During Aztec naming ceremonies, newborn girls were presented with unspun fiber, spindle whorls, and spinning bowls—part of the material assemblage that defined women’s labor across Mesoamerica. Throughout their lives, women used spindle whorls to spin fibers from cotton and maguey plants into thread that they then wove into cloth. A UMMA expedition collected these whorls as part of the Valley of Mexico Survey Project in the region around Chalco, Mexico. In 1972, Mary Hrones Parsons, a research associate of the Museum, used the Museum’s collection to conduct a rigorous analysis of Mesoamerican spindle whorls. She was the first scholar to do so. Parsons recognized that the different sizes and weights of the whorls were likely related to different fibers: spinners used smaller whorls for cotton and larger whorls for maguey fiber. Since Parsons’ pioneering work, many other scholars have studied spindle whorls to ask a variety of questions about gender, labor, and textile production in ancient Mesoamerica.
In honor of the University of Michigan’s 2017 bicentennial, we are celebrating the remarkable archaeological and ethnographic collections and rich legacy of research and teaching at the Museum of Anthropological Archaeology by posting one entry a day for 200 days. The entries will highlight objects from the collections, museum personalities, and UMMAA expeditions. The Kelsey Museum of Archaeology is also posting each day for 200 days on Twitter and Facebook (follow along at #KMA200). After the last post, an exhibition on two centuries of archaeology at U-M opens at the Kelsey. Visit the exhibit—a joint project of the UMMAA and the Kelsey—from October 18, 2017 to May 27, 2018.