Museo de Antropología de Xalapa

When I registered for my first year of university I intended to take a sociology course, but it was already full. I had to find something else that would fit into my timetable, so I registered for introductory anthropology. The study of human societies and cultures sounded interesting enough, but I didn’t anticipate it capturing my attention to such an extent that I would take as many anthropology courses as I could over the next four years and if money had been no object, I would have gone back to school after earning my education degree to get a second one in anthropology!

When I learned, after our first visit to this part of Mexico, that nearby Xalapa is home to the second largest museum of anthropology in the country, seeing it immediately took first place on my list of things to do on a return visit. With more than 25 000 pieces, the Museo de Antropología de Xalapa, also known as MAX, houses the world’s largest collection of artifacts from the ancient cultures of the Mexican Gulf Coast including the Olmec, the Huastec, and the Totonac.

The most notable amongst these pieces are the colossal Olmec heads that date back to at least 900 BC. That’s hundreds of years before Alexander the Great! Sculpted from huge basalt boulders, 17 of these heads have been discovered to date and 7 of them are housed in the MAX. The heads vary in height from 1.47 to 3.4 metres and weigh between 6 and 50 tons. All of them depict mature men with flat noses and fleshy cheeks.


There are also tiny heads like this one depicting a newborn baby.


Also Olmec in origin, this 55 cm tall sculpture is thought to depict a priest holding a limp child, either sleeping or dead.

I won’t bore you with all of the 80+ photos that I took today or too many details about ancient culture, but as a lover of anthropology, I was absolutely amazed by the collection.

A few pieces even reminded me of the masks carved by the natives of the Pacific Northwest.

MAX is also noted for a series of small Totonic faces, called “caritas sonrientes” (little smiling faces) in Spanish. The first one shown here makes me laugh!


In contrast to the little smiling faces, this poor fellow looks terribly sad.


For Mesoamerican people childbirth was considered a form of battle, therefore, women who gave birth were revered as heroes and great warriors. Losses on any battlefield are inevitable, so women who died as a result of childbirth were given the same honour as men who fought and died in conflict. I was very impressed with the sculptures, like this one, representing these women.


Here’s one of a series of tiny sculptures showing an ancient culture’s concept of the ideal female form; tiny waist, abundant hips, and voluptuous breasts. Clearly, with my boyish figure, I’d have been one of the ugly ones!


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