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Latin American Archaeology

UMMA 30861: Pottery sherds, Culhuacan, Mexico, Griffiin Collection

The Latin America Collection is primarily pre-Columbian ceramics, mostly from Mexico and Peru, with some Central American and Amazonian material. There is also a substantial quantity of lithic materials, mostly obsidian from Mexico (both artifact and quarry source material). Our greatest single strength is from the Valley of Mexico. During the 1940s, 1950s, and 1960s, Professors James B. Griffin and Jeffrey R. Parsons and archaeologist Richard E. Blanton assembled type collections of potsherds, figurines, spindle whorls, and miscellaneous lithics obtained from site surfaces and from ditches and road-cuts produced by modern construction activities in and around Mexico City. These collections are supported by relevant field notes, site reports, drawings, maps, and photographs (including air-photographs). The Museum is happy to supply data collected by Drs. Parsons and Blanton in the Valley of Mexico.

There is also a large collection of ceramics and lithics, together with supporting field notes, from stratigraphic excavations undertaken in the late 1950s by William T. Mayer-Oakes at several sites in the western Valley of Mexico. Another substantial body of material consists of ceramic type collections from the Valley of Oaxaca in southern Mexico assembled by Professors Kent V. Flannery and Joyce Marcus during the 1960s. Our most important single collection from South America is a type collection of Viru Valley pottery assembled by James A. Ford in the late 1940s.

Museum curators have worked with other professional colleagues in an effort to assure that the Museum has representative collections of ceramics from several parts of Latin America that can be used by curators, students, and visitors to prepare for archaeological fieldwork and to carry out laboratory analysis. One of the largest of such acquisitions has been a collection of figurines and pottery vessels from different parts of Mexico acquired from Jackson Community College, which had originally received them as donations from alumni and friends.

The division also has a Latin America Ethnohistory Library, developed by Professor Joyce Marcus, that includes photocopies of sixteenth-century documents, written in Spanish and native languages, by both Spaniards and Indians. Indigenous nobles and royalty prepared these sixteenth-century documents for the express purpose of holding on to their privileges and lands. The Indians sought to retain their economic and political rights, and they knew that in a Spanish court of law they would need to present maps, genealogies, and written evidence showing the extent of their land, the kinds and amounts of tribute they had received, and that they were in direct line to rule. This resource is particularly useful to students who are researching complex societies of Latin America before European contact and who need models of how these systems functioned before they were totally disrupted.