|The National Museum of Anthropology in downtown Mexico City [Photo by Author]|
The National Museum of Anthropology in Mexico City hosts one of the largest collections of archaeological artefacts and pre-Columbian masterpieces in the world. Among those, are a number of pieces, some extremely famous, others entirely neglected by tourists, that exhibit a level of technical sophistication far beyond the capabilities of the ancient peoples who supposedly realized them.
1. The Aztec Calendar stone
|The Aztec Calendar stone - This 24-ton monolith was discovered in 1790 in what is today the great Cathedral Square of Mexico City, near the Aztec Templo Mayor [Photo by Author]|
|Another bas-relief displaying a circular object (probably a shield) resembling the calendar stone. Was this curious design based on an ancient mechanical device? [Photo by Author]|
|The giant monolith of Coatlinchan, as it stands on a fountain outside of Mexico City's National Museum of Anthropology [Photo by Author]|
The monolith of Coatlinchán is a colossal ancient statue that for centuries lay abandoned in an andesite quarry near the ancient city of Texcoco, before it was finally moved to Mexico City in 1964. The same andesite quarry is also believed to have provided much of the construction materials for the stone sculptures and megalithic architecture of Teotihuacan, some 25 miles to the North-East of Mexico City. It is believed that the monolith of Coatlinchán is a representation of the Rain-god Tlaloc. It is nearly 7 meters high and weighs an estimated 152 tons, making it the largest ancient statue and one of the largest carved monoliths in all the American continent. The monolith now decorates a fountain in front of the National Museum of Anthropology in downtown Mexico City.
3. Colossal Aztec sculptures
|An enormous serpent head carved out of a single block of andesite - It is believed to be a depiction of the 'Fire Serpent' and would have once adorned the sacred precinct of the Templo Mayor. [Photo by Author]|
The Aztec room of the National Museum of Anthropology contains a number of colossal Aztec sculptures that once adorned the area of the Templo Mayor. Some of the most impressive ones include a giant crouching jaguar, depictions of the fire serpent or Tochancalqui, and some enormous serpent heads. The Coatlique statue is a particularly striking piece of sculpture depicting the ancient Aztec goddess of snakes, wearing a gown of entwined serpents and a necklace of severed human heads and hearts. From her decapitated head, two great serpents spring out. These statues, each weighting many tons, were carved from the hardest basalt and andesite stone by a people that had allegedly no knowledge of metal tools, and may be ranked among the finest and most striking pieces of sculpture anywhere on earth.
4. Teotihuacan’s ‘Goddess of Water’
|This statue of the 'Water Goddess' or 'Great Goddess' of Teotihuacan was found near the base of the Pyramid of the Moon. It was probably part of a pair that decorated a large, monumental temple on top. [Photo by Author]|
|This group of sculptures, which once decorated the Pyramid of the Sun in Teotihuacan, is a fine example of the great mastery achieved by the builders of Teotihuacan in working with hard stones like andesite. [Photo by Author]|
|A colossal stone head in the Olmec room of Mexico City's National Museum of Anthropology. Notice the negroid features and what appear to be en elaborate helmet covering the head. [Photo by Author]|
Over 20 colossal Olmec stone heads are known, most of which from the Mexican states of Veracruz and Tabasco. The two examples that are found in Mexico City’s National Museum of Anthropology come from the ancient Olmec capital of San Lorenzo, Veracruz. Other than for their enormous size (each weighs between 8 and 12 tons), these sculptures are remarkable for their ornate headdresses and negroid features, with slanting, deep-set eyes and high cheek bones, suggesting they may depict individuals of a race different from that of the present inhabitants.
|More examples of Olmec sculpture - This life-sized statue of a wrestler is notable for the presence of a beard and the highly naturalistic pose. [Photo by Author]|
|Monolith n.20 from La Venta, dated to 1,200-800 B.C., contains one of the earliest depictions of the Feathered Serpent and the Myth of Quetzalcoatl. [Photo by Author]|
|An exceptionally drilled alabaster vase. Found in the ancient Toltec capital of Tula, Hidalgo, this unfinished vase shows clear evidence of the use of a tubular drill for carving its interior and hollowing out material. [Photo by Author]|
A unique example of a drilled alabaster stone vase can be found in the Tula room. Discovered in Tula, Hidalgo, this unfinished vessel was carved with the aid of a tubular drill that left peculiar drill marks on the inside. There is no explanation as to how this was achieved by a people that supposedly ignored the use of metals but the material used (a very fine kind of alabaster) and the general workmanship are reminiscent of the finest early Dynastic Egyptian stone vessels.
|Another example of a drilled alabaster vessel from the Olmec culture, with a lizard sculptured on the outside. [Photo by Author]|
|Another drilled alabaster vessel from the Maya region. Its decoration is strangely reminiscent of the early Chinese bronzes of the Xia and Shang Dynasty. [Photo by Author]|
|The famous 'Monkey Vase' from Texcoco, a masterpiece of ancient obsidian stonework and one of the most valuable artifacts in Mexico City's National Museum of Anthropology. [Photo by Author]|
|Another view of the same vessel, from the front. The quality of the polish and finesse of the carvings is astonishing. [Photo by Author]|
|Another view of the same 'Monkey Vase' of Texcoco. The perfect geometry of the vase and the quality of its mirror-like polish can be appreciated from every side. [Photo by Author]|
|A set of remarkable obsidian ear spools, believed to be of Azted manufacture. The thickness of the walls is less than 1 mm, making each disc look almost transparent. [Photo by Author]|
Similar to the Monkey Vase of Texcoco, but on a smaller scale, these ear spools and pendants are also made of obsidian. They are carved to a perfect mirror-like polish, with walls so thin as to be almost transparent. Other examples are known from rock crystal and other extremely hard stones. It is a mystery how this level of workmanship was achieved without the aid of sophisticated metal tools by a people who allegedly ignored even the use of the lathe.
9. Polished basalt statues
|A polished basalt snake, also believed to be of Aztec manufacture. The stone has been polished to a perfect mirror-like finish. [Photo by Author]|
The same level of mirror-like finish that is found on the smallest obsidian and jade objects can also be found on some larger basalt statues, like a number of magnificent coiled serpents. These works of art are not only striking for their extremely accurate workmanship, but also for their precise geometry that is almost suggestive of the use of machines or other unknown mechanical methods for cutting and shaping the stone.
|A detail of another coiled snake sculpture, from below. Note the perfect geometry of the scales and the spiral-form of the sculpture, which makes it rank among the finest artworks of all times. [Photo by Author]|
10. The Codex Boturini
|An illustration from the Codex Boturini, depicting the Aztec's migration from Aztlan to the mythical mountain of Coatepetl. [Photo by Author]|