Over vast geographical expanses and several millennia, a mosaic of cultures developed in ancient Mesoamerica and the Andean regions of South America. Some of these diverse cultures evolved from humble agricultural communities into complex cultural centers with spectacular cities and refined arts. Each had sophisticated belief systems about the origins of the universe and the roles of all the human and supernatural beings contained within. Ritual protocols—like shamanic transformations, human alliances with animal spirit companions, and the reenactment of myths—blurred the boundaries between the human and cosmic zones.
The arts in this gallery depict ancestors, humans, gods, supernatural animals, and monsters in ceramic, stone, shell, and animal. Visual symbols and narratives seen on ceremonial vessels, tomb sculptures, and personal adornment illuminate how early peoples grappled with the fundamental questions of existence, immortality, and the nature of the universe around them.
Image: Relief panels (door reveals), ca. AD 550-950, Maya culture, Northern Lowlands, Campeche, Mexico, limestone, 45 x 45 in. (both panels together), Seattle Art Museum, Gift in honor of Assen Nicolov, 2018.3.1.