Oaxaca has a museum with a stunning collection of pre-hispanic art, mostly ceramics. It's the Rufino Tamayo museum, named for a famous Oaxacan artist who amassed a truly impressive collection. There is also a Rufino Tamayo museum of pre-hispanic art in Mexico city, and although I have never visited it, I can only assume it is even more impressive.
The Oaxacan museum is housed in Tamayo's former home, a beautiful colonial house which was once the headquarters of the Spanish inquisition in Oaxaca. I didn't realize the inquisition had branch colleges, so to speak, but apparently so. Of course it makes sense - why abandon a fully developed infrastructure and thousands of trained personnel with exactly the requisite skills to keep a large, untrustworthy subordinate population in hand?
The museum represents a large swath of regions and time periods, and so few generalizations can be made. However, I will say that one of the characteristics I noticed that seemed to be present in almost every epoch and region was a marvelous, playful sense of humor. Humor is perhaps the most subjective of characteristics, and it is possible, of course, that the ancients who created this art found it to be of the utmost gravity. But seriously. I dare you not to find the following pieces even a little bit funny.
The first photo ought to adequately explain the title of this post: it is not the only little fat doggie in the place. In fact there is an entire room dedicated to little fat doggies, which Mexicans call "esquincles." The dog, along with the turkey, the duck, and the bee, was one of the very few domesticated animals the ancient Mexicans possessed. In pre-hispanic Mexico there were no beasts of burden, no milk animals, and precious few reliable sources of protein. The main one was the esquincle. These small dogs, of whom the Chihuahua is the modern descendent, were raised and fattened for meat. If the artistic evidence is to be taken as historical fact, they were fed corn and even breast-fed by women. My children named the museum the "little fat doggie museum" after those statues which most held their interest.
This goggly-eyed character above reminds me forcefully of a certain cartoon character, but I can't come up with it. Anybody?