Revealing Ancestral Central America, a symposium at the museum in Washington, Sunday, September 8, 2013
Ulúa River female figure, 900–200 BC. Campo Dos (United Fruit Company Farm 2), Cortés Department, Honduras. Pottery. Collected or excavated by Gregory Mason, acquired by MAI, 1932. 7.2 × 5.5 × 11.25 cm (18/3091). Photo by Ernest Amoroso, NMAI
This Sunday, September 8, from 10:30 AM to 3:45 PM EDT, the Smithsonian Latino Center and the National Museum of the American Indian in Washington, D.C., will host Revealing Ancestral Central America, a symposium presenting current scholarship into the interpretation and recovery of Central America’s rich indigenous heritage. For those unable to attend the symposium in person, the program will be webcast live. (A link to the archived broadcast will also be posted on the NMAI YouTube Channel later in the week.)
Revealing Ancestral Central America and the related exhibition, Cerámica de los Ancestros: Central America’s Past Revealed, on view at the museum in Washington through February 1, 2015, are products of the happy discovery by researchers from the Latino Center that the museum’s holdings include one of the largest and most significant collections of Central American archaeological objects in the world—some 17,000 pieces, including more than 10,000 intact vessels, few of which had been studied or exhibited.
In her essay for the companion book to the exhibition and symposium, Rosemary A. Joyce, professor of archaeology at the University of California, Berkeley, offers a glimpse of the kinds of knowledge to be gained from such a collection:
Take as an example an assemblage [of some 400 objects] recovered from a site in the Ulúa river valley in Honduras, called Farm Two by Gregory Mason, who collected the materials for the Heye Foundation [the New York institution that became Museum of the American Indian (MAI) and, in 1989, the National Museum of the American Indian]. . . .
Obsidian, jade, and marine shell were imported from distances ranging from thirty to more than 250 kilometers. While most of the painted and mold-made pottery was locally crafted, some dishes came from Belize or Guatemala, some jars from the Sulaco valley to the east. And all this from a rural village whose modest houses were made of poles, covered with clay, topped with straw roofs. . . .
At scales ranging from larger-than-life stone sculptures depicting humans and supernatural beings to the intimacy of jewelry . . . , it is evident that the people of pre-16th-century Central American societies lived in a visually rich, materially luxurious world. Nor was this visual and material richness limited to a small, privileged group. Even in the most stratified and unequal societies in the region, such as those of the Classic Maya (ca. AD 250–850), research in rural locations like the well-preserved village of Joya del Cerén, El Salvador, shows that farmers owned dozens of pottery vessels, many of them brightly painted or modeled into the shapes of fantastic animals. . . .
In contrast to earlier generations of scholars, who focused on economic and political stratification to describe pre-Hispanic Central America, Dr. Joyce and her colleagues are re-creating a more complex, detailed picture:
. . . [A] chain of societies connected through intentional human action leading to travel, exchange, and participation by visitors in social events. . . .
The dazzling objects in collections established by archaeologists and museums are making visible what we should have known all along: between the apparently small, isolated villages of Central American there existed enduring ties composed of social relations, respect for beliefs about the place of humans in the cosmos, and shared appreciation for items of beauty and the materials from which they could be made.
Prof. Joyce's symposium presentation, "What Archaeology Reveals about Central America's Past," will be followed by "Interethnic Relations and Multicultural Landscapes in Ancestral Central America," by John Hoopes (Kansas State); "Indigenous Heritage in Central America Today," by Victor Monteyo (Jakaltek Maya; University of California, Davis) and Georgina Hernández (Museo de la Palabra y Memoria, El Salvador); and "Perserving Central America's Patrimony," by the Hon. Muni Figueres (Ambassador of Costa Rica), Fabio Amador (National Geographic), Francisco Ulloa–Corrales (National Museum of Costa Rica), and Prof. Joyce.
We hope you can attend the symposium and see the exhibition in person. But if not, a wealth of materials are available on line—not simply the live webcast (and eventually the archived video on the NMAI YouTube Channel), but the exhibition website in Spanish and English, and the complete catalog, edited by Dr. Joyce, as a downloadable pdf.
Revealing Ancestral Central America
Sunday, September 8, 2013
10:30 AM to 3:45 PM EDT
Rasmuson Theater, National Museum of the American Indian
4th & Independence SW, Washington, DC
This program received federal support from the Latino Initiatives Pool, administered by the Smithsonian Latino Center.
Excerpt from: Joyce, Rosemary A., “Surrounded by Beauty: Central America before 1500,” in Revealing Ancestral Central America, ed. Rosemary A. Joyce, 13–21 (Washington, DC: The Smithsonian Latino Center and the National Museum of the American Indian, 2013).