Showing blog posts tagged with Anthropology
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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.
by AMNH on
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.