The American continent had evolved its own cultures and powerful empires prior to the arrival of the Spaniards in 1492. Europeans, represented by the wealthy, dominant monarchies as well as the humble colonists, destroyed, destabilized, and transformed the peoples of the Americas and their cultures. The nomadic tribal cultures of the great plains are not as well documented because of the perishable nature of their goods.
However, many of the material cultures of Mexico, Guatemala, and the Central Andes have survived, leaving spectacular ruins and artifacts.
The Art of Mesoamerica
Mesoamerica, or Middle America, is the term recognized by geographers and archaeologists to describe the vast territory' extending from central Mexico to the western regions of Honduras and El Salvador. The highly developed civilizations of these areas share a common heritage, evolved from what is regarded as the "mother culture" of the Americas, the Olmec civilization, which existed between 1700 and 400bc. The development of agriculture in Mesoamerica led to the formation of simple village communities, which, in the course of time, became increasingly complex. Their development culminated in the appearance of the so-called "high culture" of the Olmecs, who occupied a territory along the coastline of the Gulf of Mexico. Artists and craftsmen found aesthetic expression in the creation of works that often served as offerings to their deities, providing a means of placating the gods and exorcizing the difficulties of everyday life through worship.