Ancient West Mexico: Art and Archaeology of the Unknown Past
Richard F. Townsend, Patricia Rieff Anawalt, Art Institute of Chicago, Los Angeles County Museum of Art
Thames and Hudson, 1998 - Art - 308 pages
This book and the landmark exhibition it accompanies bring together some 220 of the finest known examples of ancient West Mexican sculptural art, including representations of people, animals, and plants, as well as vessels and models of houses, ceremonial centers, ball games, and ritual scenes. The extraordinary earthenware figures illustrated have all been recovered from burial sites and shaft tombs. They represent a wide range of subjects -- warriors, chieftains, acrobats, shamans, musicians, ball players, festival couples, and bound prisoners -- in a variety of styles from about 200 B.C. to A.D. 800 that constitute the artistic canon of a region encompassing the modern states of Colima, Jalisco, and Nayarit.
This distinctive artistic tradition is among the most aesthetically appealing and culturally informative of the ancient Americas. Yet until now the region has never been as thoroughly documented as other early Mesoamerican civilizations. The ancient cultures of this period were not isolated farming villages, as was long thought, but impressive chieftaincies with complex social organizations; art, architecture, ritual dance, and performance played an essential and dynamic role in the formation and integration of these multiethnic societies.
This is the first publication to analyze fully the splendid accomplishments of the area. It includes an analysis of a recently discovered multichambered shaft tomb in Huitzilapa, west of Guadalajara, the first scientifically excavated tomb found complete with multiple human remains, mortuary vessels, large-scale earthenware figures, conch-shell trumpets, and other precious objects. Other essays, by a distinguished team of American andMexican archaeologists, art historians, and ethnohistorians, describe the discovery at Tenochtitlan of a major circular ceremonial center; shamanism and spirituality as reflected in funerary sculpture; the West Mexican ball game, an elaborate ritual associated with pan-Mesoamerican themes of fertility, life, death, and renewal; the iconography of rulership in ancient funerary figures; and the evidence for sea trade between ancient West Mexico and Ecuador.