The Ancient American collection comprises art from three distinct areas of the Western Hemisphere: Mesoamerica, Central America, and the Andes. The focus of the Ancient American gallery is on Mesoamerica, particularly the art of the Ancient Maya. Known for their achievements in science and the arts, the Maya dominated the region for most of two millennia. The Museum’s collection highlights numerous aspects of their activities, reflecting their religious beliefs, sport, ritual, and daily life.
Two impressive stone objects, a Ball Court Marker and a Ceremonial Ball Game Yoke, illustrate the features of "the ball game," the first team sport in history and an important exercise with religious and political implications. Maya ceramic production is striking for its technical expertise and its creativity. Without benefit of a potter’s wheel or freestanding kilns, the artists created fine, well-shaped vessels, decorated with painted figural scenes complemented by elaborate glyph inscriptions. These prestige items were used by the elite during political and religious events. The two terracotta Incensarios that stood in front of temples suggest the layered religious meaning in their complex forms.
Similarly, the ceramic production of other cultures indicates their great technical skill. The Vera Cruz Standing Female Deity is noteworthy for its size, its elaborate costume, and its enigmatic witness of funerary ritual. Colima vessels in the shape of animals such as parrots, dogs, and deer as well as humans and plants, and the large expressive Nayarit human figures offer appealing glimpses into an ancient world.