conquistadors did not view the gold items they encountered in the Americas as sacred images. They sent thousands of tons of gold and silver to the Spanish treasury to be melted down for other purposes.
zoom Spanish conquistadors did not view the gold items they encountered in the Americas as sacred images. They sent thousands of tons of gold and silver to the Spanish treasury to be melted down for other purposes.

 

The great lands and peoples of the Americas were unknown to Europeans until 1492. Likewise, Native civilizations thrived for thousands of years before they encountered Europeans. Contact between the two groups of people brought changes for both.

Some changes were brutal. Spanish conquistadors ruthlessly killed for gold and silver in Central and South America. European settlers in North America hungered for land. Diseases new to the Americas killed whole villages of people.

Other changes were more benign. The Spanish introduced horses and sheep to the Americas, which became important to native traditions. Europeans eagerly adopted American foods such as beans, corn, and chocolate.

Still other changes were the result of different ways of understanding the world. The ballgame, for example, was an important ritual for cultures throughout the Americas. It was much more than a game, sometimes ending in death. Spanish governors saw it as a pagan ritual and would not allow it to be played in the Americas. But they borrowed the idea themselves, and it was the source of popular modern ballgames.


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1. This ceramic figure from Mexico is dressed as a ballplayer. The ballgame was an important ritual throughout the Americas. The Spanish banned the game in the Americas, but borrowed the idea for their own games.
2. In North America, European settlers pushed native people off their traditional land. The descendents of the makers of this bowl in the shape of a waterfowl might now live in the dry southern plains instead of the Mississippi River valley.
3. Native traditions changed to reflect the new European influences. This 19th century Maya mask from Guatemala, for example, shows a Spanish conquistador.

 

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November 2003