The pre-Columbian era incorporates all period subdivisions in the history and prehistory of the Americas before the appearance of significant European influences on the American continents, spanning the time of the original settlement in the Upper Paleolithic period to European colonization during the Early Modern period.
While the phrase "pre-Columbian era" literally refers only to the time preceding Christopher Columbus's voyages of 1492, in practice the phrase usually is used to denote the entire history of American indigenous cultures until those cultures were conquered or significantly influenced by Europeans, even if this happened decades or centuries after Columbus's first landing. For this reason the alternative terms of Precontact Americas, Pre-Colonial Americas or Prehistoric Americas are also in use. In areas of Hispanic America the term usually used is Pre-Hispanic.
Many pre-Columbian civilizations established hallmarks which included permanent settlements, cities, agriculture, civic and monumental architecture, major earthworks, and complex societal hierarchies. Some of these civilizations had long faded by the time of the first permanent European and African arrivals (c. late 15th–early 16th centuries), and are known only through archaeological investigations. Others were contemporary with the colonial period, and were described in historical accounts of the time. A few, such as the Maya, had their own written records. Because many Christian Europeans of the time viewed such texts as heretical, men like Diego de Landa destroyed many texts in pyres, even while seeking to preserve native histories. Only a few hidden documents have survived in their original languages, while others were transcribed or dictated into Spanish, giving modern historians glimpses of ancient culture and knowledge.
Housed in a building constructed in 1979 by the architects Teodoro González de León and Abraham Zabludovsky, the museum contains collections of pre-Columbian art once owned by artist Rufino Tamayo. One of the chief purposes of the museum was to collect the pieces and to preserve them from falling into the hands of illegal artifact traders. Tamayo left the museum to his native state of Oaxaca to make his fellow Mexicans aware of their rich heritage. The attractive displays are arranged according to aesthetic theme.
Tamayo also has another museum in Mexico City, the Tamayo Contemporary Art Museum.