Museum Loan Network: Thompson Collection Survey


Vase Guatemala Maya Ceramic Cat 189247 ©The Field Museum

Sir John Eric Sidney Thompson (1898 - 1975) held the position of Curator of Mexican and South American Ethnology at The Field Museum from 1926 to 1935. During that time, he led five expeditions to British Honduras (now Belize) to collect pre-Classic and Classic Maya archaeological as well as modern Mayan ethnographic materials. He led four separate Captain Marshall Field Expeditions, in 1927, 1928, 1929, and 1931 (Field Museum Anthropology Accession numbers 1741, 1773, 1820, and 1935 respectively) that together yielded nearly one thousand objects from excavations at sites such as San Jose, Tzimin Cax (Mountain Cow), San Antonio, Cahal Cumil, and others.

He returned to British Honduras in 1934, leading a joint Carnegie Institution and Field Museum expedition to continue excavations at San Jose (FM Accession 2065), where he collected an additional 400 objects. Curated by Dr. Gary Feinman, Thompson's collection of over 1400 objects, including the ethnographic items collected in Guatemala, comprises over 99% of the Belizean artifacts curated by the Department of Anthropology. The Thompson Collection continues to play a prominent role in our Maya cases on permanent exhibit.

In a significant departure from archaeological practices of the time, which tended to focus on temples at large sites such as Uaxactun and Chichen Itza, Thompson chose to excavate smaller, less-glamorous sites, where he could study the daily life of the average people and not just that of the ruling elite. The nearly 1,400 pieces in the Thompson Collection include a wide range of glorious and unique examples of prehistoric Central American technology and artistic capabilities in a variety of media, including elaborate ceramic effigy figure whistles and tripod bowls, fiber gourd carriers, carved shell pendants, decorative jade ear plugs, oddly shaped "eccentric" flint objects, as well as more mundane obsidian projectile points, potsherds, and stone objects. The whole ceramic vessels in the Thompson Collection offer an unparalleled sequence of pottery types from the Late Formative (200 B.C. - A.D. 200) through Late Classic (A.D. 600 - 800) Period. Thompson's ethnographic collection from neighboring Guatemala includes wonderfully woven huipils (cotton shirts or blouses), belts and baskets.

View selected MLN Thompson pieces