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decorative geometric design
decorative geometric design

Up Close With a Zapotec Urn

Lucy holding a clipboard and pen

Hi, I'm Lucy, and I'm at the American Museum of Natural History. Today I'm interviewing an urn made by the Zapotec people of ancient Mexico. Come with me as I ask about his not-so-humble beginnings, his amazing discovery, and the responsibilities of being an ancient artifact.

Zapotec Urn outside collection cabinet

Lucy: I'd like to turn to your new life here at the Museum. How long have you been here?

Zapotec Urn: Well, I came here with one of the other urns, who's like my twin. We both arrived here after we were collected in 1898. It seems like just yesterday. Considering that I'm well over a thousand years old, it's not such a long time.

Lucy: How do you like it here?

Zapotec Urn: So far, I can't complain. They take very good care of me and I'm kept in good company, along with about 500,000 artifacts from  Mexico  and Central America. I must say, it's an honor to be here: this is one of the best collections of Mexican archaeology in the world.

Lucy: How do you spend your time at the Museum?

Zapotec Urn: For a long time I was in an exhibition about the Zapotecs, where I was admired by millions of people. Frankly, it was a bit exhausting being on display all the time—have you ever had to wear a headdress 24/7? When I go out on tour, my twin will take my place. It's nice to give another artifact some time in the spotlight.

Lucy: You're going out on tour? Where?

Zapotec Urn: Yes, I'm in demand. A precious artifact like myself has to get out. Meet the fans. So the Museum has decided to "share the wealth," as they say, and loan me to another museum for a while.

Lucy: How do you get ready for a trip like this?

Zapotec Urn: First of all, lending me out is a big decision. But when they can, people at the Museum want to share their collections. Before I go, a conservator will examine me carefully to make sure I'm in good shape. (Clearly this will not be a problem.) Then they will write everything they know about me in a report. After that, I'll be photographed from every angle. The experts say they need accurate records in case something happens to me, but I think they just want something to remember me by while I'm gone. Finally, I'm carefully packed and shipped to another museum.

Lucy: Just one more question. What do you see as your purpose in life?

Zapotec Urn: Well, I'd like to end world hunger and bring headdresses back into style. But in the meantime, I want to help people learn about the Zapotecs and their way of life.

Lucy: Thanks so much for our interview. You are truly an inspiration to other ancient artifacts.

Zapotec Urn: Thank you, it was my pleasure.

Image Credits:

Lucy, Zapotec Urn, and cabinet, courtesty of AMNH / Craig Chesek.