CHICAGO.- Its the end of the last Ice Age, more than 13,000 years ago. Your small band of nomads has walked for many weeks, and youre now on land that few people if any have seen before you. The glaciers have receded, but snow blankets the ground and a cold wind howls around you. Where will you find shelter? What will you eat? How will you live?
The Ancient Americas, The Field Museums innovative new exhibition, is an exploration of the challenges that human beings everywhere have faced for millennia. It tells the epic story of human life on the American continents, from the arrival of small groups of hunter-gatherers, whose way of life survived into the 20th century, to the great but fragile empires of the Aztecs and the Incas empires that stretched thousands of miles, encompassed as many as 10 million people, and came to sudden, brutal ends. Free listening posts throughout the exhibition offer gallery overviews in Spanish.
Based on ground-breaking research by Field Museum scientists and others, The Ancient Americas will shatter long-held preconceptions. Visitors will see for themselves the intelligence and creativity that distinguish human beings, the innovations that allowed groups to diversify and populate the hemisphere from the Arctic to the tip of South America, and the great cities, trade networks, and sophisticated cultures built by Indigenous Peoples long before Europeans decimated their populations and imposed their own cultures on these lands.
The Ancient Americas is made possible by the McCormick Tribune Foundation. The Empire Builders Gallery is presented by the Abbott Fund. The Innovators Gallery is presented by ITW Foundation.
A World Rich in People, Cultures, and Creativity
Contemporary Americans recognize that their society is a tapestry of many cultures. But we tend to think of this mix as a recent development, the consequence of immigration in a highly mobile world. In The Ancient Americas, visitors will see that an astonishing diversity of peoples already were established in the Western hemisphere long before the Spanish arrived.
The exhibition illuminates both the remarkable differences in cultures that emerged over thousands of years, and the similarities underlying human behavior across vast expanses of time and space. Visitors will discover the kinds of choices Indigenous Peoples made, and how those choices shaped their lives, their societies, and the physical land they lived on. And theyll see first-hand how the decisions made by earlier societies have influenced the way we live today.
Creativity, the ability to adapt and innovate, allowed human beings to build successful societies and develop new forms of cultural expression throughout the world, says Jonathan Haas, Field Museum archaeologist and lead curator for The Ancient Americas. But its only recently that weve come to appreciate the great diversity and the high level of achievement attained, independently, by peoples throughout the Americas. The Field Museum developed The Ancient Americas to help people understand the story through the insights of contemporary anthropology and archaeology.
To tell that story, the galleries of The Ancient Americas are organized in a uniquely revealing way: not in chronological order around discrete cultures, as in traditional museum exhibitions, but around the diverse approaches people have developed to meet the challenges they face. Visitors will see how and why cultures change. Theyll see the different forms of hunting and gathering that people undertook as they moved through dramatically different environments; the experiments that led to the domestication of animals and plants and the rise of farming communities; the different forms of leadership that some societies turned to, and the monuments they created; the formation of hierarchical governments and states, and the building of vast empires.
Giving substance to this narrative are more than 2,200 fascinating artifacts representing more than 20 distinct cultural groups. Visitors will get to know early pueblo communities of the American Southwest; the mound-building Hopewell and Mississippian cultures of the Midwest; the Taíno of the Caribbean; the Zapotec, Maya, and Aztec of Mesoamerica; the Moche, Wari, and Inca of South America, and many more.