As I explored the Anthropology Museum of Mexico City, the misconceptions I had carried for so long about ancient Mesoamerica came as repeated surprises. For example, I saw evidence of multi-ethnic populations having lived in ancient Mesoamerica. Head shapes and facial features carved into over-size weathered rock images clearly showed Hamitic, Semitic, and Mongolian features. And here I’d only thought in terms of profiles with the flat slope from forehead to nose, which according to my reading was created with a pressure board while the person was in infancy.
For years I had speculated on allegorical possibilities, depending on whether the fronds were jungle ferns, or maybe gigantic feathers from the famous quetzal bird, or maybe some other undoubtedly gorgeous mythical creature.
Or maybe the curling fronds were symbolic of the emanations of spirit matter predominating over the intellect.
Not at all. The inscription proved how literal it all was. The tall fronds actually depict blood spurting out of the neck of a captive enemy who has just been decapitated.
I was also surprised by the sophistication of the burial practices we saw in the Museum of Anthropology. They ranged from sepulchers with entrances above ground guarded by hewn lengths of large tree trunks that would bar animals from entering, to burial pits containing large clay jars holding the bones of the deceased, like one would expect to see in Egypt.
Gold Plates and Jewelry
We saw exquisite jewelry and tiny gold plates with characters painstakingly inscribed on them. When we came to the stunning jade masks, the guide identified a particularly gorgeous example and told the story of how it had inexplicably gone missing a few decades ago. Only recently had it been returned to the museum after having been recognized while on display in the home of a high-level political figure.