Showing blog posts tagged with "Anthropology"
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For the first expedition organized by the Museum’s Division of Anthropology, to the Sierra Madre range in Mexico in 1890, the Museum recruited a researcher with a truly global resume.
Born near Lillehammer, Norway, Carl Sophus Lumholtz was an ethnologist and naturalist with an intense interest in people and their environments. A pioneer of the participant-observation technique, he had come to the Museum’s attention for his work in Australia, where he spent four years learning the customs of the indigenous Australians while collecting botanical and zoological specimens.
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Located high up in the Andes Mountains of Peru, the now-deserted Inka city of Huánuco Pampa was a place of festivals, attracting tens of thousands of visitors from the surrounding area. Only a few hundred people lived in the city year-round, working to prepare the massive complex for religious and political social functions. This unique urban center is explored in a book recently released as a volume of the Anthropological Papers of the American Museum of Natural History.
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More than 100 years after joining the Museum’s archaeological collection, a remarkable set of 11th-century pottery excavated in New Mexico’s Chaco Canyon is at the center of a delicious discovery.
Found at Pueblo Bonito, one of the great ceremonial complexes of the Ancestral Pueblo peoples, the rare ceramics were collected for the Museum by George Pepper at the turn of last century. Only recently, however, have researchers looked to the set to search for chemical traces of the vessels’ long-lost contents. The results were electrifying: tests revealed the presence of theobromine, the biomarker for cacao, confirming the earliest known use of chocolate north of the Mexican border.
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A delegation of five Zuni representatives visited the American Museum of Natural History recently on an exciting cultural mission—to add the Museum’s substantial ethnographic collection of over 1,700 Zuni artifacts to an innovative digital collaborative catalog created by and for the Zuni people. This collaboration was funded by the National Park Service through a generous grant, which the Museum applied for on the delegation’s behalf.
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In 1901, budding anthropologist Berthold Laufer sent a brilliant blue silk robe he had bought in Shanghai to the American Museum of Natural History with a simple note: “Coat of a mandarin, for the summer.”
Within a few years, fakes would flood the market, says Curator Laurel Kendall, chair of the Division of Anthropology, but the time and place of this purchase indicates that it is “the real thing,” a coat that could only have been worn by a scholar-advisor to the Imperial Court during the Qing dynasty, which lasted from 1644 to 1911.
Part of the Museum’s extensive collection of textiles, this coat exemplifies the rigidly defined rules of Imperial Court dress in which an elaborate system of colors and motifs telegraphed rank. The dragon, for example, is the ultimate “yang” or male symbol, and a sign of the Emperor’s power. The water represented at the bottom of the robe reflects the legendary role of dragons in East Asia’s traditional agrarian societies as denizens of lakes, rivers, and seas who once a year ascend to the heavens to bring on the rain. Overall, the decoration suggests a mandarin of the fourth to sixth rank.
Laufer, who would go on to become the premier Sinologist of his generation, was sent to China by Franz Boas, then director of the Museum’s Anthropology Division and the acknowledged father of the field in America. Boas had secured a grant of $18,000 (about $400,000 today) from New York banker Jacob H. Schiff to cover Laufer’s expenses for three years to gather “collections which illustrate the popular customs and beliefs of the Chinese, their industries, their mode of life.” Laufer set about buying the stuff of everyday life, completing what is still the most extensive ethnographic collection from pre-revolutionary China in North America.
“Nobody was doing that kind of work at that time,” says Kendall. “He gave us a picture of daily life…And that’s us! We’re all about the time capsule, the trunk in the attic, trying to imagine how people lived.”
Go behind the scenes of the Division of Anthropology’s ethnographic collections on February 24 on a Members-only tour.
A version of this story originally appeared in the Winter issue of Rotunda, the magazine for Museum Members.