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The Aztec World
The Field Museum's exhibit of artifacts from the Aztecs, many on loan from Mexico for the first time, illustrates the splendor of one of history's greatest empires.
T

he Aztec World
The Field Museum, Chicago
Through April 19

One of history’s greatest empires was “shattered forever on Aug. 31, 1521,” said F.N. D’Alessio in the Associated Press. “That was when the small Spanish army of conquistador Hernán Cortés and thousands of indigenous allies finally captured the Aztec capital of Tenochtitlan.” The splendor of the culture destroyed that day has been temporarily resurrected in an “ambitious new exhibition” at Chicago’s Field Museum. Among the 300 artifacts, “many never seen before outside Mexico,” are sculptures from a site known as the House of Eagles. One depicts a mighty winged warrior, the other a “ghastly image” of the god of death. “In Aztec times, his statue would have been bathed from time to time in human blood.” Aztec leaders not only practiced human sacrifice but were brutally exploitative of the people they conquered.

The Spanish conquistadors weren’t exactly Boy Scouts, either, said Mark Yost in The Wall Street Journal. But to concentrate on the clash of these two rapacious empires misses the real story of The Aztec World. Exhibits illuminating the Aztecs’ everyday life prove that “the 200-year reign of the Aztecs encompassed much more than sacrificing virgins” and captured warriors. Enormous outdoor markets brought professional merchants and artisans from all over the empire to trade precious goods. A greenstone sculpture of Quetzalcoatl, a sky god, is rendered with a “ribbed pattern” that resembles snakeskin. “A large carved stone box with maize images on all sides” was once used by farmers to store sacred objects. You’ll leave the Field Museum with a new view of a vanished world. Their “deeply rich if imperfect culture” wasn’t just the forerunner of today’s vibrant Mexico but “one of the jewels of pre-Colonial North America.”

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