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Ancient Americas


The Gardiner Museum’s  Ancient Americas collection is considered to be the foremost in Canada.  It encompasses 47 separate cultures from the vast modern day geographical areas of the American Southwest, Mexico, Central and South America. Some of the cultures and people of these areas date back as far as 3500 BC to AD 1550, just before the arrival of the Spanish conquistadors.

Although each of the cultures represented are considered separate distinct groups, there are similarities between many of them. From intensive agriculture to complex systems of water control, and mathematics to monumental architecture, all of these groups developed one the great miracles of human ingenuity—pottery.

The low-fired earthenware vessels and sculptures are made without the use of the potter’s wheel and are decorated using various techniques. Some of these finishes are applied prior to firing, such as slip decoration, and others, including the application of resins and pigments, are added post-firing. The themes illustrated on the works are often influenced by the flora and fauna found in their highly varied environmental zones, from rugged highlands and arid deserts to humid tropical lowlands.

Explore the Ancient Americas Collection

1. Dog Effigy Vessel (detail), Comala Style, Mexico, Colima, 300 BCE-300 CE, Gift of George and Helen Gardiner, G83.1.40 

2. Escavada Black on White Bowl (detail), Ancestral Pueblo Culture, Southern Colorado Plateau, USA, 950-1300, Gift of Ulli and Carol Rath on behalf of the Rath family, G14.10.4

3. Parrot Effigy Bottle with Double Chambers (detail), Salinar Culture, Peru, North Coast, Late Early Horizon 500-300 BCE, Gift of George and Helen Gardiner, G83.1.159

4. Tetrapod Jaguar Effigy Vessel with Rattle Supports (detail), Costa Rica, Guanacaste, Nicoya Zone, Late Period VI 1200-1400, Gift of George and Helen Gardiner, G83.1.147. Photographer: Melissa Shimmerman

5. Plate with Hieroglyphic Text (detail), Maya Culture, Guatemala, Uaxactun area, early late classsic period, 550-650, Gift of George and Helen Gardiner, G83.1.120. Photographer: Toni Hafkenscheid