South American Anthropology

South American Anthropology


The Museum's collections from the South American continent were founded with the materials collected from the World’s Columbian Exposition of 1893.  Spectacular objects from the Inca and Colonial periods are represented by the Montez collection from that period.  Likewise, some of the earliest scientific excavations were undertaken in conjunction with the W.C.E., including George Dorsey's excavations at Ancon, Peru, and Isla de la Plata, Ecuador.  Later additions to the scientifically excavated collections include the two Captain Marshall Field expeditions to Peru conducted by Alfred Kroeber, J. Alden Mason's excavations in Colombia, and Donald Collier's work in Peru and Ecuador.  Today, museum scientists continue to conduct research in South America and we continue a tradition of ethnographic collection that began with the W.C.E. expeditions in the last decade of the 19th century.

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    Ryan Williams

    Associate Curator and Section Head Integrative Research Center

South American Anthropology Collections

Andean Clays

The pre-Hispanic states of Andean South America are famous for their polychrome ceramics. They are recovered during archaeological excavations of burials, houses, palaces and temples. Ceramic vessels were used for many functions, including cooking, storage and in ritual events. In order to understand not only what ceramic vessels were used for but also how they were made, Field Museum scientists have been examining pottery production in the ancient Andes by investigating where people procured the raw clays used to make ceramic vessels.

Andean Fine-grained Volcanics

Field Museum curator Ryan Williams and colleagues have conducted an intensive survey of basalt, rhyolite, and andesite sources in the western Titicaca basin to examine the potential for compositionally matching raw materials from these sources to archaeological artifacts, monuments, and prehistoric architecture on the Altiplano, including archaeological collections from middle Horizon archaeological sites at Taraco and Isla Esteves in the north basin and the sites of Tiwanaku, Lukurmata, and Iwawe in the south.  Basalt and other fine-grained volcanic rocks were a key resource in the an

Aztec, Inca and Maya Collections

The Museum is rich in collections from three of the ancient Middle and South American cultures whose conflicts with European societies were among the most dramatic and far-reaching. These collections are particularly strong in ceramics: Aztec pottery from Late Post-Classic Mexico (ca. A.D. 1450-1521)--one of the finest collections of Aztec ceramics outside Mexico. Through analysis of clay samples from a series of vessels, a Museum research associate uncovered pathways of economic exchange during this period on the brink of European contact.

Brazil Collections

Material records of pre-contact cultures include polychrome pottery excavated from artificial earth mounds on Marajó Island, at the mouth of the Amazon. These well-preserved vessels hint at Brazilian lifeways over a 700-year span in the first millennium A.D.

Coastal Peru Collection

Material records of pre-contact cultures include ceramics and textiles from settlements thriving between 1000 B.C. and A.D. 1300 on the Peruvian coast. These pieces came to light through the excavations of Field Museum Curators George Dorsey in the 1890's and Donald Collier in the 1940's and 50's as well as University of California anthropologist Alfred Kroeber in the 1920s.

Latin American Textile Collections

The Museum's Latin American collections include fine textiles from highland Peru and Bolivia and from Guatemala. Dating from the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, the Andean collection captures a weaving heritage altered by the influence of industrial dyes and tourism on local communities. The diverse Guatemalan pieces shed light on social affiliation (as expressed through dress) and on the artistic vision of women.

Montez Collection

  The Department of Anthropology holds an exceptional collection of ancient Peruvian objects purchased in the 19th century from a private Peruvian collector. This collection consists of approximately 1,200 objects, of which the vast majority are ceramic vessels from the Inca Period. Several important pieces have previously been loaned to the Fowler Museum, University of California, Los Angeles.