The ORE of Latin American History will be available for subscription in late September. Speak to your Oxford representative or contact us to find out more.

Show Summary Details

Page of

 PRINTED FROM the OXFORD RESEARCH ENCYCLOPEDIA, LATIN AMERICAN HISTORY ( (c) Oxford University Press USA, 2016. All Rights Reserved. Personal use only; commercial use is strictly prohibited. Please see applicable Privacy Policy and Legal Notice (for details see Privacy Policy).

date: 25 September 2017

Rediscovering the Aztecs and Mayas: Field Exploration, Archaeological Exhibits, and National Museums

Summary and Keywords

In the last decades of the 18th century, with the visit in 1784 of José Antonio Calderón to the Maya ruins at Palenque and the discovery in 1790 of the statue of Coatlicue and the Stone of the Sun in the central plaza of Mexico City, the study of ancient Mexico entered a new era. In the century that followed, teams of field surveyors, mapmakers, graphic artists, and artifact collectors worked across central and southern Mexico as well as in Guatemala. Some were commissioned by the Spanish Crown or later by national governments; many arrived from England, France, Germany, and eventually the United States. Early on they worked side by side with geologists, geographers, and field biologists as part of natural history expeditions, accumulating collections of artifacts that would be displayed in curiosity cabinets and early museums alongside trays of colorful butterflies and stuffed tropical birds. And then, as foreign travel books won popular audiences in Europe and the United States, and as international investors arrived in Mexico and Central America, archaeology also was taken up by enthusiastic amateurs looking to sell books, build private collections, or organize international trade fairs.

For serious students of ancient history, field exploration and advances in archaeological record-keeping transformed a body of research and scientific speculation that since the 16th century had been dominated by theologians, historians, and philologists, who studied Spanish chronicles and native language annals but paid scant attention to the remnants of material culture. In the process, Aztecs and Maya were rediscovered as historical subjects, their histories disconnected from that of contemporary Indian peasants and recast as rivals to the great civilizations of the Old World. Ruins of monumental architecture, recovered artifacts in sculptured stone or finely crafted metals, and ancient texts inscribed on wooden lintels and bark cloth were reclaimed as part of national patrimonies to be protected by new state agencies and displayed in modern museums. On January 20, 1911, the International School for American Archaeology and Ethnology formally opened in Mexico City, and this formative period in the archaeological study of ancient peoples ended. Manuel Gamio introduced the study of stratigraphy to fieldwork practices in Mexico and the discipline was transformed once again.

Keywords: Mexico, Guatemala, archaeology, natural history, indigenous history, Palenque, Tenochtitlán, Chichén Itzá, Teotihuacán, World’s Fairs, Francisco Javier Clavijero, Alexander von Humboldt, Porfirio Diaz

Historiographies of Archaeology in Mexico and Central America

In recent years, retrospective studies of archaeology in late-colonial and national-period Mexico and Central America have wrapped this history around two overarching paradigms.1 One links new perspectives on the Aztecs and Maya to early expressions of creole patriotism and, after Independence, Mexican nationalism, as Mexican-born intellectuals responded to denigrating accounts of the natural and human landscapes of the Americas written by Cornelius de Pauw, William Robertson, and other European Enlightenment thinkers. The other casts field exploration, especially in the second half of the 19th century, as imperialist archaeology, with the work largely dominated by projects sponsored by foreign interests for museums and collections in London, Paris, Berlin, and New York City. Both frame the rediscovery of ancient history as an international enterprise shaped by geopolitical rivalries on both sides of the Atlantic and efforts to harness scientific discovery to promote nationalist aspirations of political and economic development. At the same time, scholars have emphasized that the discipline was still in its infancy and so the science was not always as systematic or purposeful as these storylines suggest. Archaeology was often a side project for expeditions devoted largely to other purposes; few states in Europe or the Americas had the organizational capacity to launch archaeological expeditions on their own initiative; field methods were still rudimentary; and reconstructions of the distant past continued to rely primarily on textual sources, including the Bible.2 Museums, too, were makeshift affairs in the early years of the 19th century, even in the major capital cities. Their collections grew at a steady rate before adequate systems of classification and cataloging had been devised, with objects displayed more as exotic curiosities than as guideposts for an orderly reconstruction of the past. And in the absence of a professional cohort of experienced field scientists until late in the century, major public exhibitions were left largely to impresarios, including men like P. T. Barnum.

In the last decades of the century, however, the modernization and professionalization of archaeology began to accelerate on both sides of the Atlantic as a fast-growing global economy created new wealth and incentives for both private capital and national governments to invest in scientific discovery. New public and private colleges and universities were founded; older well-established institutions expanded their faculties and defined new disciplinary fields of study; research libraries found new patrons among the wealthy business classes to build their collections; and government ministries of education and culture provided new resources for national museums, state-sponsored scientific research, and international trade fairs.

The fascination with Mexican and Central American ancient history and archaeology also deepened in these years as evolutionary models of human development sparked by Charles Darwin and Alfred Russell Wallace captured the imagination of grand theorists throughout the biological and social sciences.3 This turn added a new dimension to older debates about the origin of civilizations in the Americas, inviting reassessments of the relative merits of different cultures and sharpening views on race as a determining factor in the course of evolutionary “progress.” Edward B. Tylor, for example, drew extensively on his travels in Mexico and reading on Aztec history for his seminal work, Researches into the Early History of Mankind, published in 1865.4 And, in 1877, Lewis Henry Morgan included a whole chapter on what he called “the Aztec Confederacy” for his monumental book, Ancient Society or Researches in the Lines of Human Progress from Savagery through Barbarism to Civilization.

The Maya drew even more attention from social theorists because sites like Palenque, Uxmal, and Chichén Itzá were known to have been much older than Tenochtitlán, the Aztec capital. The greater antiquity of the Maya ruins, the sophistication of some of their architectural features (like the corbelled arch), and the close association of the Maya with hieroglyphic writing invited extravagant speculation about their origins and rekindled debates about possible connections with Old World civilizations like the Egyptians.5 The Maya also attracted foreign archaeologists because Great Britain and the United States were heavily involved in the regional politics of Guatemala and the Yucatan as they worked to establish trade partnerships, invest in commercial agriculture, and negotiate concessions for railroads and coastal port facilities. The tropical rainforests of the Maya lowlands were a powerful attraction, as well, for scientists and travelers eager to explore seemingly pristine jungle habitats, easily accessible by sea from San Francisco or New Orleans, before they were overwhelmed by the forces of modern industry.

Rediscovering Palenque

Ignacio Bernal, the distinguished Mexican archaeologist, has called the early surveys at Palenque, in southeastern Chiapas, “the first archaeological project ever to be undertaken in Mexico.”6 Between November 1784 and March 1786, José Estachería, the president of the royal court in Guatemala, sponsored three expeditions, each more ambitious than the last.7 His interest in the site had been cultivated by two brothers, José and Ramón Ordoñez y Aguiar. Both were secular priests in small parishes in the central highlands of Chiapas, and local intellectuals, who had grown up in the province hearing stories of a ruined city in the rainforest to the south. In 1773, Ramón had convinced city officials in Ciudad Real to send some men to investigate the hinterland near the village of Palenque, and the two brothers would draw on their report to campaign for a larger expedition. A decade later, José Ordoñez y Aguiar found an advocate in Guatemala City, Fray Tomás Luis de la Roca, a Dominican, who shared their scheme with José Estachería. The first search was launched in November 1784, when Estachería ordered José Antonio Calderón, a minor official on the municipal council in Palenque, to make a preliminary survey. Calderón completed his report the next month, which included a list of some 215 structures and a provocative description of an elaborate palace. Soon afterward, a second study was ordered, this one to be supervised by an Italian architect, Antonio Bernasconi, who had come to Guatemala to supervise reconstruction after the earthquake in 1773. Bernasconi spent three months on the project, surveying, excavating, and making careful drawings of the art and architecture of the site. His report was fuller and richer in detail than Calderón’s, and also disputed the theories of the Ordoñez brothers that this ancient city had been built by Romans and Carthaginians. In August 1785, both reports were sent to Madrid, where they were read by Juan Bautista Muñoz, the royal chronicler, who convinced José de Gálvez, the minister of the Indies, to endorse a third expedition. The next year, José Estachería commissioned an army captain, Antonio del Rio, to return to Palenque to excavate more thoroughly, and new drawings were made by an artist named Ricardo Armendáriz. Del Rio’s report was eventually published in London in 1822, according to David Drew, “the first illustrated description of a Maya ruin to appear in print.”8

The trajectory of events at Palenque was characteristic of many archaeological projects in late-colonial Mexico. Local knowledge of ruins invited the interest of provincial enthusiasts, small-town intellectuals who were nonetheless well read in the latest speculative literature about the ancient world and often had connections with civil and ecclesiastical authorities in colonial government. When these projects won the endorsement of the Crown, local knowledge went global and the resources devoted to them increased significantly. The last colonial period expedition to Palenque extends this narrative. In 1788, Charles IV ordered a comprehensive survey of archaeological sites in New Spain, including a return to Palenque. The charge was given to Guillermo Dupaix, who, like Antonio del Rio, was an officer in the Spanish military. The expedition took years to plan and was completed between 1805 and 1808. Dupaix enlisted Luciano Casteñeda to illustrate their findings; his drawings would be a sensation when they were eventually published in London in 1830 and Paris in 1834. Dupaix went first to locations in central Mexico; then to Oaxaca, including Monte Albán; and finally to Chiapas, where they met Ramón Ordoñez de Aguiar and worked (but did not excavate) at Palenque. In 1808, Joseph Bonaparte invaded Spain and war engulfed the empire. Dupaix’s report received little attention, but its eventual publication in 1830 by Lord Kingsborough marked a new period in the early history of Mexican archaeology.

Rediscovering Tenochtitlán

The accidental discovery, in 1790, of several large sculptured stones buried beneath the central plaza in Mexico City also enlivened Mexican and European interest in ancient peoples. The efforts to make sense of them would link 18th-century archaeological study in Mexico to the history of early museum building and private collecting, and also highlight the interplay between archaeology, textual analysis, and philology in the scholarship of what would be cast, for the first time since the 16th century, as “Aztec” history. The discovery included two especially important (and now-famous) pieces: the statue of Coatlicue, a nearly nine-foot monolith of an earth goddess; and the twenty-four-ton Stone of the Sun (Piedra del Sol), sometimes called the Aztec Calendar Stone.

The objects were uncovered during a public works project and became the subject of a fierce debate between two prominent creole intellectuals, José Antonio Alzate and Antonio de León y Gama.9 Alzate, a secular priest and founding editor of the Gaceta de Literatura, had visited the ruins at Tajín and Xochicalco and was preparing a description of those sites for the Gaceta. León y Gama was a lawyer at the royal court who shared Alzate’s interests in archaeology and astronomy. Upon orders of the viceroy, the Conde de Revillagigedo, the statue of Coatlicue was taken to the courtyard of the nearby Royal and Pontifical University, where León y Gama made careful, detailed drawings. Alzate meanwhile posted an announcement of the finds in his Gaceta, with a brief speculative essay on what they may have represented. After León y Gama was done with it, the Coatlicue stone was reburied in the patio of the university at the urging of some of the faculty, who were troubled by the attention the piece had drawn among native peoples in the city. In 1803, Alexander von Humboldt, with the help of the bishop of Monterrey, would persuade the rector of the university to allow the statue to be dug up for his observation, but when his work was finished, it was put underground once again.10 In 1824, the British collector William Bullock arranged for it to be raised up once more. However, it would not be made available for public display until sometime after 1879, when it was taken from storage in a corridor in the National Palace and put in the garden of the National Museum, which had been moved in 1865 by Emperor Maximilian to a new location on Calle de Moneda in Mexico City.11 The fate of the Stone of the Sun was quite different. It was set by masons into the base of the west tower of the national cathedral for any passerby to see, and there it remained until 1885.

In 1792, León y Gama published the first part of Descripción histórica y cronológica de las dos piedras, his own account of the two objects; in 1832, a second installment was released posthumously that offered a careful rebuttal to Alzate’s interpretations.12 At the heart of the disagreement was a dispute over methods for interpreting archaeological evidence, especially the value of 16th-century texts written in Nahuatl and the prospects for understanding hieroglyphic writing. León y Gama championed these sources, while Alzate did not. Both scholars drew on the canon of early colonial chronicles and annals, especially those of Bernardino de Sahagún, Fernando de Alvarado Tezozomoc, Francisco de San Antón Muñón Chimalpain Cuauhtlehuanitzin, Christóbal del Castillo, and Juan de Torquemada. And both had access to many of the manuscripts and artifacts collected earlier in the century by the Italian bibliophile, Lorenzo Boturini Benaducci, who also had written two important histories, Idea de una nueva historia general de la América Septentrional (1746) and Historia General de la América Septentrional. Their debate reached interested readers in Europe when, in 1804, the exiled Jesuit Pedro José Márquez published an Italian translation of Descripción histórica and an account of Alzate’s studies of Tajín and Xochicalco, Due antichi monumenti di architectura messicana.

The archaeological discoveries in Mexico City in 1790 fueled the rediscovery of Aztec history that was already underway and sharpened efforts to make the collecting and archiving of archaeological materials more systematic. Dupaix, commissioned two years earlier, planned his surveys during this period. And writers other than Alzate and León y Gama were finding readers. In 1780–1781, another exiled Jesuit, Francisco Javier Clavijero, had published a four-volume history of ancient Mexico, Storia antica del Messico, in Italian. By 1790, the work had been translated into English and German, and a Spanish edition was approved by the Council of the Indies, though publication was delayed until 1826, long after the author’s death.13 Clavijero was widely read and is generally credited with reintroducing the term “Aztec” to common discourse, especially among North American and European writers.14 Alexander von Humboldt used the term throughout Views of the Cordilleras and Monuments of the Indigenous Peoples of the Americas (1810–1813), which included detailed illustrations of both the Coatlicue statue and the Stone of the Sun.

In Historia Antigua de México, Clavijero also advocated for the creation of a repository and museum at the Royal and Pontifical University to house antiquities of all kinds, stone artifacts as well as painted manuscripts, making an early statement on the importance of preserving Mexico’s cultural patrimony. Since the 1740s, the Council of the Indies had been promoting a variety of ambitious projects to encourage scientific collecting, secularize the organization of archives and libraries, and encourage the writing of history. In Spain, the Royal Academy of History was founded in 1755, and the Archive of the Indies in 1785. And in Mexico City, a botanical garden and Museum of Natural History were built in 1790, part of the work of a royal commission charged by Charles III to survey plants and animals in the viceroyalty. When a new Royal College of Mines was built in 1797, it also included a museum.

The decision to take the Coatlicue statue to the university suggests an intention to create a museum there, but no formal museum would be chartered until 1825, after Independence. Private collections of antiquities, however, seem to have been commonplace; one of the most famous—that of Carlos Sigüenza y Gongora, the 17th-century creole intellectual—dates from much earlier. The codices and other manuscripts that were so vital to Aztec history were dispersed in several different archives in the viceregal capital, especially those of the Society of Jesus (until the expulsion in 1767), the Dominican and Franciscan orders, and the Secretariat of the Viceroy. As international interest in this history blossomed at the end of the colonial period, fears grew that this patrimony of documents and artifacts was at risk. The studies of Alzate, León y Gama, and Clavijero brought attention back to the fate of the materials collected by Boturini, in the 1730s and 1740s, for what he called his Museo Historico Indiano.15 The collection, which included priceless materials from the library of Sigüenza y Gongora, had been confiscated by viceregal authorities when he was found to have acted without authorization. Boturini was eventually absolved by the Crown and given a new commission as Royal Chronicler, but he never returned to Mexico. Functionaries at the viceregal library failed to keep his collection intact, and significant portions of it ended up in private hands. Antonio de León y Gama himself acquired materials from the Boturini collection in 1780, from the estate of Fernández de Echeverria y Veytia. And, in 1802, Alexander von Humboldt purchased some sixteen paintings that had been part of the collection. Viceregal officials feared the collection might be lost altogether and, in 1804, called upon Ignacio de Cubas to inventory what remained.

This history provides a context for an effort on the very eve of Independence by Viceroy Jose de Iturrigary to create a Junta de Antigüedades. The Junta was convened in 1808 and received archaeological materials from Guillermo Dupaix’s expedition. During its brief existence, the Junta also was charged with making an inventory of significant antiquity collections, which included items housed at the Royal and Pontifical University.16 The final list has never been found, but the Junta’s instructions for the project suggest that there were many. In 1813, as the wars of Independence began, the Junta de Antigüedades was dissolved, but it would be revived in 1825 as part of new republican efforts to establish a national museum.

The Early National Period

Between 1808 and 1825, the wars of Independence and the political struggles that followed halted archaeological fieldwork in Mexico and Central America. Spanish rule ended in September 1821 and after a failed attempt to establish a new monarchy by Agustín de Iturbide, political leaders sat down to craft a new constitution in November 1823. Earlier that year, in rebellion against Iturbide, Guatemala had joined with Honduras, El Salvador, Nicaragua, and Costa Rica to break with Mexico to form a separate nation, the United Provinces of Central America. Belize remained an outpost of English settlers, Maya peasants, and African slaves and freedmen, its international status a matter of negotiations for logging concessions between Spain and England. It did not become a formal colony of Great Britain until 1862.

When archaeological research resumed in the late 1820s and 1830s, it would be transformed by the new political landscape. Many of the creole patriots who had championed histories of the ancient past held important positions in the new governments and renewed efforts to promote state-sponsored cultural institutions, including museums, and educational reforms aimed at integrating native peoples into national histories. They faced daunting obstacles. More than a decade of war had devastated the economies of these new nations, leaving them with scarce resources for rebuilding and torn by ideological conflicts and regional rivalries. Mexico and the United Provinces confronted civil war and foreign intervention repeatedly until the late 1860s. The intellectual projects of rediscovering the Maya and Aztec past also were complicated by fierce opposition to extending full citizenship to their descendants and new ideas about evolutionary biology that reframed interpretations of their cultural legacies around racialized concepts of white European cultural superiority.

One of the most significant outcomes of the wars of Independence for the future of archaeology was the opening up of Mexico and Central America to foreign travelers and international investors. Their influence on field research, scholarly publishing, public exhibition, private collecting, and the antiquities trade would dominate for the rest of the century, but they always worked closely with partners in Mexico and Central America. Though the work of archaeologists, and the public and private agencies that supported them, was tied inexorably to national interests, their collaborations created an international intellectual community.

Despite the political turmoil, several important steps were taken in Mexico between 1822 and 1827 to promote new research, even during the brief reign of Agustín I. The Junta de Antigüedades was reinstated in 1822, and with the advent of the First Republic in 1823, the Royal and Pontifical University and the Viceregal Secretariat’s archives came under the control of the federal government. In 1825, Lucas Alamán, the first minister of internal and external relations, on instructions from President Guadalupe Victoria, formally charged the rector of the university to create a National Museum, where archaeological finds as well as documents and manuscripts on ancient Mexico could be safely stored.17 And in 1827, antiquities were declared to be the property of the state, their export forbidden without formal government approval.18 Fieldwork resumed, when local political conditions permitted. In 1827, a French cleric, Jean-Henri Baradère, was given permits to revisit sites documented by Guillermo Dupaix and dig again at Xochicalco, Mitla, and Palenque. Baradère also got approval to reprint the illustrations made by Luciano Casteñeda; these were published in Paris in a volume titled Antiquitès mexicaines (1834).19

During this period, Carlos María de Bustamante, a leading intellectual in the new government, won state sponsorship for a series of publications in Mexico on ancient history, including chapters from Bernardino de Sahagún’s Historia general de las cosas de la Nueva España and the second part of Antonio de León y Gama’s Descripción histórica y cronológica de las dos piedras, which included his rebuttal to José Antonio Alzate. However, after this promising start, funding disappeared for publications of this kind in Mexico for the next several decades, and English and French entrepreneurs took up the work in their stead. By the late 1820s, they were publishing a wide assortment of books on ancient Mexico: translations and reprints of colonial manuscripts; illustrated catalogs of private exhibitions; long and detailed travelers’ accounts; and eventually general histories of their own.20 William H. Prescott relied on this extensive literature to write The History of the Conquest of Mexico in 1843. He, famously, never traveled to Mexico himself.

In 1812, an Englishman, William Bullock, had opened an exhibition hall in Piccadilly, London, later called the Egyptian Hall, to display models and facsimiles of Old World temples and monuments, along with copies of large-format, lavishly illustrated travel books on Egypt and other regions in the eastern Mediterranean. Bullock went to Mexico in April 1823 to look for commercial opportunities there, and returned after six months with plaster casts of the Coatlicue statute, the Stone of Tizoc, small examples of real stone and masonry artifacts, and a treasure trove of Nahua codices and colonial manuscripts, some on loan and some purchased.21 In addition to the material of archaeological interest, he brought an extensive collection of minerals, cacti, stuffed birds, and more contemporary artisanal goods. The following year, he published a travel book, Six Months Residence and Travels in Mexico, and opened a public exhibit on Mexico in one of the rooms of the Egyptian Hall. Both were hugely successful.22 When the exhibition closed in 1825, its inventory was sold, except for the codices, which were returned to Mexico. The original preconquest stone and masonry ware was bought by William Buckland, president of the British Geological Society, and he donated the collection to the British Museum. Bullock would return to Mexico to invest in mining, but did not pursue his interest in antiquities.

Soon after the close of Bullock’s exhibition, another Englishman, Edward King, viscount of Kingsborough, undertook one of the most ambitious projects in 19th-century studies of the ancient world, the publication of facsimile copies of all the known Mexican codices, including those of the Maya. Nine volumes were published between 1831 and 1848, including another printing of Casteñeda’s work, with the lengthy, descriptive title, Antiquities of Mexico: Comprising Facsimiles of Ancient Mexican Paintings and Hieroglyphics, Preserved in the Royal Libraries of Paris, Berlin and Dresden, in the Imperial Library of Vienna, in the Vatican library; in the Borgian Museum at Rome; in the Library of the Institute at Bologna; and in the Bodleian Library at Oxford. Together with the Monuments of New Spain, by M. Dupaix: With Their Respective Scales of Measurement and Accompanying Descriptions. The Whole Illustrated by Many Valuable Inedited Manuscripts, by Augustine Aglio.23

Editorial projects of this kind were vital to advances in archaeological research. They created a common corpus of canonical primary sources; encouraged research in art history, linguistics, and philology as well as archaeology; and stoked ambitions for new fieldwork. In France, in the 1840s and 1850s, Joseph Marius Alexis Aubin published new editions of Nahua texts that had been part of the Boturini collection and wrote an early, comprehensive analysis of Mexican glyphs. Aubin, in turn, influenced the work of Charles Etienne Brasseur de Bourbourg, a French cleric and historian who would write extensively on ancient history in Mexico, including the Aztecs, and do important work on K’iche (Quichè) Maya language. Between 1848 and 1863, Bourbourg combed archives in Mexico, Guatemala, and Spain for rare books and manuscripts. In Madrid, he uncovered an abridged copy of Relación de las cosas de Yucatán, written in 1562 by the Franciscan missionary friar, Diego de Landa, which he eventually published in the original Spanish and in French translation (1864). Bourbourg also published the first K’iche Maya transcription of the Popul Vuh, the K’iche Maya book that had been transcribed in the original and translated by the Dominican friar, Francisco Ximenez, early in the 18th century. Ximenez’s manuscript had first been found in the Dominican archives in Guatemala City in the 1790s by José Ordoñez y Aguiar, and then rediscovered in 1856 by an Austrian researcher named Carl von Scherzer, who was traveling on a field expedition in Mexico and Central America with fellow countrymen. Scherzer is now generally credited with having published the first Spanish edition of the Popul Vuh. When Bourbourg left Guatemala to return to France in 1857, he took the original Ximenez copy with him, together with other documents, under circumstances that remain uncertain. After his death, the manuscript was sold and eventually purchased by an American collector, Edward Ayer. Ayer’s library was bequeathed to the Newberry Library in Chicago; the Ximenez manuscript remains a part of their collection.

Fieldwork in Mid-Century Mexico and Guatemala

Histories of field archaeology in Mexico and Central America in the mid-19th century are dominated by accounts of the work of a relatively small number of European and North American archaeologists, almost all of whom excavated primarily at Maya sites in southern Mexico and Guatemala: Jean Frédéric de Waldeck (1832–1836); Juan Galindo (1834); John Lloyd Stephens and Frederick Catherwood (1840–1841); and Désiré Charnay (1857–1861).24 With the exception of Waldeck, whose ideas about Egyptian influences and error-ridden illustrations of hieroglyphics have diminished his reputation, these men are credited with expanding the scope of archaeological research and elevating professional standards for fieldwork. They wrote comprehensive travel accounts and fully illustrated field surveys that revealed previously unknown sites to international readers; they identified commonalities in the material culture of different sites that established the Maya as a people with a shared history; and they introduced new methods that improved the accuracy of field notes and graphic illustration. Frederick Catherwood, for example, used a camera lucida for his renderings of sculptured stone stelae and architectural detail, and Désiré Charnay, in the latter years of his career, used wet-plate photography. They also began to reframe interpretations of ancient history in Mexico and Central America, moving away from theories about a transatlantic diffusion of Mediterranean cultures to argue that civilizations in the New World developed independently. This perspective invited speculation about historical contacts among cultures in the Americas, and also provoked new discussions about the links between contemporary indigenous peasants and ancient peoples that anticipated late-19th-century debates about race. Elements of ethnography and natural history were integral to many of their travel narratives, as well.

Their fieldwork was supported by a variety of patrons and government sponsors. Waldeck enjoyed the patronage of Lord Kingsborough; Galindo held offices in the government of Francisco Morazán; Charnay was commissioned by the French Ministry of Education; and Stephens carried diplomatic papers that enabled him to negotiate trade deals on behalf of the United States and offered him a degree of safe passage in war-torn Central America. But all of them, except Galindo, also worked tirelessly to exploit their archaeological research for commercial gain. They courted journalists to write stories about them and corresponded with geographical societies and explorers clubs to arrange paid public lectures when they returned from the field; they wrote books that would sell well among the general public and sold subscriptions for limited editions of their illustrations; they collected artifacts for museums and exhibited their engravings and photographs in commercial galleries and world fairs; and they made proposals to city fathers to bring monuments to Europe and America for display in public parks and plazas. Stephens famously purchased Copán for fifty dollars, though he never took possession of the ruins, and settled for returning with plaster casts of stelae and other heavy stone objects rather than invest the resources to ship authentic pieces home. His books, however, did extraordinarily well; by 1871, Incidents of Travel in Central America, Chiapas, and Yucatan was in its twelfth edition.

In these years, museums in Europe and North America began slowly to expand their holdings of American antiquities as audiences for exhibitions grew and scholarly interest deepened. In 1844, for example, a Museum for American Antiquities was founded in Copenhagen to house artifacts from Greenland and North America, with a small collection of obsidian points from Mexico.25 By 1853, the Louvre had nearly two hundred examples of preconquest ceramics from different parts of Mexico.26 The historian Robert D. Aguirre has documented aggressive efforts on the part of British foreign minister Lord Palmerton (Henry John Temple) to acquire monuments from Copán, Quirigua, and Tikal for the British Museum during the 1850s.27 In this case, the efforts failed; the logistics were too difficult and the cost too high. The correspondence between Palmerton and his agents in Guatemala suggests that a competitive, clandestine market in Maya artifacts was already well established among private collectors, fed by the books of Waldeck, Stephens, and Charnay. However, the real push to expand collections of Aztec and Maya antiquities came later, in the 1880s, when museums like the Peabody Museum at Harvard, the Field Museum in Chicago, the University Museum at the University of Pennsylvania, the Smithsonian Institution, and the British Museum sponsored archaeological expeditions of their own.

As this middle period drew to a close, not all of the action was in southern Mexico and Guatemala. In February 1864, during the French intervention, ambitious plans were drawn up for a Scientific Commission of Mexico to undertake a comprehensive survey of the nation’s natural history, including its archaeological sites in central Mexico, on the model of a project like Humboldt’s at the end of the colonial period.28 The commission was made up of French scientists and military men, and included Joseph Marius Alexis Aubin and Charles Etienne Brasseur de Bourbourg; Léon Méhédin headed the archaeological mission. However, they worked closely with Mexican collaborators, especially José Fernando Ramírez, the director of the National Museum. The commission was short lived and the project ceased with the defeat of Emperor Maximilian, but during these years the National Museum was relocated, new laws to protect cultural patrimony were passed, and a series of state-sponsored publications were initiated. In 1867, Ramírez published the first print edition of the important 16th-century chronicle written by Dominican friar, Diego Durán, Historia de las Indias de Nueva España y Islas de Tierre Firme.

The Late 19th Century

In the last decades of the 19th century, the rediscovery of Aztec and Maya history continued to advance. That history was featured in Edward Tyler’s Anahuac (1861) and Researches into the Early History of Mankind and the Development of Civilization (1865) as well as in Hubert Howe Bancroft’s The Native Races of the Pacific States of North America (1875). Morgan and Bancroft offered quite different assessments of the social and political development of Tenochtitlán, as well as opposing views on evolutionary models of human history.29 Their disagreements provoked a debate in print that pulled in other leading scholars, including Adolph Bandelier, and fixed a place for the ancient history of Mexico in grand theories on the rise and fall of civilizations. Then, in 1880, the Mexican historian, Manuel Orozco y Berra, wrote Historia Antigua de México, a book that Ignacio Bernal has characterized as “the first great history to be written since the death of Clavijero.”30 Orozco y Berra built on the work of José Fernando Ramírez, and their contributions influenced a distinctly Mexican historiography on the Aztecs and Mayas shaped by late-19th-century nationalism and especially the political projects of President Porfirio Diaz (1876–1910).

Diaz and his predecessor, Benito Juarez (1867–1870), launched programs that promoted scientific fieldwork, new scholarship on Mexican history, and the revitalization of universities and museums, including regional institutions.31 In 1895, Diaz hosted the Third International Congress of Americanists in Mexico City. Attention turned especially to the ancient history of central Mexico and the Aztecs as political leaders consolidated power in Mexico City.32 Alfredo Chavero’s Historia Antigua y de la Conquista (1897), the first volume of the massive Porfirian-era compendium, México a traves de los siglos, devoted some two hundred pages to the Maya and their antecedents, the Olmec, but more than five hundred pages to Toltec and Mexica (Aztec) history.33 In 1909, the National Museum was reorganized and given a new name, the National Museum of Archaeology, History, and Ethnology. The building where it was housed was remodeled and new galleries were opened.34 Diaz also was eager to sponsor exhibitions of antiquities and artisanal handicrafts at world’s fairs in Paris, Chicago, and Madrid held between 1889 and 1893 to commemorate Columbus’s first voyage. 35 For each exposition, archaeologists from the National Museum were enlisted to curate the displays. Finally, new efforts to attract foreign investment in mining, railroad construction, and commercial agriculture encouraged European and American scientists across many disciplines, including archaeology, to work in Mexico.

Writing about the period after 1880, Bernal has suggested, “This is where archaeological science begins.”36 Fieldwork methods continued to improve, empirical standards for evaluating evidence were raised, and the infrastructure for the professionalization of archaeology expanded. The leading practitioners of this era had formal positions with prominent museums and universities and published scholarly magazines and newsletters that were the precursors of modern refereed journals. These included Eduard Seler, head of the Department for America at the Berlin Ethnological Museum; William Holmes, director of the Bureau of American Ethnology at the Smithsonian Institution; Marshall Saville, the curator of Mexican and Central American Archaeology at the American Museum of Natural History in New York; and Francisco del Paso y Troncoso, director of the National Museum of Archaeology, History and Ethnology in Mexico City. Independent archaeologists, funded by family fortunes or private patrons, were still important to field research in this period, and many also had affiliations with museums and professional associations. The distinguished Mayanist Alfred Maudslay, for example, served as president of the Royal Anthropological Institute and enjoyed sponsorship from the Peabody Museum and the British Museum. Zelia Nuttall, a specialist on Teotihuacán as well as Mixtec antiquities in Oaxaca, also had ties to the Peabody Museum, as did Teoberto Maler, the German archaeologist and photographer, who did important work at Chichén Itzá and Uxmal in the Yucatan.

In 1885, Mexico created a new position, inspector and conservator of archaeological monuments, and appointed Leopoldo Bartres to fill it. One of his projects would be the restoration of ruins at Teotihuacán. And in 1897, a new antiquities law, the Ley de Monumentos Arqueológicos, was passed, which confirmed that archaeological monuments and artifacts were the property of the nation and prohibited their removal without the consent of the executive branch of government.37 The law was a response to the continuing growth of an international antiquities trade, and an effort to license and better regulate the work of foreign archaeologists and promote partnerships with Mexican scholars and institutions, especially the National Museum of Archaeology, History, and Ethnology. Guatemala passed a similar law in 1893 and in 1898 opened its own national museum.38 As historian Christina Bueno has shown, Mexico’s law also imposed federal control over antiquities everywhere within the country and invited conflicts with state governments and local municipalities.39 Bartres used his power aggressively to remove objects from ruins at Palenque and Xochicalco and bring them to the National Museum in Mexico City, while also acting to enforce controls on the export of artifacts to museums abroad.40

These museums—the Peabody Museum, the University of Pennsylvania Museum in Philadelphia, and the British Museum, among others—continued to grow their collections of Mexican and Guatemalan antiquities despite the constraints imposed by the Diaz government. Accounts of Edward H. Thompson’s excavations at Chichén Itzá highlight the limitations of Mexico’s capacity to enforce its antiquities laws in the face of powerful foreign institutions determined to subvert them.41 Thompson came to Mexico in 1885, having been recruited by Stephen Salisbury, the vice-president of the American Antiquarian Society, to work on Maya sites in Yucatan. With backing from Charles Bowditch, a Boston businessman and patron of the Peabody Museum, and the intervention of George Hoar, a United States senator from Massachusetts, Thompson was appointed the American consul in Merida. He worked first at Labná and Uxmal and, in 1893, was asked by Frederick Ward Putnam to make plaster casts of monument facades from these sites and others for the Chicago World’s Fair. Putnam was the director of the Peabody Museum and served as the chief organizer of the anthropology exhibits at the fair, which were created without the involvement of Mexico’s delegation. Thompson’s casts were a hit and earned him the support of a new patron, Allison Vincent Armour, a wealthy Chicago philanthropist. Armour would help to fund excavations at Xkichmook and Chichén Itzá, where she also financed Thompson’s purchase of an adjacent hacienda. Thompson excavated at Chichén Itzá from 1897 until 1921, periodically sending materials to the Peabody Museum, including the now-famous collection of jade and gold objects dredged from the Sacred Cenote. He did so without the licenses and permits required by the Mexican government, and used the privileges of his diplomatic office and the discretion of friends to conduct the transactions, although he made little secret of his work. After 1904, he published nothing on his findings, though he did file reports with the Peabody Museum, and these were archived. Finally, in 1926, after stories about the excavations of the Sacred Cenote were published in the New York Times and in a book by Thomas A. Willard, City of the Sacred Well, Thompson was charged with illegally exporting antiquities and his hacienda was seized by the government.42 The Peabody Museum returned some, but not all, of the objects to Mexico’s National Museum of Archaeology in 1958.

Edward Thompson’s career demonstrates that efforts to professionalize archaeological fieldwork practices and enforce international protocols for museum acquisitions still fell short on the eve of the Mexican Revolution. But those efforts were proceeding. In the last years of the Diaz presidency, an ambitious project that anticipated the future of archaeology in Mexico and Central America began to take shape: the founding of the International School of American Archaeology and Ethnology in Mexico City.43 The idea for the school originated in 1904 with Franz Boas, the president of the American Anthropological Association and head of the Department of Anthropology at Columbia University. With the help of Nicholas Murray Butler, the president of Columbia, Boas organized an international consortium to promote scientific research in archaeology, ethnology, and linguistics. Participants included Eduard Seler from the Berlin Ethnological Museum, Frederick Ward Putnam and Alfred Tozzer from the Peabody Museum, and George B. Gordon from the University of Pennsylvania Museum. In Mexico, the plan won the support of key members of Diaz’s cabinet: Justo Sierra, secretary of public instruction; José Yves Limantour, secretary of finance; and Ezequiel Chávez, undersecretary of public instruction.

The school was officially founded in Mexico City on January 20, 1911, with Seler as its first director. Though Porfirio Diaz was forced from office three months later and civil war gradually engulfed the country, teams of international researchers began their work with funding from their home institutions. The first archaeological excavations sponsored by the International School were in the central valley of Mexico, where Boas and Seler hoped to distinguish a chronology, or cultural sequence, for the variety of ceramics that had been found there. In 1911, at San Miguel Amantla, Azcapotzalco, one of Boas’s students, Mexican archaeologist Manuel Gamio carried out the first stratigraphic excavations in the history of Mexican archaeology.44 He moved on to work at Teotihuacan with Alfred Tozzer, while Georges Engerrand, a geologist from the New University of Brussels, excavated at Colima, and Isabel Ramirez Castaneda, a Mexican colleague and another student of Boas, dug in Culhuacán. Together, they proposed the tripartite sequence for ceramics in Mexico and Guatemala that became the standard periodization (Archaic, Classic, and Post-Classic), and also established that Teotihuacán was not a Toltec city but was in fact much older. Aztec and Maya history was rediscovered once again, its study a unified field of interdisciplinary scholarship, anchored in international collaborations among archaeologists, historians, linguists, and ethnologists. Explorations of transatlantic diffusion were largely abandoned and the American origins of New World civilizations became broadly accepted by scholars and the general public alike.

The International School of American Archaeology and Ethnology remained in operation until 1920, but its operations were curtailed significantly after 1914, with the onset of World War I and the American invasion of Veracruz. Manuel Gamio went on to have a distinguished career. In 1913, he was named inspector and conservator of archaeological monuments and continued his research in the valley of Teotihuacán, but he gradually devoted more time to what became known as applied social anthropology. Through his work first as the founding head of the Anthropology Division of the Ministry of Agriculture and Development and then as undersecretary of public education under President Elias Calles, he championed the ideology of indigenismo and policies designed to promote education, public health, and economic development in Mexico’s indigenous communities.

Discussion of the Literature

This history of late-colonial and 19th-century archaeology in Mexico and Central America draws on literature in several subfields, primarily histories of archaeology, of indigenous peoples and the construction of national identity, and of political philosophy and social thought. One work, in particular, frames this historiography, Ignacio Bernal’s A History of Mexican Archaeology (1980).45 In only 189 pages of text, Bernal offers a remarkably comprehensive survey of the primary sources, scholarly exegesis, and archaeological fieldwork that built the foundation for current studies of the Maya and the peoples of central Mexico. His study is authoritative and combines the virtues of a broad survey with careful, concise, and detailed accounts of the contributions made by individuals. Bernal’s book is not limited to a history of archaeological fieldwork, but includes commentary on Mexican philology and the scholars of ancient history who relied primarily on preconquest codices and 16th-century manuscripts. For readers unfamiliar with those manuscripts, a good introduction can be found in the four volumes of the Guide to Ethnohistorical Sources in The Handbook of Middle American Indians.46

Ignacio Bernal also wrote on the history of the National Museum in Mexico City, which also is treated at length in books on museums and cultural patrimony in Mexico by Enrique Florescano, Miguel Angel Fernández, Luisa Fernanda Rico Mansard, and Mechthild Rutsch.47 Fernández’s book, Coleccionismo en México, is the standard survey of museums and the history of collecting from the early colonial period through the late 19th century. There are no comparable books for the history of archaeological museums in Guatemala or elsewhere in Central America. Nor is there a comprehensive treatment of laws regarding antiquities and cultural patrimony.

The literature on the history of archaeology is substantial. For the Americas, several volumes by Gordon R. Willey are still essential, especially A History of American Archaeology (1980), co-authored with Jeremy Sabloff, and volume one of An Introduction to American Archaeology (1966), on North and Middle America.48 For general histories of European and North American archaeology, see Bruce G. Trigger’s A History of Archaeological Thought and the many works by George W. Stocking Jr.49 Stocking’s book, Victorian Anthropology, focuses on the 19th century and treats the histories of museums, world’s fairs, and the impact of evolutionary theory alongside a survey of archaeological and ethnological fieldwork. An excellent introduction to 19th-century social theory and evolutionary models of development is Peter J. Bowler’s Evolution: The History of an Idea.50

Several scholars have written influential books on the place of indigenous peoples in the history of 19th-century political philosophy in Mexico and Central America. These include David A. Brading, The First America: The Spanish Monarchy and Creole Patriots and the Liberal State, 1492–1867; Jorge Cañizares-Esguerra, How to Write the History of the New World; and Rebecca Earle, The Return of the Native: Indians and Myth-Making in Spanish America, 1810–1930.51 Benjamin Keen’s The Aztec Image in Western Thought predates both of these but addresses many of the same concerns.52 This is a massive, almost encyclopedic treatment of the Aztecs in the literature of history, political philosophy, and fiction from the 16th to the early 20th century. Rich in detail and provocative in its design, Keen’s work, published in 1971, still invites a careful reading.

Much work remains to be done on the early history of archaeology in Mexico and, especially, in Central America, where more attention has been paid to histories of fieldwork in the 20th century. Two topics in particular are begging for more attention from scholars. The first is the engagement of native peoples, after the early 17th century, with the memories and material culture of their ancient history. Travelers’ accounts, such as John Lloyd Stephens’s Incidents of Travel in Central America, Chiapas, and Yucatan, show that local peoples with local knowledge contributed to many, if not most of the archaeological projects discussed here.53 They knew the physical landscapes of the sites; they provided the labor to move earth and stone; and they expressed their own reverence of the past through community oral histories and family genealogies. Did they also accumulate their own collections of artifacts? Surely, near some sites, they must have. Since the early colonial period, part of the charge of municipal officeholders was to conserve and protect artifacts such as indigenous maps and other written documents that were part of the cultural patrimony of the community and might be needed in litigation over land tenure disputes, community elections, or other local matters. In other words, the conservation of material culture was part of the routine practices of indigenous towns and villages, but what impact these practices might have had on early archaeology in Mexico and Central America has not been acknowledged or studied. Nor have the contributions of women, with the notable exceptions of Alice Dixon Le Plongeon, Anne Cary Maudslay, and Zelia Nuttall. Women, however, were among the fieldworkers in the first teams of archaeologists and linguists put together by the International School of Archaeology and Ethnology in 1911, and would be vital to Mexican and Central American archaeology as the field developed later in the 20th century. The precursors to this history deserve to be more widely recognized and more carefully researched.

Primary Sources

Bancroft, Hubert Howe. The Native Races of the Pacific States of North America. New York: Appleton, 1875–1890.Find this resource:

Bullock, William. Six Months Residence and Travels in Mexico: Containing Remarks on the Present State of New Spain, Its Natural Productions, State of Society, Manufactures, Trade, Agriculture, and Antiquities. London: John Murray, 1824. A digital copy of the original 1824 edition is available. Most recent modern edition: Port Arthur, NY: Kennikat Press, 1971.Find this resource:

Chavero, Alfredo. Historia Antigua de México y la conquista, México a traves de los siglos, Tomo 1. México, D.F.: Ballescá y Compania, 1887–1889. Most recent modern edition: México, D.F.: Editorial Cumbre, 1962.Find this resource:

Clavijero, Francisco Javier. Historia Antigua de México. México, D. F.: Librería Porrua, 1997. A digital copy of a 1917 edition is available.Find this resource:

Humboldt, Alexander von. Vues des cordillères et monuments des peoples indigènes de l’Amèrique. Paris: F. Schoell, 1810. Most recent modern edition in English: Views of the Cordilleras and Monuments of the Indigenous Peoples of the Americas: A Critical Edition. Edited by Vera M. Kutzinski and Ottmar Ette, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2012.Find this resource:

King, Edward. Antiquities of Mexico: Comprising Facsimiles of Ancient Mexican Paintings and Hieroglyphics, Preserved in the Royal Libraries of Paris, Berlin and Dresden, in the Imperial Library of Vienna, in the Vatican library; in the Borgian Museum at Rome; in the Library of the Institute at Bologna; and in the Bodleian Library at Oxford. Together with the Monuments of New Spain, by M. Dupaix: With Their Respective Scales of Measurement and Accompanying Descriptions. The Whole Illustrated by Many Valuable Inedited Manuscripts, by Augustine Aglio. London: R. Havell, 1831–1848. A digital copy of the first volume is available.Find this resource:

León y Gama, Antonio de. Descripción histórica y cronológica de las dos pierdras que occasion del nuevo empedrado que se eatá formando el la plaza principal de México, se hallaran en ella de 1790. México, D.F.: Impresa de don Felipe de Zuñiga y Oliverso, 1792. A digital copy the manuscript is available.Find this resource:

Morgan, Lewis Henry. Ancient Society or Researches in the Lines of Human Progress from Savagery through Barbarism to Civilization. Chicago: C. H. Kerr, 1877. The most recent modern edition is: Tucson: University of Arizona, 1985. A digital copy is available.Find this resource:

Orozco y Berra, Manuel. Historia Antigua y de la conquista de México. México, D.F.: Tipografia de G. A. Esteva, 1880. The most recent modern edition is: México, D.F.: SepSententas Diana, 1980.Find this resource:

Prescott, William H., History of the Conquest of Mexico. 3 volumes. Philadelphia: J. F. Kirk, 1873. The most recent modern edition is: New York: Modern Library, 2001.Find this resource:

Stephens, John Lloyd. Incidents of Travel in Central America, Chiapas, and Yucatan. New York: Harper, 1842. The most recent modern edition is: Washington, DC: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1993.Find this resource:

Tylor, Edward Burnett. Anahuac: or Mexico and the Mexicans, Ancient and Modern. London: Longman, Green, Longman, and Roberts, 1861. Most recent modern edition: Lexington: Forgotten Books, 2012. (facsimile of original). A digital copy of the 1877 edition is available.Find this resource:

Tylor, Edward Burnett. Researches into the Early History of Mankind and the Development of Mankind. London: J. Murray, 1870. A digital copy is available.Find this resource:

Further Reading

Aguirre, Robert D.Informal Empire: Mexico and Central America in Victorian Culture. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2005.Find this resource:

Bernal, Ignacio. A History of Mexican Archaeology: The Vanished Civilizations of Middle America. New York: Thames and London, 1980.Find this resource:

Bueno, Christina. The Pursuit of Ruins: Archaeology, History, and the Making of Modern Mexico. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 2016.Find this resource:

Earle, Rebecca, The Return of the Native: Indians and Myth-Making in Spanish America, 1810–1930. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2007.Find this resource:

Fernandez, Miguel Angel. Historia de los museos de México. México, D.F.: Promotora de Comercialición Directa, 1988.Find this resource:

Keen, Benjamin. The Aztec Image in Western Thought. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 1971.Find this resource:

Mansard, Luisa Fernanda Rico. Exhibit para educar: objectos, colecciones y museos de la ciudad de México (1790–1910). Barcelona: Ediciones Pomares, 2004.Find this resource:

Nichols, Deborah L., and Pool, Christopher A., eds. The Oxford Handbook of Mesoamerican Archaeology. New York: Oxford University Press, 2012.Find this resource:

Rutsch, Mechthild. Entre el campo y el gabinete: nacionales y extranjeros en la profesionalización de la antropología Mexicana (1877–1920). Mexico, D.F.: Instituto de Antropología y Historia, 2007.Find this resource:

Tenorio-Trillo, Mauricio. Mexico at the World’s Fairs: Crafting a Modern Nation. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1996.Find this resource:

Trigger, Bruce G.A History of Archaeological Thought. 2d ed. 1989.Find this resource:


(1.) For background, see David A. Brading, The First America: The Spanish Monarchy, Creole Patriots, and the Liberal State, 1492–1867 (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1991); Christina Bueno, The Pursuit of Ruins: Archaeology, History, and the Making of Modern Mexico (Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 2016); Jorge Cañizares-Esguerra, How to Write the History of the New World: Histories, Epistemologies, and Identities in the Eighteenth Century Atlantic World (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2001); and Rebecca Earle, The Return of the Native: Indians and Myth-Making in Spanish America, 1810–1930 (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2007).

(2.) For a survey of colonial manuscripts on Aztec and Maya history, see Howard F. Cline and John B. Glass, eds., Handbook of Middle American Indians, Volume 13, Guide to Ethnohistorical Sources, Part Two (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1973).

(3.) See Peter J. Bowler, Evolution: The History of an Idea (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1984); George W. Stocking Jr., Victorian Anthropology (New York: Free Press, 1987); and Bruce G. Trigger, A History of Archaeological Thought, 2d ed. (Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 2006).

(4.) Tyler’s first published book was a history and travel account of Mexico, Anahuac: or Mexico and the Mexicans, Ancient and Modern (London: Longman, Green, Longman, and Roberts, 1861).

(5.) A concise overview of North American views of Maya civilization can be found in Curtis M. Hinsley, “From Shell-Heaps to Stelae: Early Anthropology at the Peabody Museum, in Objects and Others: Essays on Museums and Material Culture, ed. George W. Stocking Jr. (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1983).

(6.) Ignacio Bernal, A History of Mexican Archaeology: The Vanished Civilizations of Middle America (New York and London: Thames and Hudson, 1980), 87.

(7.) See also Cañizares-Esguerra, How to Write the History of the New World, 321–345; and David Drew, The Lost Chronicles of the Maya Kings (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1999), 36–46.

(8.) Drew, Lost Chronicles, 46.

(9.) Cañizares-Esguerra, How to Write the History of the New World, 271–300.

(10.) For von Humboldt’s remarks on these two objects, see Alexander von Humboldt, Views of the Cordilleras and Monuments of the Indigenous Peoples of the Americas: A Critical Edition, ed. Vera M. Kutzinski and Ottmar Ette (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2012).

(11.) Michael J. Schreffler, “The Making of an Aztec Goddess: A Historiographic Study of Coatlicue,” M.A. thesis, Arizona State University, 1994, 12.

(12.) The full title is Descripción histórica y cronológica de las dos pierdras que occasion del nuevo empedrado que se eatá formando el la plaza principal de México, se hallaran en ella de 1790. A digital copy of the manuscript is available.

(13.) Francisco Javier Clavijero, Historia Antigua de México, 4 vols. (Mexico City: Librería Porrua, 1997).

(14.) R. H. Barlow, “Some Remarks on the Term ‘Aztec Empire,’” The Americas 1.3 (1945): 345–349.

(15.) For background see, Cañizares-Esguerra, How to Write the History of the New World, 133–155.

(16.) Bernal, A History of Mexican Archaeology, 134.

(17.) The National Museum remained confined to rooms and corridors set aside within the university. In 1840, Frances Calderón de la Barca would write, “The Museum within the University, and opposite the palace, in the plaza del Volador, contains many rare and valuable works, many curious Indian Antiquities, but they are ill-arranged.” In Frances Calderón de la Barca, Life In Mexico (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1982), 136.

(18.) Earle, Return of the Native, 138.

(19.) A digital collection of the original is available.

(20.) For a survey of this literature, see Howard F. Cline, ed., The Handbook of Middle American Indians, Volume 13. Guide to Ethnohistorical Sources, Part Two (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1973).

(21.) Michael P. Costeloe, “William Bullock and the Mexican Connection,” Mexican Studies/Estudios Mexicanos 22.2 (2006): 275–309; and Robert D. Aguirre, Informal Empire: Mexico and Central America in Victorian Culture (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2005), esp. chapter 1.

(22.) A digital copy of the original 1824 edition is available.

(23.) A digital copy of the first volume is available.

(24.) For background, see Robert L. Brunhouse, In Search of the Maya: The First Archaeologists (Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1973), and Pursuit of the Ancient Maya: Some Archaeologists of Yesterday (Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1975). See also Drew, Lost Chronicles, ch. 1.

(25.) Charles C. Rafn, “Museum of American Antiquities, Instituted in Copenhagen by the Royal Society of Northern Antiquaries, According to a Plan Proposed by Its Secretary,” The Journal of the Royal Society of London 14 (1844): 316–322.

(26.) “American Antiquities at the Louvre,” The Illustrated Magazine of Art 1.2 (1853): 115–118. Available online

(27.) Aguirre, Informal Empire, ch. 3.

(28.) See Paul N. Edison, “Conquest Unrequited: French Expeditionary Science in Mexico, 1864–1867,” French Historical Studies 26.3 (2003): 459–495.

(29.) See Benjamin Keen, The Aztec Image in Western Thought (New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 1990), 387–398.

(30.) Bernal, A History of Mexican Archaeology, 110.

(31.) For a comprehensive history of museums in late-19th-century Mexico, see Miguel Angel Fernández, Coleccionismo en México (Monterrey, Mexico: Museo de Vidrio, 2000); Luisa Fernanda Rico Mansard, Exhibir para educar: Objectos, colecciones y museos de la ciudad de México (1790–1910) (Barcelona: Ediciones Pomares, 2004); and Mechthild Rutsch, Entre el campo y el gabinete: nacionales y extranjeros en la profesionalización de la antropología Mexicana (1877–1920) (Mexico, D.F.: Instituto de Antropología y Historia, 2007).

(32.) Christina Bueno, “Forjando Patrimonio: The Making of Archaeological Patrimony in Porfirian Mexico,” The Hispanic American Historical Review 90.2 (2009): 215–245.

(33.) A digital copy of the original is available.

(34.) Enrique Florescano, “La creación del Museo Nacional de Antropología y sus fines científicos, educativos, y politicos,” in El patrimonio cultural de México, ed. Enrique Florescano (México, D.F.: Fondo de Cultura Económica, 1993).

(35.) See Mauricio Tenorio-Trillo, Mexico at the World’s Fairs: Crafting a Modern Nation (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1996).

(36.) Bernal, A History of Mexican Archaeology, 144.

(37.) Bueno, “Forjando Patrimonio,” 222. Guatemala passed similar legislation in 1893.

(38.) Little has been written about the history of museums in Guatemala. For brief overviews, see Luis Lujan Muñoz, Guia de los museos de Guatemala (Guatemala: Instituto de Antropologia e Historia de Guatemala, 1971); and Oswaldo Chinchilla Mazariegos, “Archaeology in Guatemala: Nationalist, Colonist, Imperialist,” in The Oxford Handbook of Mesoamerican Archaeology, ed. Deborah L. Nichols and Christopher A. Poole (New York: Oxford University Press, 2012).

(39.) See Bueno, “Forjando Patrimonio,” for accounts of disputes over control of artifacts at Xochicalco and Teotihuacan.

(40.) Carmen Ruiz, “Insiders and Outsider in Mexican Archaeology (1890–1930),” PhD diss., University of Texas at Austin, 2003, ch. 3.

(41.) Robert L. Brunhouse, In Search of the Maya: The First Archaeologists (Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1973), 162–195; Donald McVicker, “A Tale of Two Thompsons: The Contributions of Edward H. Thompson and J. Eric S. Thompson to Anthropology at the Field Museum,” Fieldiana: Anthropology, New Series 36 (2003): 139–152; and Guillermo Palacios, “Los Bostonian, Yucatán y los primeros rumbos de la arqueología americanista estdounidense, 1875–1894,” Historia Mexicana 62.1 (2012): 105–193.

(42.) See Brunhouse, In Search of the Maya, 188–191.

(43.) Bernal, A History of Mexican Archaeology, 160–164; Franz Boas, “Summary of the Work of the International School of American Archaeology and Ethnology in Mexico,” American Anthropologist 17.3 (1915): 384–395; Eduard Seler, “The Basis and Object of Archeological Research in Mexico and Adjoining Countries,” Science 33.846 (1911): 397–402; Ricardo Godoy, “Franz Boas and His Plans for an International School of American Archaeology and Ethnology in Mexico,” Journal of the History of the Behavioral Sciences 13.3 (1977): 228–242.

(44.) For an introduction to the debate about the origins of stratigraphic excavation, see David L. Browman and Douglas R. Givens, “Stratigraphic Excavation: The First “New Archaeology,” American Anthropologist 98.1 (1996): 80–95.

(45.) Ignacio Bernal, A History of Mexican Archaeology: The Vanished Civilizations of Middle America (New York and London: Thames and Hudson, 1980).

(46.) Cline, Handbook of Middle American Indians, vols. 12–15.

(47.) Enrique Florescano, ed., El patrimonio cultural de México (México, D.F.: Fondo de Cultura Económica, 1993); Miguel Angel Fernández, Coleccionismo en México (Monterrey, Mexico: Museo de Vidrio, 2000); and Luisa Fernanda Rico Mansard, Exhibir para educar: Objectos, colecciones y museos de la ciudad de México (1790–1910; Mechthild Rutsch, Entre el campo y el gabinete.

(48.) Gordon R. Willey and Jeremy A. Sabloff, A History of American Archaeology (San Francisco: W. H. Freeman, 1974); and Gordon R. Willey, An Introduction to American Archaeology, Vol. one, North and Middle America (Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1966).

(49.) Bruce G. Trigger, A History of Archaeological Thought, 2d ed. (Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 2006); George W. Stocking Jr., ed., Objects and Others: Essays on Museums and Material Culture (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1983); George W. Stocking Jr., Colonial Situations: Essays on the Contextualization of Ethnographic Knowledge (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1991); and George W. Stocking Jr., Victorian Archaeology (New York: Free Press, 1987).

(50.) Peter J. Bowler, Evolution: The History of an Idea (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1984).

(51.) David A. Brading, The First America: The Spanish Monarchy, Creole Patriots, and the Liberal State, 1492–1867 (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1991); Cañizares-Esguerra, How the Write the History of the New World; and Earle, Return of the Native.

(52.) Keen, The Aztec Image.

(53.) John Lloyd Stephens, Incidents of Travel in Central America, Chiapas, and Yucatan (New York: Dover, 1969).