Mesoamerica included many peoples with different languages and ethnic traditions: the Olmecs, the Mayas, the Aztecs, the Nahuas, the Zapotecs, the Mixtecs, and others. Despite their many differences, they shared an agricultural way of life based on the cultivation of seeds and vegetables such as chia, maguey, cocoa, beans, squash, chili, and--most importantly--corn. They also shared in the cultural development of calendars, pictographic writing systems, arts such as pottery, distinctive architecture, and some common religious beliefs.
The National Museum of Anthropology was opened in 1964 with the support of the Mexican government to present the cultural history of Mesoamerica as part of the national identity of Mexico. The success of this enterprise is clear as one moves through the museum and sees the many groups of Mexican school children and adults as well as foreign tourists studying the exhibits and listening to lecturers.
What caught my attention was how the museum tells the story of Mesoamerica within the narrative framework of Darwinian liberalism. It's Darwinian in the sense that everything is explained through the Darwinian science of the biological and cultural evolution of humanity. It's liberal in the sense that it teaches a liberal morality of equal liberty and tolerance that respects the diversity and unity of the human species. I have seen the same theme in other museums around the world--in Scotland, the island of Guernsey, and Ecuador. I have written about this here, here, and here.
In these museums, one can see how the "Evolutionary Epic" or "Big History" has become the scientific replacement for religious origin stories in shaping the popular understanding of the place of human beings in the universe. I have written about this here and here. In the National Museum of Anthropology, one can see some of the religious stories of divine creation told by the Mesoamerican people. For example, the Mayan text Popol Vuh described how the gods created human beings from a mixture of white and yellow corn. Later, the Spanish conquerors brought with them Christian priests who taught the biblical creation story of how God formed Adam from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life (Genesis 2:7). But when one enters the first hall of the museum--"Introduction to Anthropology"--the first displays are about the natural evolution of the human species from primate ancestors, which includes this recreation of the fossil hominid named "Lucy"--Australopithecus afarensis:
The Darwinian story of human evolution starts in Africa with the first human ancestors such as Lucy, it then traces the migration of human beings around the world. The museum tells that story of global migration, including the crossing from Asia to North America, as depicted in this mural: