Date Visited


Mexico City

National Anthropological Museum


The National Anthropological Museum in Mexico City is housed in a modern contemporary building covering an area of almost 20 acres and displays some 600,000 pieces of art and other objects relating to Mexico and its people. It contains the world's largest collection of ancient Mexican art and exhibits relating to Mexico's heritage. This includes the Sun Stone, one of the most widely recognized symbols of Mexico.

The National Anthropological Museum is located in Chapultepec Park, and consists of a modern building containing exhibition halls, it includes 23 rooms and covers an area of almost 20 acres.  The halls surround a courtyard with a large pond and a vast square concrete umbrella supported by a single slender ornate pillar.

The halls are surrounded by gardens, many of which contain outdoor exhibits. The museum dates back to the end of the 18th century when items from a private collection were placed in the Royal and Pontifical University of Mexico, 

In 1825, the first Mexican president, Guadalupe Victoria, (1786 1843)  established the National Mexican Museum as an autonomous institution. In 1865, the museum was moved by the Emperor Maximilian (1832 -1867). 

In 1910 the museum was renamed the National Museum of Archaeology, History, and Ethnography. Over the years the stock of exhibits grew and by 1924 it had increased to 52,000 objects.

It acquired its present name in 1939 and in December 1940, the museum was divided again, with its historical collections being moved to the Chapultepec Castle, which is located on top of Chapultepec Hill in Mexico City, where they formed the Museo Nacional de Historia. This focused on the Viceroyalty of New Spain and its progress towards modern Mexico. The collection that remained was renamed the National Museum of Anthropology, and this focused on pre-Columbian Mexico and modern-day Mexican ethnography, (ethnography is a branch of anthropology and the systematic study of individual cultures.)

The construction of the contemporary museum building began in February 1963 and lasted 19 months, it was inaugurated on September 17, 1964. 

The museum's collections include some 600,000 pieces of art and other objects relating to Mexico and its people. Many anthropological, ethnological, and archaeological materials in the collection date from the pre-Hispanic period. Exhibited on two large floors, these displays show ancient human remains and art objects; figures and pottery of the Pre-Classical Period that began about 5000 BC; and frescoes and statues of the Classical Period (about 200 BC to AD 900). The Post-Classical Period that began with the arrival of the Spanish conquistadors (15191522) is represented by fine ceremonial dishes, ornaments, and giant votive tablets.

When you enter the museum, the rooms on the right-hand side show the cultures that developed in Central Mexico and are organized in chronological order. 

This includes the giant stone heads of the Olmec civilization, treasures recovered from the Maya civilization, at Chichen Itza, and a replica of the sarcophagi lid from Pacal's tomb together with his death mask from Palenque.

Parts of buildings have also been brought here and placed on display giving an indication of the intricacy of the carvings that were used.

One of the characteristics seen in the architecture of many of the Mayan cities is the presence of three-dimensional masks. These are of Chaac, one of the earliest identified Maya deities, which dates back to the beginnings of the Maya civilization (100 BC-100 AD). The masks were made in stone pieces, with a long curly nose.

Also to be seen are monumental stone sculptures, which include sacrificial stones. There were in fact various methods of human sacrifice, and one of them was a gladiatorial contest. The warrior being sacrificed would be tethered to the stone disk with a rope. He would then be confronted by five Aztec warriors, all carrying hand weapons lined with razor-sharp obsidian blades. 

Another sacrifice disk shows an unusual feature. This one has a similar star-burst carved in the top, along with the circular pit in the centre. However, extending out from the pit is a groove, apparently to drain off the blood. 


Also to be seen is the most famous stone sculpture which is the Sun Stone or Aztec Calendar, although it is not actually a calendar.  

There are date glyphs within some of the concentric rings on the stone, and also some symbols relating to the five ages the Aztecs believed the world has passed through since its beginning. However, the most recent theory is that the disk had political and religious functions. This carved stone disk which was recovered from the ruins of Tenochtitlan was found at the base of the Metropolitan Cathedral. It weighs 24 tons and is about 3.7 m (12 ft) across. It was discovered in 1790 during construction at Mexico City's main plaza and is one of the most widely recognized symbols of Mexico.

There is also a model of the location and layout of the former Aztec capital Tenochtitlan, the site of which is now occupied by the central area of modern-day Mexico City.  

The National Museum of Anthropology contains the world's largest collection of ancient Mexican art and exhibits relating to Mexico's heritage. 

And one of the few surviving examples of writing.

It also includes items such as the spectacular headdress that was worn.

Also to be seen is Chacmool, a statue that depicts a human figure in a position reclining with the head up and turned to one side, holding a tray over the stomach, Following a human sacrifice the heart of the sacrificed was placed in the tray.



              All  Photographs were taken by and are copyright of Ron Gatepain

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