La Vida Antigua is a self guided walking tour that highlights life in Ancient Mexico. Guests can experience museum caliber exhibits in the entry area of the Mexico Pavilion
La Vida Antigua (Life in Ancient Mexico) begins with signage at the entrance of the pavilion. The first section of text reads:
The iconic pyramid that marks the Mexico pavilion is inspired by the architecture of three major pre-Columbian civilizations – the Maya, Aztec and Toltec – and here you can step inside for a closer look at these great Mesoamerican cultures. Centuries ago these cultures flourished in present day Mexico, and developed some of the largest and most sophisticated civilizations in the Western hemisphere.
We invite you to marvel at the architecture of the great Mesoamerican city-states, discover the significance of the ball game, and see how the Aztecs marked time with a massive calendar stone. From work and play to humble huts and towering temples, experience for yourself life in ancient Mexico.
The first display highlights people working the fields and is titled The Living Spirit of the Land. The plaque reads:
The Living Spirit of the Land
The transition from foraging to farming was integral to the success of Mesoamerican society. Pre-Columbian crops included maize (corn), beans, tomatoes, squash, chilies, tobacco and cotton. Possessing the ability to grow enough food to support a large population enabled rulers and noblemen to amass a large work force of peasants to build cities and temples, as well as create special classes of artisans, merchants and warriors.
In order to increase food production, the Mesoamericans created artificial wetlands called chinampas. Rectangular beds built up with soil were constructed in parallel rows in swampy lakebeds. The water between each plot formed a canal that allowed for access by small boat. To irrigate the chinampas, the ancient farmers created a sophisticated drainage system of dams, sluice gates and canals. This type of ingenuity is one of the reasons that Mesoamerica stands as one of the greatest ancient civilizations.
The Mesoamerican people considered the land they farmed to be a living being with the power to nurture or destroy the crops planted on it. Although they used a number of different farming tools, the dibble stick (Uictli), or digging stick, was the most important. The Uictli was sacred to the Aztecs, who believed the tool was capable of both thought and decisions and often depicted the digging sticks with the gods in the codices, or manuscripts. Both spiritually and practically, the Uictli was vital to the planting of crops and the ultimate success of agriculture. In fact, the Uictli is still in use today in some regions of Mexico.
The next display highlights large circular Mesoamerican Calendars. This display reads:
The Mesoamerican calendar illustrates how remarkably advanced these cultures were in the fields of science and astronomy. In fact, the Maya and Aztec calendars are widely regarded as more accurate than those of many other ancient civilizations.
Aztec Calendar Stone
The Aztec Calendar Stone was carved from basalt, or solidified lava, in 1479. Dedicated to the sun god Tonatulh, it is a massive carving at three feet thick, almost 12 feet across and weighing almost 25 tons. It was once painted in bright colors like all Aztec sculpture and displayed on or near the main pyramid of the Templo Mayor in the city-state of Tenochtitlan.
For centuries the Calendar Stone was lost and buried face down in front of the Spanish municipal palace in present day Mexico City. The massive carving was discovered on December 17, 1790, during renovations to the central square, or Zocalo, and quickly became one of the world’s greatest archeological finds.
The carved stone is a brilliant combination of artistry and geometry and illustrates the Aztec’s understanding of time and space as wheels within wheels. The intricately carved surface of the stone combines their understanding of the calendar as a cycle of time integrating observations of the sun and stars, including the constellation represented in two images of the fire serpent framing the stone. It is not completely understood how the stone itself was used, but it may have been a monument or possibly a sacrificial altar.
Most scholars agree the calendar stone represents the Aztec view of the cyclical nature of creation and destruction, with the four previous world ages – Jaguar, Wind, Rain and Water – followed by Sun, the fifth or “current” age, representing the Aztec World.
This icon of Mexican culture is now on display in the Museu Nacional de Anthropologia in Mexico City. One of only three full size reproductions cast from the original stone is located at the University of Florida. Our Aztec Calendar Stone is a faithful reproduction of that piece, but scaled to a smaller size.
Maya Long Count Calendar
The Maya had several calendar systems, but they primarily recorded time with the Tzolk’in, the Haab, and the Long Count calendar.
The Tzolk’in a 260-day calendar also known as the sacred calendar, is the oldest calendar cycle known in Mesoamerica and dates back to at least 600 B.C. It is believed that the nine-month cycle is based on the human gestation period. The Tzolk’in is central to Maya culture and is still observed among traditional Maya people.
The Haab calendar, or “vague year,” is most similar to our calendar today because it consists of 365 days and is based on solar observations. Unlike our calendar it does not include a leap year and is therefore reffered to as the “vague year.” It has been in use since 100 B.C. and was used in conjunction with the Tzolk’in calendar.
The Long Count Calendar was in use from approximately 200 B.C. to 1300 A.D. With this calendar, the Maya recorded a cycle of over 5,000 years consisting of 13 Baktuns, with the current cycle beginning around 3000 B.C. Using larger cycles of time (Piktuns) they were able to note mythological events prior to 3000 B.C. and events far into the future.
The current cycle of the Long Count calendar reaches completion on December 21, 2013, which has led to modern-day questions about events on that day. Scholars say the Maya believed the end of one cycle would simply signal the beginning of another. According to this logical, a new Naktun Cycle will start on December 22, 2012.
Also visible on this display are several other symbols that feature descriptions as well. This includes a breakdown of the calendar that features the sun god at the center. They are as follows:
The fearsome sun god Tonatulh is depicted in the center of the stone. Each of his hands holds a human heart and his tongue represents a ritual blade for sacrifice. According to the Aztecs’ religious beliefs the sun required blood to remain strong, so they offered human sacrifices to the sun god.
The four squares around the sun god’s face represent previous ages of the world: Jaguar, Wind, Rain and Water. Each of these four great ages was destroyed by a natural catastrophe such as a great flood and a torrential windstorm. The fifth and present world came into being with the self-sacrifice of a hero who became the sun god, Tonatuih
Next are 20 symbols representing 20 days in a cycle that begins with the day Crocodile, which can be seen just over the sun god’s head.
On the outer ring two enormous snakes encircle the stone and face each other. A square carved at the top of the calendar between the snake tails contains the date 13 Acatl, which corresponds to 1479, the year the calendar was completed. The two fire serpents may symbolize the year cycle. They bear a cluster of stars that probably represents a constellation observed to track the year cycle, which consisted of 18 “months” of 20 days each, along with an extra 5-day period that was considered “unlucky.”
The preceding displays are along the left side of the pavilion entrance, and an additional large display is visible in the center. This includes one display that features artifacts and another display that focuses on the dress code and features an Aztec man modeling the typical wardrobe. The artifacts highlighted include:
- Incense Burner – The censer would have been used to burn copal, a tree resin, as an offering to the goggled eyed Maya rain god, Tlaloc
- Male Figure – This seated male holds a club and a bowl, a combination that suggests he is a shaman who played the role of doctor diagnosing and curing illness in the cultures of West Mexico
- Two Seated Figures – The seated couple, wearing similar headbands, ear bangles and nose rings, are working together, possibly preparing food.
- Female Figurine – The geometric designs on this figurine are typical of the types of body painting with vegetable dyes that were practiced by the people of ancient Mexico.
- Female Figurine – The kneeling pose is typical for female figurines from this region and time period as is the pattern of scars on her shoulders. She wears a skirt highlighted with white pigment.
- Conch Shell, Trumpet – This clay conch trumpet may actually have been played during a funerary ceremonies and then buried in a tomb in Colima
- Bird Whistle – Birds are natural music-makers, and their calls may have inspired the ancient artist to create a whistle in the form of a long-necked bird, perhaps a heron.
- Small Metate with Grinding Stone – Small four-legged metates were ideal for preparing foods such as nuts. The smaller grinding stone was used with one hand, much like a mortar and pestle.
- Conch Shell, Effigy – Conch shell replicas like this one are often found in underground tombs where the dead would be surrounded by valuables and everyday objects.
- Spindle Whorl – A large spindle whorl like this one would have been used to spin coarse fibers from the maguey plant to make cloth for peasants’ clothing.
- Duck Effigies – Ducks were important as a source of food and as a symbol of fresh water sources. The Aztecs may have built artificial ponds to attract ducks like these.
Continuing the displays of artifacts, these displays are on the right side of the pavilion entrance.
- Ball Player Figurine – A padded ball covering this ball players right hip indicates he used this hip to hit the ball. Players could not use their hands or feet to push the ball through a courtside ring.
- Jar with Fish – Seafood would have been a favorite food of the Colima people of West Mexico who lived near the Pacific coast, indicated by the circling school of fish on this vessel.
- Warrior Figure – The elaborate headdress this warrior wears is most likely for ceremony and not actual combat. The weapons he holds are designed for close hand-to-hand combat.
- Vase – This figure of a Maya ruler sits on his throne and looks into a mirror while a scribe works on a codex or book of sacred writings.
- Tripod Vessel – This vessel is decorated with the chocolate bean or cacao. Cacao beans were so valuable that they were often used as a form of money.
- Hacha – Ballplayers wore wooden hachos to deflect the hard rubber ball during play. Stone ones like this were worn for ceremonial purposes and often represented animals such as this fish.
- Maize God – The maize (corn) that makes up the headdress identifies this figure as the maize god. Among the many deities worshiped by the people of Oaxaca, the maize god was one of the most important.
- Bowl with Tripod Supports – The shape of this container suggests it was used to hold pulque, a foamy alcoholic beverage made from that maguery cactus which is still served today.
- Vase with Teotihuacan Year Sign – The “trapeze and ray” year sign depicted on this vase refers to the solar year and the Maya 52-year cycle. It was first seen in Central Mexico during the Classic period of Teotihuacan.
- Warrior Head with Coyote Headdress – Coyote, or cayoti as the Aztec called them, were considered powerful and brave predators. Only a high ranking warrior could wear a headdress like this one.
- Vessel with Tripod Supports – Drinking vessels such as this one would have been used to serve a chocolate drink made from cacoa beans, popular through Mesoamerica.
It is also in this exhibit that components of the Agent P’s World Showcase Adventure can be unlocked. The text in the display reads:
A Very Strict Dress Code
Sumptuary laws set down by Aztec rulers were designed to prevent extravagance in the private lives of citizens. The laws prescribed a very strict dress code for both nobles and commoners, making it possible to easily recognize one’s status in the community. It was not possible to dress above one’s station as these laws were strictly enforced. Clothing for the upper classes, pipilitin, was made of cotton, while the clothing of commoners, macehualtin, was woven from coarse fibers of maguey, yucca and palm.
All Aztec men wore loincloths (maxtlatl), hip-cloths and a cape (timalti). Aztec garments were simply constructed but could be decorated with dyes, furs and intricate woven designs. The more elaborate the decoration on the clothing, the higher the status of the individual. The cape was made of a rectangular piece of fabric and considered the most important piece of clothing for an Aztec male to indicate his status. The type, fabric, decoration and even the length of the cape were all dictated by law. A common was not allowed to wear his cape below the knee. Even the way the cape was tied was significant. Only priests and selective noblemen were allowed to tie their capes in front: all other men had to tie them over the right shoulder. Noble men also wore feathered hair ornaments and jewelry made of gold, silver and precious stones.
After the right side entrance, a display features a demonstration of the ball game. The text next to this display reads:
Playing For Your Life: The Ball Game
The Mesoamerican ball game was developed over 3,500 years ago and is the first known team sport in history. The ball game was present in most pre-Columbian cultures and the ball court was a central feature of most cities. To the Mesoamericans, the ball game was much more than just entertainment. In fact, the lives of the players and spectators could depend on the outcome of the game. Although the ball game was played only on special occasions, it had very important religious and symbolic functions that affected the daily life of all citizens.
The ritual attire of this ballplayer was inspired by classic Maya representations of players in elaborate regalia such as those depicted on the carved stelae from Chinkultic, a Mayan archaeological site in Chiapas, Mexico. The ballplayers entered the ball court dressed in their finest headdresses, jewelry and animal skins. To actually play the ball game, however, they wore functional gear designed to protect them from the heavy ball made from the rubber tree.
The next display features a model of a Mayan civilization, and the two text boxes next to it read:
Cortes’ 1524 Map of Tenochtitlan
In his letters to the King of Spain, Spanish conquistador Hernan Cortes boasted of his exploits in the New World. He also described the indigenous peoples and wonders of the land he had conquered. This map along with Cortes’ letters provided Europeans with their first impressions of the Aztece capital city, Tenochtitlan
Ancient Masters of City Planning
The Mexican flag features an eagle standing atop a cactus and catching a serpent. This image symbolizes the founding of Tenochtitlan, ancient capital of the Aztec Empire, known today as Mexico City. According to legend, the nomadic ancestors of the Mexica settled in this marshy area after seeing the prophetic vision of an eagle devouring a snake while perched on a cactus, which they interpreted as a sign to settle and build a city. In fact, Mexico is named after the Mexica, an Aztec tribe that built an immense empire and dominated much of what is now Central and Southern Mexico from 1325-1521 A.D.
Tenochtitlan was a massive city of 200,000 inhabitants and symbolized the considerable power of the Aztecs. In fact, in its time Tenochtitlan was the third largest city in the world after Paris and Constantinople. The Aztecs were extremely well organized with a strong infrastructure that mobilized people and natural resourced to build vast cities and ornate temples without the use of modern machinery.
Both Aztec architecture and cities possessed an innate sense of order and symmetry. Much like other Mesoamerican cultures, their architecture and social hierarchy was well organized and their cities were clean and orderly. This urban structure both physically and spiritually represented balance and safety. The surrounding jungles and undeveloped lands, on the other hand, were considered dangerous and unbalanced. The inhabitants of Tenochtitlan considered their city to be the center of the universe. The city’s imposing architecture and elaborate monuments only reinforced this belief and helped enhance the act of worshipping their gods.
The final display features a map of Mexico and is titled the Mesoamerican Timeline. It reads:
Mesoamerica, or “middle America, is one of earth’s cradles of early civilization. It is a geographical area in Central America including Mexico, which was home to a variety of ancient cultures including the Olmec, Mixtec, Zapotec, Toltec, Maya and Aztecs. These cultures flourished at different times and developed highly advanced civilizations without the benefit of contact with other ancient world cultures.
In the tropical rainforest of Mexico’s Gulf Coast, the Olmecs developed the first major Mesoamerican civilization dating from 1400-500 B.C. They invented a calendar and writing system and constructed large sites with pyramids and plazas. Like all Mesoamerican cultures, the people worshipped deities representing the earth and sky and their priests were highly respected members of the community.
From 300-900 A.D., the Maya civilization flourished in the Yucatan peninsula and Chiapas in Mexico and to the south in Belize and Guatemala. The Maya had a complex agricultural society with many large city-states such as Palenque and Colokmul in Mexico and Tikal in Guatemala. They excelled at agriculture, crafts, hieroglyphic writing, astronomy and mathematics. They also developed a highly accurate calendar system and created a magnificent architecture with carved reliefs and painted murals.
Centered in the capital city of Tula, Toltec civilization thrived in central Mexico between the years 900 and 1200 A.D. They had connections to the Maya and Mixtec peoples as well as the Zapotecs, who had a long history dating back to the earlier Olmec culture. Although the Toltec civilization did not last for more than a few centuries, they had a widespread influence on Mesoamerica.
The Aztecs were fierce warriors who used military conquets and alliances to build a huge empire, and acquired great wealth collecting taxes from the conquered peoples. Religion played an important role in their society and their chief gods were the son god, Tonatuih, the Venus god Quetzalcoatl and the god of socery, Tezcatlipaco (“smoking mirror”). The Aztecs developed an accurate calendar, established schools and built grand architecture that included pyramids and palaces.
This attraction appeals to adults and fans of history.
TIMES GUIDE - OPENING/CLOSING
This location typically opens at 11 AM with the rest of World Showcase.