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Pre-Columbian Sculptures

Pre-Columbian art refers to that of the indigenous people of the Caribbean, North, Central, and South Americas until the later 15th and early 16th centuries. It is referred to as Pre-Columbian, as it largely predates Christopher Columbus' arrival to America. Because of the vast time period and regions that this covers, styles and materials used for Pre-Columbian sculpture vary greatly.

Pre-Columbian sculptures can range in scale from very small to enormous, and a wide array of materials were used. The Olmec culture of Central America, for example, specialized in stone sculpture by producing large heads representing warriors. The largest of these are nine feet high and can weigh 20 tons.

The Aztec culture of Mexico produced plastic sculptures of grim, fierce figures, as well as very realistic portrayals of rattlesnakes and coyotes. The Toltecs of Central America created colossal, block-like sculptures which evidenced their war-loving and death-worshipping people. Regardless of the material or subject matter incorporated, Pre-Columbian sculpture tells the story of the culture and time period during which it was created.

Quick Facts

  • The human skull was a popular subject for Aztec Mexican culture. The finest existing example is carved from pure crystal
  • A number of pre-Columbian cultures did not have a writing system, so visual art such as sculptures expressed their religious and philosophical views
  • The majority of Inca sculptures were destroyed upon the Spanish invasion

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