The Ancient Americas Main Press Release
For Immediate Release
Contact: Field Museum PR Department
(312) 665-7100 (For Media Use Only)
The Ancient Americas
A New Permanent Exhibition at The Field Museum
Opens Friday, March 9, 2007 It’s the end of the last Ice Age, more than 13,000 years ago. Your small band of nomads has walked for many weeks, and you’re 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 Museum’s 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 they’ll 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 it’s only recently that we’ve 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. They’ll 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.
Experience Life as Real People Lived It – “Back in the Day”
We’re used to viewing ancient cultures as fascinating and exotic – fascinating because they’re exotic. The Ancient Americas takes a different approach. It invites visitors to enter these dramatically different, ever-changing societies, to experience life as it was lived by adults and children hundreds and even thousands of years ago, and to see the earlier inhabitants of the Americas as individuals as well as members of social groups.
“I think visitors will be surprised to discover just how much we have in common with the ancient Americans,” says David Foster, the Field’s Project Management Director. Even the Stone Age inhabitants, he points out, were creative, biologically modern humans, who in some ways lived richer and less stressful lives than we do. In the societies that followed, visitors will see many familiar themes expressed in community life, trade networks, the design of cities and governments, and the motivations for expansion and warfare.
“When visitors leave the exhibition,” says Foster, “they’ll have a new perspective on what it means to be human and to live with other people. They’ll look at their own society with different eyes.”
These stories of The Ancient Americas are told through captivating displays and activities, with something for visitors of all ages and all levels of interest. Visitors will step into the world of Ice-Age mammoth hunters – Chicago circa 11,000 B.C. They’ll walk through a recreation of an 800-year-old pueblo dwelling, survey the monumental earthworks of mound-building peoples, and explore the great cities of Tenochtitlan and Cuzco, capitals of the Aztec and Inca empires. They’ll make new discoveries at interactive maps, dioramas, and computer activities, and watch animated videos created specially for this exhibition. They’ll follow the Museum’s own archaeologists at work in the field, and have opportunities to begin more intensive investigations of their own.
And the Artifacts!
The Ancient Americas is built on the Field Museum’s unsurpassed archaeological collections. Thousands of objects from these collections bring depth and beauty to the stories of the people who made them, and allow visitors to see for themselves the evidence on which our knowledge of the ancient Americans is based. On display are more than 200 ceramic vessels from the Museum’s world-famous Peruvian collections; hundreds of luxury and spiritual items from our comprehensive Hopewell collection; 200 of the scarce gold objects left after conquistadors raided Colombia of its treasures, and much more.
Programs and activities include lectures, family workshops, daily gallery programs, student classes, and teacher workshops. Among the highlights: Dr. Jonathan Haas, lead curator of The Ancient Americas, offers a compelling, first-hand look at the process of bringing the exhibition to life; and Dr. Sue-Ellen Jacobs and Tessie Naranjo present a keynote lecture, Pueblo Memories, Oral Traditions. For updates on public programs and special events, please call (312) 665-7400.
The Ancient Americas on the Web
Beginning March 6, 2007, an interactive Ancient Americas Web site will offer in-depth information on indigenous societies, a detailed teachers’ guide, and links to related sites
Admission to The Ancient Americas is free with general admission to The Field Museum ($15 for adults, $10 for children 3-11, and $12 for seniors and students with ID). Discounts are available for Chicago residents. Visit www.fieldmuseum.org or call (312) 922-9410 for details.
To purchase tickets visit fieldmuseum.org. Special rates are available for tour operators and groups of 15 or more. Call our Group Sales office toll-free at 888-FIELD-85 (888-343-5385).
Hours and General Information
The Field Museum is open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily except Christmas Day. Last tickets are sold at 4 p.m. For general Museum information call (312) 922-9410 or visit our interactive web site at www.fieldmuseum.org.
Location and Travel Information
The Field Museum is located at 1400 S. Lake Shore Drive, on CTA bus lines #6, #12, and #146, and close to other routes and the Metra electric and South Shore lines. An indoor parking garage is located just steps from the main entrance. For more travel information, call the Illinois Department of Transportation, (312) 368-4636, or the RTA Travel Center Hotline, (312) 836-7000.