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Thursday, 17 April 2014

Melbourne Museum Aztecs Exhibition

I had a fantastic time at Melbourne Museum's Aztec exhibition this morning! Wearing my Aztec (actually Mayan, shhh!) calendar shirt, I went along to the University of Melbourne Alumni (free) sneakpeak session at 8am, and as luck and actually-working-public transport would have it for once ended up being the first person in line to enter the exhibition like some kind of Mesoamerican archaeology groupie. After avoiding being sacrificed and going under the pyramid through the underworld and past some Spanish armour I re-emerged at 11am - just in time for the "official" opening launch and the Mexican fiesta of flavours, dancing, music and paper flowers that was the Aztec opening party! 

It was a pretty confronting experience to view so many objects associated with or used in repeated human sacrifice though, especially when in some instances increased suffering of the victim (who may have been groomed for this and lived a life where their every whim was satisfied for quite sometime before their grisly end, sometimes for up to a year), some bled, others burned, flayed alive and/or their still beating hearts removed from the body and then thrown down the steps of the pyramid shaped temples. Or the idea that the tears of infants would bring more bountiful rains from the water god who was sustained by their blood. Behind all of this is a notion that individual sacrifice and death were essential to sustain cosmic powers such as the sun and gods, which in turn provided the life for new souls to be born.

One could argue that the smaller collection of artifacts linked to the Spanish conquistadors, rather belies the gravity of the cataclysmic contact with Europeans and the disease and conflict that resulted. Guns, Germs and Steel by Jared Diamond famously discusses this in great detail for those who would like to look understanding how and why this clash of civilisations was so dramatic. 

I liked the fact that the exhibition addressed many aspects of Aztec culture, including art, agriculture (often in raised aquatic garden beds), literature. an explanation of the calendar system, ethnogenisis and origin stories, pottery production, textiles, sport, remarkably modern looking flutes and whistles, and impressively a system of universal education for teenagers regardless of their class.

Some of my favourite highlights were the archaeological site presented as it was found - a sort of re-in situ, the stone statue of a dog, the 15th C Spanish suit of plate armour and piece of horse armour, and the amazing whole pieces of pottery that had survived the collapse of 2 civilisations: pottery from Teotihuacan 'the birthplace of the gods' a city  over a thousand years old when the Aztecs came across it's eerily abandoned ruins, from which they would find, honour and sometimes relocate relics like these pots in their temples for purposes of preservation and education or create new pieces in styles inspired from interpretations of the artifacts they found. — at Melbourne Museum

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