History & Influence of Pre-Columbian Mexican Cultures

The history of Mexican art and culture can be traced back for nearly 4,000 years! For thousands of years before Columbus arrived, Pre-Columbian civilizations thrived in what is now modern-day Mexico.

Today we’ll take a closer look at a few of the most noteworthy cultures, their art, and how their influence can still be found in Mexico today. We’ll also show you a few of our favorite pieces of jewelry inspired by Pre-Columbian Mexican culture.

Influential Pre-Columbian Civilizations

Many of Mexico’s Pre-Columbian civilizations were very advanced for their time and influenced the creation of what we now think of as Mexican culture. Let’s take a look at a few of the most-well known Pre-Columbian civilizations in Mexico:

Olmec

Ancient Olmec HeadThe Olmecs were the first major Mexican civilization, starting around 1500 BC (that’s about 3500 years ago!). The most enduring symbol of Olmec culture are giant stone heads, some as large as 10 feet tall! In addition, the Olmec are known for their artwork, which was often made from jade, obsidian, and magnetite, materials still used in modern jewelry and art today!

Fast Facts:

  • The Olmec people discovered the number zero, an important contribution to mathematics around the world.
  • It’s likely that the first compasses were invented by the Olmec people!
  • They were the first civilization in North America to develop a written language.

Maya

Mayan ArtBetween 2000 BC and 1500 AD, the Mayan people ruled much of Mexico and made incredible contributions to the region’s culture and scientific knowledge. Mayan civilization was very advanced, featuring amazing architecture and carefully planned and designed cities. The Mayan people were also known for their stunning artwork and jewelry, often made from gold, silver, and copper.

Fast Facts:

  • The Mayan Calendar was very accurate and was even able to predict lunar and solar eclipses!
  • Hot chili peppers were first cultivated by Mayan people!
  • Mayans were also among the first people to enjoy chocolate– often in drinks made from cacao!
  • Deer, ducks, and dogs were all domesticated by the Mayan people!

Aztec

Aztec ArtInterestingly, Aztec doesn’t refer to a single civilization, instead it refers to any group speaking the Nahuatl language between the 1300s and 1500s. Aztec civilizations were spread throughout central Mexico and their culture was just as diverse!

Religion was important to the Aztec people, who worshipped the sun, but their culture also emphasized athletics and entertainment. Unfortunately, by about 1520, diseases brought by Spanish Conquistadors had wiped out the Aztec people.

Fast Facts:

  • Education was an important part of Aztec society and schooling was required, including classes on astronomy and art!
  • The capital city of Tenochtitlan was believed to be very clean thanks to the work of some of the world’s first garbage collectors!
  • While many people associate the use of feathers and turquoise with Aztec culture (including art and clothing) these materials and colors were reserved for the upper classes and nobility!
  • The Aztec people often used cocoa beans as a form of currency!

Influence on Modern Mexico

Pre-Columbian cultures have had a profound impact on the Mexico we know today. Let’s take a closer look at how you can see ancient culture reflected in its…

Mexican Flag

Mexican FlagPerhaps the most notable example can be found in the Mexican flag! The coat of arms is based on an Aztec legend in which an Aztec god said that when the Aztecs found an eagle perched on a cactus eating a snake, they would find their new home. According to legend, it took 200 years but they found what they were looking for! In fact the Aztec capital of Tenochtitlan lives on today as Mexico City!

City Culture

Interestingly, unlike many other civilizations, for most of its history Mexico has been home to an urban population with most people living in villages, towns, and cities. This is thanks to the Pre-Columbian people who called Mexico home and developed cultures and civilizations that were permanently settled (as opposed to nomadic).

Food

Traditional Mexican VegetablesMuch of what we think of as Mexican food actually comes from Pre-Columbian civilizations, including the use of ingredients like:

  • Chili peppers
  • Corn
  • Avocado
  • Chocolate
  • Guava
  • Chayote
  • Jicama
  • Nopal

It’s amazing to think about Mexico’s rich history and how much we truly owe to the people who called our country home hundreds and even thousands of years ago.

Modern Jewelry Inspired by Pre-Columbian Art & Design

The Pre-Columbian cultures that called Mexico home didn’t just leave their mark on Mexico’s flag and on the food we eat. They also influence Mexican artisans, including those we work with at Mexican Silver Store. Let’s take a look at a few our favorite pieces inspired by Pre-Columbian artwork.

Native Mexican Jaguar Necklace

Native Jaguar NecklaceNative animals, like the jaguar, were often featured in the artwork and jewelry of early Mexican civilizations. This Mexican Jaguar Necklace continues this tradition! It’s made from amazing .950 silver and is exquisitely detailed! You’ll just love how the jaguar looks like it could come to life at any moment!

Taxco 950 Silver Native Tribal Motif NecklaceSilver Native Tribal Motif Necklace

If you’re looking for a classically understated piece of jewelry that reflects Mexican history and tradition, you’ll love this necklace! It’s made from .950 sterling silver and features a niello finish to make the details really pop!

Native Mexican Tribal Art Cuff

Native Mexican Tribal Art CuffThis silver tribal art cuff is just beautiful! It pays homage to the tribal designs from native Mexican artists and features motifs reminiscent of many Pre-Columbian works of art informative post. This piece is truly a wearable work of art!

Native Mexican Jaguar Bracelet

Native Mexican Jaguar BraceletJaguars were important animals to many Pre-Columbian Mexican cultures and were often featured in artwork and jewelry. This jaguar bracelet continues the tradition of honoring Mexico’s native wildlife. It’s made from .950 silver and has an easily adjustable wristband.

Native Mexican Tribal Art Earrings

Native Mexican Tribal Art EarringsThis set of native Mexican tribal art earrings combine modern styling with traditional Pre-Columbian Mexican designs. These earrings are beautifully textured and feature some of the finest silver work we’ve ever seen!

Native Mexican Tribal Earrings

Native Mexican Tribal EarringsI love the simple, classic, and elegant style of these native Mexican tribal earrings. The native elements in the design are understated, yet will work well with any style clothing! A niello finish adds to and accents these beautiful earrings!

Conclusion

The Mexico we know today would be very different without the influences and contributions of the Pre-Columbian civilizations we’ve talked about today. We’re proud to work with native Mexican artists and jewelry makers who work hard to keep the traditions of their ancestors alive!

Photo Credits: Wikipedia, Wikipedia, Wikipedia, Wikipedia, Wikipedia

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