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Ancient American Galleries (Gallery)

The NCMA’s ancient American collection presents artifacts from 1150 bce to 1550 ce. From six different modern countries, these objects cover a broad range of materials and functions. They represent diverse cultures in Mexico, Guatemala, Belize, Honduras, Costa Rica, and Peru.

The Museum started acquiring West Mexican objects in the late 1950s, but only in the 1970s did collecting expand to other regions. Under the patronage of board member James Gordon Hanes Jr., material culture (objects created and used by people) from elsewhere in Latin America and the world became the focus of collecting activities. The primary strengths of this collection are in Maya and Central Andes objects, and the Costa Rican collection is one of the largest in North Carolina.

In these galleries you will see artifacts such as ceramic vessels, jewelry, statues, textiles, and ritual objects from different periods and geographies. The symbolic meaning of these luxury items, made of exotic materials, enhanced one’s status, demonstrating wealth and power. The transformation of raw materials into goods illustrates how objects can be used publicly as emblems of identity in society.

From life in palaces and the making of royal identities to the role of women as agents of creation and transformation, the themes explored bring forth traditions and beliefs that sustained these ancient societies. War, conflict, and sports—as well as music and communication with celestial realms—are also featured. Regardless of national origin, the artifacts in the collection reflect lived experiences common to all humankind, then and now.

Ángel González López
Research Curator, Ancient American Collection