Sculpted details from the Mayan archaeological site of Copán, Honduras.

Copán was occupied for over 2,000 years, from the Early Preclassic period through to the Postclassic. The city is on the frontier of the Isthmo-Colombian cultural region, making it located in the extreme southeast of the Mesoamerican cultural region.

As shown in the examples above, Copán developed a distinctive sculptural style within the tradition of the lowland Maya.

Photos courtesy & taken by Michael Swigart.

Olmec snake head sculpture, Classic Period.

The ancient civilizations in various parts of the world created animals into sacred beings, one being the snake. These animals are able to survive on the land as well as in the water.

In the first prehispanic culture of Mexico, the Olmec created the snake as a being who was both heaven and earth as well as the rain, as is seen in the Monument 19 of La Venta, Tabasco, which is on display. Another stone snake made by the Olmec, found in Potrero Nuevo, Veracruz, is also on display.

In the Chamber, the Stones of Aparicio in the center can be seen as two characters who are without their heads and from their neck come seven snakes representing blood.

The serpent is associated with the god Quetzalcoatl whose name means “bird-snake”, and who was a very important god in the later periods.

Courtesy & currently located at the National Museum of Anthropology, Mexico. Photos taken by Travis.

The pre-Columbian archaeological site of Monte Albán, inhabited for over 1,500 years by the Olmecs, Zapotecs and Mixtecs. Oaxaca, Mexico.

Monte Albán, Zapotec capital set on a steep bluff in the middle of the Valley of Oaxaca which rose to prominence after about 400 BCE. Four main phases in the developement and occupation of the site have been recognized.

In period I (500-200 BCE) the slopes of the hill were leveled off to form over 2000 terraces. An acropolis protected by stone walls lay at the centre. Inside was a stone platform surrounded by 140 carved stone slabs depicting contorted human figures. These were executed in Olmec style.

In Period II (200 BCE-AD 300) the palaces were built, along with ball-courts, temples, and an arrow-shaped building in the main plaza. During this period there appears to have been extensive contact with Maya Lowland centres and the increasingly powerful Teotihuacán.

At its peak in Period III (AD 300-750), Monte Albán had an estimated population of 25-30,000. Public buildings, terraces, and residences covered over 40 square kilometres.

Period IV (AD 700-1000) was a time of decline as the main plaza was abandoned. Zapotec influence disappeared, although the site was partially reoccupied by the Mixtec.

-Concise Oxford Dictionary of Archaeology, Timothy Darvill.

Photos courtesy & taken by Omar Bárcena.

Chacmool statue on the top of the Temple of Warriors in the Chichen Itza complex, Mexico. Mayan, dates to the Late Classic-Early Postclassic.
Chacmool is the term used to refer to these particular reclining pre-Columbian Mesoamerican sculptures, which are often associated with thrones or sacrificial stones. This Chacmool statue is leaning towards the entrance of the pyramid’s temple, and is at the top of the stairway on the pyramid’s summit. 
With over its nearly 1,000-year history, the sacred site of Chichen Itza was one of the greatest Mayan centres of the Yucatán peninsula. The artistic works and stone monuments reflect and reveal the Maya and Toltec vision of the world and universe. 
Photo courtesy & taken by Bjørn Christian Tørrissen.

Chacmool statue on the top of the Temple of Warriors in the Chichen Itza complex, Mexico. Mayan, dates to the Late Classic-Early Postclassic.

Chacmool is the term used to refer to these particular reclining pre-Columbian Mesoamerican sculptures, which are often associated with thrones or sacrificial stones. This Chacmool statue is leaning towards the entrance of the pyramid’s temple, and is at the top of the stairway on the pyramid’s summit. 

With over its nearly 1,000-year history, the sacred site of Chichen Itza was one of the greatest Mayan centres of the Yucatán peninsula. The artistic works and stone monuments reflect and reveal the Maya and Toltec vision of the world and universe. 

Photo courtesy & taken by Bjørn Christian Tørrissen.

Pottery ancestor figure, Zapotec, 200 BC - AD 800. From the Oaxaca Valley, Mexico. 

The figure on this example wears a mask and headdress representing the depicted ancestors’ potent supernatural force. The chest ornament features a glyph or sculpted symbol of a day in the 260-day Zapotec ritual calendar.
The exact use and purpose of these vessels is unknown. The container, or urn, itself - usually a cylindrical vessel hidden behind the sculpted figure - may simply have been used to hold perishable offerings, as remains have been found inside. (read more)

Courtesy & currently located at the British Museum, London. Photo taken by sailko.

Pottery ancestor figure, Zapotec, 200 BC - AD 800. From the Oaxaca Valley, Mexico. 

The figure on this example wears a mask and headdress representing the depicted ancestors’ potent supernatural force. The chest ornament features a glyph or sculpted symbol of a day in the 260-day Zapotec ritual calendar.

The exact use and purpose of these vessels is unknown. The container, or urn, itself - usually a cylindrical vessel hidden behind the sculpted figure - may simply have been used to hold perishable offerings, as remains have been found inside. (read more)

Courtesy & currently located at the British Museum, London. Photo taken by sailko.

Yaxchilan lintel 15, Maya, Late Classic period (AD 600-900) From Yaxchilán, Mexico. 
A serpent apparition from a Maya temple.

This limestone lintel is one of a series of three panels commissioned by Bird Jaguar IV for Structure 21 at Yaxchilán and was once set above the left (south-east) doorway of the central chamber.
The lintel shows one of Bird Jaguar’s wives, Lady Wak Tuun, during a bloodletting rite. She is carrying a basket with the paraphernalia used for auto-sacrifice: a stingray spine, a rope and bloodied paper. The Vision Serpent appears before her, springing from a bowl, which also contains strips of bark-paper.
Bloodletting was a common practice in Maya life from the Late Preclassic period (400 BC - AD 250) onwards, and an essential part of rulership and of all public rituals. The Maya élite drew blood from various parts of their bodies using lancets made of stingray spine, flint, bone or obsidian. These objects are often found in burials and other archaeological contexts, though other perishable materials, like the rope and the bark-paper strips seen on the lintel, are now lost.
The inscription refers to the bloodletting rite twice in a slightly different form. The date recorded seems to be AD 755. The text that appears between Lady Wak Tuun and the Vision Serpent records her name, titles and her place of origin, Motul de San José. (Text: British Museum)

Courtesy & currently located at the British Museum, London. Photo taken by Snapshooter46.

Yaxchilan lintel 15, Maya, Late Classic period (AD 600-900) From Yaxchilán, Mexico. 

A serpent apparition from a Maya temple.

This limestone lintel is one of a series of three panels commissioned by Bird Jaguar IV for Structure 21 at Yaxchilán and was once set above the left (south-east) doorway of the central chamber.

The lintel shows one of Bird Jaguar’s wives, Lady Wak Tuun, during a bloodletting rite. She is carrying a basket with the paraphernalia used for auto-sacrifice: a stingray spine, a rope and bloodied paper. The Vision Serpent appears before her, springing from a bowl, which also contains strips of bark-paper.

Bloodletting was a common practice in Maya life from the Late Preclassic period (400 BC - AD 250) onwards, and an essential part of rulership and of all public rituals. The Maya élite drew blood from various parts of their bodies using lancets made of stingray spine, flint, bone or obsidian. These objects are often found in burials and other archaeological contexts, though other perishable materials, like the rope and the bark-paper strips seen on the lintel, are now lost.

The inscription refers to the bloodletting rite twice in a slightly different form. The date recorded seems to be AD 755. The text that appears between Lady Wak Tuun and the Vision Serpent records her name, titles and her place of origin, Motul de San José. (Text: British Museum)

Courtesy & currently located at the British Museum, London. Photo taken by Snapshooter46.

Jama-Coaque Snuff Tray, 300 BC-AD 600, made of earthenware.

As an outgrowth of the earlier Chorrera ceramic sculptural tradition, Jama-Coaque pottery focuses on the human figure and the portrayal of ritual life. Most Jama-Coaque ceramic figures were formed from molds, and hand modeling completed the piece.
Here, however, no evidence of mold construction is discernible, the lively figure and its attached tray being modeled entirely by hand. In addition, the figure’s animated and threatening pose diverges from the majority of Jama-Coaque ceramic figures, which typically are more static in body position and attitude. The figure portrays a spirit being or perhaps a shaman in spirit form ready to battle supernatural forces.
The being’s teeth and clawed paws recall those of the jaguar, here with an especially shaggy fur. The jagged tongue and rectangles hanging from the ear ornaments may refer to the being’s supernatural powers. Shamanic transformation was aided by the ingestion of psychoactive plants ground into a fine powder and ingested as a snuff, which was served on trays such as this figural example. (Text: Walters)

Courtesy & currently located at the Walters Art Museum, Baltimore, USA. Photo taken by greyloch.

Jama-Coaque Snuff Tray, 300 BC-AD 600, made of earthenware.

As an outgrowth of the earlier Chorrera ceramic sculptural tradition, Jama-Coaque pottery focuses on the human figure and the portrayal of ritual life. Most Jama-Coaque ceramic figures were formed from molds, and hand modeling completed the piece.

Here, however, no evidence of mold construction is discernible, the lively figure and its attached tray being modeled entirely by hand. In addition, the figure’s animated and threatening pose diverges from the majority of Jama-Coaque ceramic figures, which typically are more static in body position and attitude. The figure portrays a spirit being or perhaps a shaman in spirit form ready to battle supernatural forces.

The being’s teeth and clawed paws recall those of the jaguar, here with an especially shaggy fur. The jagged tongue and rectangles hanging from the ear ornaments may refer to the being’s supernatural powers. Shamanic transformation was aided by the ingestion of psychoactive plants ground into a fine powder and ingested as a snuff, which was served on trays such as this figural example. (Text: Walters)

Courtesy & currently located at the Walters Art Museum, Baltimore, USA. Photo taken by greyloch.

The Incan archaeological site of Machu Picchu, Peru.

Designated a World Heritage Site in 1983, UNESCO describes the site as “an absolute masterpiece of architecture and a unique testimony to the Inca civilization”. Situated in an astoundingly beautiful setting, located on the center of a tropical mountain forest, Machu Picchu stands 2,430m above sea-level. it is located on the eastern slopes of the Andes, also encompassing the upper Amazon basin. Majority of archaeologists believe that Machu Pcchu was built for Incan emperor Pachacuti (1438–1472), and abandoned a century later at the time of the Spanish Conquest.

Photo courtesy & taken by Benjamin Dumas.

Olmec (circa 1400-400 BCE) Monument 19, from La Venta, Tabasco. The earliest known representation of a feathered serpent in Mesoamerica. 
The early Olmec feathered serpent, as shown here, is thought to have acted as a forerunner for many Mesoamerican deities, with the feathered serpent later becoming a prominent and established aspect and deity of Mesoamerican religion. Dualism is common in Mesoamerican deities, as shown here with the feathered serpent. Being a serpent represents the human aspect of it, and the ability to move on the ground like and among other animals. Being feathered represents the divine nature of it, or the ability to reach the skies.
Courtesy & currently located at the Museo Nacional de Antropología, Mexico City. Photo taken by Xuan Che.

Olmec (circa 1400-400 BCE) Monument 19, from La Venta, Tabasco. The earliest known representation of a feathered serpent in Mesoamerica. 

The early Olmec feathered serpent, as shown here, is thought to have acted as a forerunner for many Mesoamerican deities, with the feathered serpent later becoming a prominent and established aspect and deity of Mesoamerican religion. Dualism is common in Mesoamerican deities, as shown here with the feathered serpent. Being a serpent represents the human aspect of it, and the ability to move on the ground like and among other animals. Being feathered represents the divine nature of it, or the ability to reach the skies.

Courtesy & currently located at the Museo Nacional de Antropología, Mexico City. Photo taken by Xuan Che.

The Cahokia Mounds State Historic Site, located 13 km north-east of St Louis, Missouri, USA -the largest pre-Columbian settlement north of Mexico. 

An excellent example of a complex chiefdom society, this site was occupied primarily during the Mississippian period (800–1400), and at its peak had a population of 10–20,000. The Monks Mound is one of the most prominant features of the site (shown in photos 1 & 3), which covers 5ha, and stands at 30m high.

Artistic recreation of Cahokia from the Cahokia Mounds Interpretive Center (photo via flickr). The main structure in the background is Monks Mound.

Photos courtesy & taken by shaddowhawke.

The east wall of Chichen Itza’s Great Ball Court, located in the Mexican state of Yucatán -the largest and best preserved ball court in ancient Mesoamerica. 
The wall is 8 meters high, the ring about 6, which is decorated with intertwined feathered serpents. The ballgame in Mayan culture was a sport with ritual associations, relating to the Quichean Twin myth, which links ballcourts with death and its overcoming. In Chichen Itza we can see evidence of the affiliation human sacrifice had with the ballgame, as shown on the ballcourt panels.
Photo courtesy & taken by vintagedept.

The east wall of Chichen Itza’s Great Ball Court, located in the Mexican state of Yucatán -the largest and best preserved ball court in ancient Mesoamerica. 

The wall is 8 meters high, the ring about 6, which is decorated with intertwined feathered serpents. The ballgame in Mayan culture was a sport with ritual associations, relating to the Quichean Twin myth, which links ballcourts with death and its overcoming. In Chichen Itza we can see evidence of the affiliation human sacrifice had with the ballgame, as shown on the ballcourt panels.

Photo courtesy & taken by vintagedept.

Golden statuette from the ‘Quimbaya Treasure’, a collection of 200 golden objects (500-1000 AD) given to Spain as a gift by the Colombian government in 1893. This particular artifact is thought to date to between 200 and 1000 AD.
Courtesy & currently located at the Museum of the Americas, Madrid, Spain. Photo taken by Michel wal.

Golden statuette from the ‘Quimbaya Treasure’, a collection of 200 golden objects (500-1000 AD) given to Spain as a gift by the Colombian government in 1893. This particular artifact is thought to date to between 200 and 1000 AD.

Courtesy & currently located at the Museum of the Americas, Madrid, Spain. Photo taken by Michel wal.