The Pre-Columbian Art Collection was donated by Georgios Gontikas and consists of objects belonging to the "Andean Civilisations" of South America. The general term "Andean Civilisations" encompasses the many cultural groups that inhabited the Andean mountain range, and had a common worship and technology. In this extensive territory three zones can be discerned: the North Andes (Colombia, Ecuador and a small part of Peru), the Central Andes (the high plateaux of Peru and Bolivia) and, in the south, the Chilean desert.
Because there are very few surviving written sources, the conclusions of archaeological research provide valuable data for forming a picture of life in Pre-Columbian societies and of their exceptional, but still unknown, civilisation. The Pre-Columbian Art Collection illuminates many facets of peoples’ lives in Pre-Columbian America: technology, ceremonies, materials, clothing, rituals, and ideology. This is the only known Greek collection of objects from Central and South America, originating specifically from the civilisations of Ecuador, Peru, Costa Rica and Mexico. It includes more than 200 artefacts and an impressive group of 2,355 spindle whorls.
Religion was a major factor of Pre-Columbian life; it was animistic, deifying natural forces, sacred sites and objects. Many of these forces were antithetical, although supplementary, since the religion was governed by the concept of dualism. Despite their individual differences, the devotional practices of Central and South America present common features, and demonstrate the reciprocal influence of symbols and religion between these two regions.
Certain ceremonies included offerings to supernatural forces, whether "blowing" the spirit by smoking coca leaves on mountain peaks, or offering corn beer libations to the "Earth-Mother", known as "Pachamana" in the "Quechua" dialect, or making burnt offerings. Shamans and priests constituted a special social group associated with the aristocracy. As intermediaries between the real and the spirit world, shamans play a significant role in native societies to this very day.
The principal source for identifying characteristic features of Pre-Columbian life, as vividly depicted by the objects in the Gontikas Collection, constitutes the recurring iconographic motifs. One observes that trophy-heads and priests (and/or shamans) dominate Nasca vessels, while elements of local flora and fauna adorn Ecuadorian spindle whorls. The cultural values of daily and ceremonial life were likewise reflected in art. Moche vessels demonstrate a preference for depicting battle scenes, prisoners, animals and plant themes, to which potters would lend human and divine features. Many animals, including the jaguar, puma, eagle and owl, were dominated by human spirits and forces. Deities were portrayed superbly, such as "Lord Sicán" and the "Anthropomorphic Mythical Being" of Nasca art. The collection is supplemented by works of the Colonial Period, such as the double pitcher, on which we recognise a combination of Pre-Columbian techniques with others that were introduced by the colonialists (glazing).