Mexico and Central America Gallery Tour
Examine eight objects, sites, or themes from Central America and Mexico, from around 1,200 BCE to contemporary heritage practices. This tour takes you from the earliest Olmec figurines to contemporary representation of the Aztec god Ehécatl. Learn more about the sites of Teotihuacán and Sitio Conte, the decipherment of Maya glyphs, Ulúa marble vases, and Aztec earspools created within the dynamics of Spanish colonial rule. The tour also addresses the role of museums and Penn’s excavations within this region’s cultural heritage.
9 Tour Stops
Mexico and Central America Introduction
The Penn Museum’s collections from Mexico and Central America span thousands of years of history and include archaeological and ethnographic objects from Mexico, Guatemala, Belize, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, Panama, and Costa Rica.
The Olmec are one of the earliest culture groups in what is now Mexico. Almost 4,000 years ago, the Olmec began living in urban centers and creating monumental works, like earthen pyramids and colossal basalt stone heads.
At its peak, around 1500 years ago, more than 100,000 people inhabited the city of Teotihuacan. The site, located near Mexico City, is known for its massive stepped pyramid complexes that were once brilliantly painted with intricate murals.
Ulúa Marble Vase
Artists in the Ulúa Valley of Honduras intricately carved drinking vessels from a single block of marble. These vessels were valuable exports and were traded all over Central America.
More than 200 burials – some extremely elaborate – were discovered at the site of Siteo Conte in Panama when a major river changed course. One of these burials held an adult male with five large gold plaques with beautiful, naturalistic designs.
Throughout the Maya world and beyond, special events were often marked by drinking cacao, or chocolate. Highly decorative vases, like this one from the Chamá region of modern Guatemala, were likely used for such events.
A Penn team discovered this stone monument at the Maya site of Piedras Negras in Guatemala. Studying this and other stelae, Tatiana Proskouriakoff, a Penn Museum architect and illustrator, contributed to the decipherment of Maya hieroglyphs.
High-status Aztec people wore elaborate ear spools, or gauges, like these made from pieces of turquoise. Spanish colonists were so taken by these ornaments that they deemed them a taxable product.
Ehécatl is the god of wind, love, and transformation. He is represented with a large, beak-like mouth and wears a conch shell, whose spiral form symbolizes transformation.