Pre-Columbian Civilizations

Published on November 17, 2012 by Amy

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Pre-Columbian Art
Pre-Columbian Art

While our information thus far has lead us through the thousands of years of history in the area now known as the United States, it is important to know that the migration of ancient man did not stop at the current modern day boundaries of America. Ancient man continued his travels down through Mexico, Central America, and into South America, establishing over their thousands of years of history advanced civilizations with temples, pyramids, and cities. Ancient cultures that located “south of the border” are referred to as Pre-Columbian cultures, or those people who lived south of the modern day United States in the time before the arrival of Columbus.

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The three most notable Pre-Columbian civilizations were those of the Aztec, Maya, and Inca. Many of the Pre-Columbian cultures eventually ended with European contact, dying out from warfare as well as disease, but all three of these cultures left behind some of the most ornate and highly decorative artifacts ever made.


The Maya were located in southern Mexico and into Central America. Mayans had the only fully developed language of the pre-Columbian cultures as well as spectacular art, sophisticated mathematical and astronomical systems.
Gold may have ultimately led to the demise of the Maya. The Maya were skilled craftsmen who possessed the ability to work the precious yellow metal into highly detailed ornaments and figures. Precious metals such as gold and silver were one of the main motivating factors that drew the Spanish to overtake them. The last Mayan stronghold fell to the Spanish Conquistadors in the late 1600′s


Located south of the Aztec and Maya in the Andean Mountain range of Peru, the Inca were a great civilization who formed an empire that would eventually become the largest in pre-Columbian America. The term “Pre-Columbian” is simply a term that refers to civilizations that existed in the time before Christopher Columbus. The Inca did not build cities and the population was essentially rural with small villages and towns, usually housing less than 1,000 people. The Inca Empire lasted from around 1100 until the Spanish conquest in the 1530′s.


The Aztec inhabited the regions of southern Mexico and into Central America. The museum houses many artifacts that depict things that are important to the way of life to the Aztec. Some of the popular effigy ceramic forms displayed are armored warriors, human figurines in various positions and several exotic animal vessels.

Colima Dogs

One very unique meso-american artifact that occurs with great frequency are canine vessels known as Colima Dogs. They are from Mexico and are believed to be a relative of the Chihuahua and Mexican hairless breeds of dog that we’re familiar with nowadays.

Colima dogs were known to have a variety of uses throughout their centuries of existence, food source and guardian to the dead, healer and watchdog. There are two types of Colima Dog, one would be fattened up for food or ritually sacrificed, and the other type is more of a pet, watchdog and even a healer. The larger ones were meant as a food source and sometimes you’ll see them depicted with an ear of corn in their mouths for that reason.

Source: museumofnativeamericanartifacts Unabridged
Based on the collective work of, © 2015 Native American Encyclopedia.
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