Anthropology Museum

To this point, I had visited the Templo Mayor and Teotihuacan. I'd learned a bit about Mexico's "modern" history at the Castillo de Chapultepec. Now it was time to visit what is possibly the biggest global draw to Mexico City. Mexico has an incredible history, with multiple vibrant and powerful cultures existing within its borders throughout the centuries. It also celebrates that history by showcasing artifacts in one of the top museums in the world - the Museo Nacional de Antropologia.

After seeing the cool voladores show, I headed into the museum. There was a bit of a line for tickets at noon, but it moved quickly. I entered the main courtyard and took a few pictures of the famous paraguas, the umbrella-shaped fountain that supports the roof. Despite being designed in the 60s, the museum has an incredible functionality and sense of its subject that makes it still feel modern today. I had some idea of how the exhibits were laid out from reading about the museum beforehand, but didn't see any free maps offered while visiting. So naturally, I made one (of the lower level only), which I'm sharing below...

(The delineation between Mexico's pre-Colombian cultures can be confusing, but this site gives you a great sense of which group lived where, and when.)

The best way to do the museum is by starting on the right and working counter-clockwise. I breezed through the 'Anthropology' Sala and skipped the 'Origins of Man' Sala, having done the incomparable Hall of Human Origins at the American Museum of Natural History in New York. I slowed down upon entering the Teotihuacan room. After seeing it, I wish I'd done the museum before visiting Teotihuacan - but then I might have been even more frustrated by how little time we spent there. Most of the rooms had an outside area as well - like recreations of living spaces or temples, or in Teotihuacan's case, a model of the site. There was also an impressive recreation of the temple of the feathered serpent within the gallery.

There were bits of a ball court in the Toltec room, though the game was played across several cultures. If the ball - a stand-in for the sun - went the "wrong" way during a game, a ritual sacrifice had to be made to make sure everything would be okay in real life. Makes soccer rivalries look tame in comparison. 

Next was the impressive Mexica room, by far the most crowded in the middle of the day. The giant sun stone has a place of honor and various ferocious looking gods dot the hall. (Say hi to Coatlicue again!) The over-arching theme of the Mexica seems to be blood and death, something that was reinforced as I walked past the different exhibits, including more actual human sacrifices and decorated skulls. I wandered over to the Mixtec/Zapotec room and spent a little time there before starting into the Mayan room and deciding to save it for later. I was watching the time and didn't want to be late for lunch at Pujol.

Following my incredible experience at Pujol, slightly tipsy was the best way to experience the remaining cultures. Despite the shared human sacrifice thing, Mayan culture has always struck me as more artistic and introspective - gentle somehow. Maybe it's the focus on cosmology. Anyway, the outside portion was lovely and jungly. Peeks into the three muraled rooms strongly reminded me of the Valley of the Artisans in Egypt (seriously, so many parallels between the two cultures, both ancient and modern). I spotted a Chac-Mool, and did a double-take - it's interesting that he spans several cultures.


I moved on to the Northern and Western cultures room and decided, if I had lived in Pre-Colombian Mexico, that's where I'd like to have been. It was immediately clear that they had a sense of humor. Lots of dog sculptures, including a fat little fellow with tattered ears and one holding a corncob in his mouth. Their burials also seemed more personal, somehow, than the slaughter of the Mexica and the grandeur of the Maya. No big monuments, but stepped stone structures on hills.


Ancestral Pueblo was the last group covered (pretty sure they used the term Anasazi) - just barely, but a nice nod to what's now in the USA. I realized that I'd missed the fancy jade mask I remembered from an issue of National Geographic as a child, and backtracked, thinking "Where would I be, if I was a recreation of a burial site in a museum?" My still warm and fuzzy mind flashed back to the unmarked steps heading down in the center of the Mayan Sala - sure enough, I was right. King Pakal's mask and sarcophagus (Egypt, dude) were down there. Feeling good about my intuition, and noticing the museum was much less crowded than before lunch, I headed back to the Mexica Sala for a few photo ops. Emboldened by Port, I got a couple of pictures with me with the calendar stone and Moctezuma's feather headdress.

There's a whole other section on the second floor of the museum, dealing with the ethnography of Mexico, but it was getting late and I'd thoroughly enjoyed my visit. I wandered out of the museum, paid 4 pesos to use a public bathroom and, again, with the help of my GPS, walked through a slightly sketch market to the Metro. Aside from the long line for tickets, it was easy-peasy.


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