Elizabeth P. Benson provides an engaging overview of the depiction of animals in the pre-Columbian art of Latin America. Drawing on an extensive set of images (many of them previously unpublished) from the collections of the Carnegie Museum of Natural History, the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, and the Florida Museum of Natural History, she examines the practical, ritualistic, and mythic importance of animals in pre-Columbian life as well as the meanings that animals still have for the modern descendants of those indigenous peoples. Conveniently arranged by animal groups and beautifully illustrated, Benson's survey encompasses all artistic media and spans the pre-Columbian cultures of Mexico, Belize, Guatemala, Costa Rica, Panama, Colombia, Ecuador, and Peru. Providing information on animals and the beliefs surrounding them, the cultural contexts of their depiction, and the cultures to which they were important, Birds and Beasts of Ancient Latin America will appeal to archaeologists, cultural hisorians, and anthropologists; to anyone interested in pre-Columbian art and mythology; and to modern-day bird and animal lovers.
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A research associate at the Institute of Andean Studies, Bethesda, Maryland, Benson addresses the rich heritage of faunal lore and animal representation produced by the great pre-Columbian cultures of the Middle Andean region, Mesoamerica, and the less-well-known Intermediate Area in this introductory handbook. She succinctly describes aspects of the religious, social, and even political meanings evoked by a wide range of domesticated, hunted, and anomalous creatures. Because her volume is intended to accompany but not catalog pre-Columbian animal representations in several American institutions, the reproductions are sometimes less than stellar. Many of the ill-reproduced works are neither well integrated nor explicated in the text; even worse, many important themes evoked in the too diffuse text are not visually represented. Although the book is crammed with all sorts of interesting natural-historical and archaeological apercus, the terse and ever-shifting geographic, historical, and cultural references are likely to bewilder the intended reader?the uninformed lay person. This work may nevertheless be of some service to academic and museum reference collections.?Robert Cahn, Fashion Inst. of Technology, New York
Copyright 1997 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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