The National Museum of Anthropology is to Mexico City what the Louvre is to Paris, or the Met to New York City. It is unfathomable that a tourist visit this capital city, without visiting this emblematic museum at least once if not twice. Encompassing over 4 thousand years of human history, this museum traces humankind from its prehistoric roots to the sophisticated and sanguinary empire which Hernán Cortes faced on his arrival to the New World, up to modern times. It is not only the most important museum of its genre in Mexico, but, in fact, holds it own on a worldwide scale. Organized in a nice, neat and easily comprehensible fashion, intertwining the geographical areas of Mesoamerica with their chronological distinctions (the pillars of time-and-space, ubiquitous to all archaeological studies in the region), this monument to pre-Hispanic cultures covers it all.
The distinction of being an anthropologically oriented museum, rather than archaeological oriented museum, allows Mexico’s National Museum of Anthropology a much broader parameters. In case you are wondering, anthropology studies people (anthropos means “human beings” in Greek, with the morpheme -logia meaning “the study of,” hence anthropology is the study of humans), traditionally grouping several specialities such as linguistics, physical (forensic, medical, biological, etc.) and social anthropology, archeology and ethnography under the same broad heading. That is how the material covered on the second floor of the museum ties in – ethnographic exhibits which showcase the existing (or barely surviving, depending on your point of view) descendants of the pre-Hispanic civilizations showcased on the ground floor exhibits, making up roughly 13% of Mexico’s population today, often referred to as “indigenous,” “autochtonous,” or “native” (but, please, not “tribes”).
The permanent collection of thousands and thousands or ancient artifacts – carved volcanic rock, ceramics, featherwork, jewelry, etc., is studded with sophisticated pieces – all elaborated by stone on stone technique. It is hard to imagine that such intricate work emerged from a stone age culture (that is, Mesoamerica was untouched by the Bronze Age or the Iron Age, in fact, only copper, silver and gold were being worked when Europeans descended on this continent). Detailed stone work, particularly evident in the post-classic Mexica room, in both dimension and intricacy is breathtaking and mind boggling. The Sun Stone, Coatlicue, Tizoc’s Stone, are but a few of the impressive pieces on view. The ceramic pieces, particularly the beautiful and delicate items on display in the Oaxacan Halls would be collectors’ items if produced for the first time today.
Despite all the obstacles the early civilizations of Mexico faced (environmental, social, technological, shortage of materials and food, etc.) they survived and flourished …. much as the the modern people of Mexico still do today!