The Mesoamerican culture has been existing ages ago, and only a very few of us know about it unless we read the books and do our research. Remnants of this culture are hardly traced these days since it has been too long ago. Centuries has passed, and the Mesoamerican period remains to be just a part of a long timeline of the world history, functioning as one of the many proofs of how dynamic this world really is for being able to evolve from a period such as this, to a highly technologically advanced period such as now.
During the Preclassic or Formative Period of Mesoamerica, the Monte Alto culture was prominent. The Monte Alto culture refers to an archaeological site which can be found in Guatemala (formerly known during this period as Pacific Coast). Art has been very pronounced in this place because there had been a 20-meter high pyramid and around 50 major structures everywhere. Sculptures were also found everywhere as well, especially those taking the pattern of potbellies and heads. Other figures prominent in the site were altars made of three large stones and stelae used for funerary purposes taking the shape of tabulars. In Monte Alto alone, there were a total of fifteen stelas around, some of which were known to exist for astronomical reasons (Scott, 1978, p.13).
Artisans knew that sculptures during this time were magnetic. Patterns of magnetism were very evident during the Mesoamerican period, specifically in the Preclassic or Formative period (Scott, 1978, p.13).
In fact, today, these sculptures are known as the world’s oldest when it comes to magnetic artifacts. Sculptures during this time represented the human body and the head and had basaltic boulders. Sculptures displayed images of weighty males which were referred to as potbellies (Scott, 1978, p.13).
Epi-Olmec culture was another important culture in the Mesoamerican period, specifically in the Late Preclassic time. In this culture, the prominent personalities portrayed in art were the rulers of this time. Monuments were also popular during this period characterized by utmost historicity. Sculptures included the Stela C carved from a rock called basalt, the Tuxtla Statuette referring to a figurine made of a material called a greenstone, and the La Mojarra Stela 1 which featured an individual wrapped in the body of a bird. This Epi-Olmec culture was also the same culture that influenced another setting in this period called the classic Veracruz culture (Pool, 2007, p.32).
The Gulf Coast classic culture, also referred to as the classic Veracruz time, when art was characterized was human sacrifice. Ceramics and carved bones were very prominent during this period, which were only possible because of the humans whose lives were sacrificed. In fact, human heads were used to create scrolls. The scrolls were used to make pictographic writing possible (Goldstein, 1987, p. 12).
The contrast of darkness and light, darkness in this case referring to shadow, was also evident in the culture. This can be seen at El Tajin, on the Pyramid of Niches. This type of technique in art was called a bold chiaroscuro coined by George Kubler, an art historian (Goldstein, 1987, p. 12).
Other periods covered by the Mesoamerican period were Paleo-Indian, Archaic, Formative or Preclassic, Early, Middle and Late Preclassic, Classic, Early, Late and Terminal Classic, Postclassic, Early and Late Postclassic and Post Conquest (Goldstein, 1987, p. 12).
All these time periods have different types of art, but what has been common during the Mesoamerican period as a whole was the prominence of obsidian art. Obsidian art. Obsidian art refers to the type of art involving a specific material called obsidian, which came from volcanic glass (Goldstein, 1987, p. 12).
One of the characteristics differentiating the Mesoamerican period from all the other periods that ever existed was the use of the Aztec calendar. The Aztec calendar displayed a calendar cycle made of 365 days. A ritual cycle of 260 days was called the day count. Once these two cycles were combined, a “calendar round” was formed. The year count, also called xiuhpohuali (365 day calendar cycle), was used in the agricultural system of the culture while the day count calendar was the one considered sacred (Goldstein, 1987, p. 12).
The art of the the Mesoamerican period indeed reflects the culture and lifestyle of the people living in the period. Art, during the Mesoamerican period, aside from what was already discussed, was basically a painting and depiction placed on terracotta figurines, stucco models, stones, Jade, shells, bones, wood carvings, plaster, paper and of course, obsidian (Shackley, 1998, p.33).
As part of the culture, characteristics and art of this time, people under this period appreciated music. In fact, people enjoyed going to public ceremonies to watch theater plays. Workshops were also prominent since scribes, ceramic artists, painters and sculptors were trained to learn to be better in their line of craft (Shackley, 1998, p.33).
Imagery and writing were combined in the Mesoamerican period. Painters and calligraphers were popular back then and they wrote or carved their signature on their works of art. Images and icons consisted of humans, specifically the patron deities and the painters themselves (Shackley, 1998, p.33).
In the Nakum and Tikal Caves, a lot of portraits and images can be seen. Drawings and graffiti are everywhere, a lot of which were created by ordinary people. Graffiti included footprints and handprints. Pecking, abrading and incising were the methods used to create petroglyphs or rock carvings (Shackley, 1998, p.33).
The lack of technology reflected the lack of dynamics in their culture and arts, but had the people been given enough means, it wouldn’t be a surprise to know that the people from this time have also thought of the technologies we are experiencing today. Because of their environment, it is natural for them to have such lifestyle.
Scott, John Fedrik. (1978). The Danzantes of Monte Alban. Dumbarton Oaks Press.
Pool, Christopher. (2007). Olmec Archaeology and Early Mesoamerica. Cambridge
Goldstein, Marilyn. (1987). Ceremonial Sculpture of Ancient Veracruz. Hillwood Art
Gallery: Long Island University Press.
Shackley, Steven. (1998). Archaeological Obsidian Studies: Method and Theory. Springer