The Museo Nacional de Antropologia is a thirty minute taxi ride and about seventy pesos, more or less, depending upon traffic, from the Zocalo and the historic center of Mexico City. It is closed on Mondays, and open from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday.
I hadn’t been there since 1970, and when I entered it was only looking vaguely familiar. It is the repository of Mexico’s greatest treasures representing Olmec, Toltec, Zapotec, Aztec, Maya and other civilizations.
I allowed myself three hours to cover centuries of Mexico’s defining civilizations. It was not enough and I plan to return to see the nine galleries I missed.
War and death figure predominantly in the life of pre-Columbian Mexico. So does fertility, abundance, corn, wind, rain, drought and the interaction between sun and moon.
I was fascinated by the artifacts from Teotihuacan. I have been to the pyramids and appreciate their grandeur.
Yet, the museum offers details from stone carvings and wall-paintings found there and also in nearby Puebla state.
Monolithic figures, and anthropomorphic and funerary masks predominate.
Included is an intact excavation of a gravesite, complete with offerings. What was found was left embedded in the clay matrix.
The large circular Aztec sun stone calendar, featured on t-shirts throughout Mexico, hangs prominently in the center surrounded by dioramas of pueblo life, sculptures rescued from Mexico City’s archeological sites, and important pieces of pottery, carved wood and stone jewelry.
Visiting the Oaxaca gallery was tops on my list. There I could see the actual Los Danzantes carved panels that were removed from Monte Alban. Hand-carved wood and bone flutes and drums also figured predominantly in a small display toward the end of the gallery.
The Zapotecs who built Monte Alban were noted for their fine workmanship and artisanry. Here is a stunning Bat God with the face of a jaguar, plus explanation, also discovered in a Monte Alban tomb, and carved from jade.
The Mixtecs later came down from the mountains into the central valleys of Oaxaca and settled around Mitla. They became incredible gold and silversmiths and their filigree and carved jewelry is unparalleled.
For Oaxaca lovers, the gallery also includes a carved panel from Mitla and original surviving pre-Hispanic codices. The designs are reminiscent of the tapestries that artisans weave in Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca.
As I left the museum and walked through Chapultepec Park, I saw the lake where Sunday boaters and families enjoyed a picnic lunch. Along the avenue, closed to traffic, bicyclists and runners passed me by.