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    The Central American Ceramics Research Project (CACRP) was a three and a half year (2009-2013) effort to survey and re-classify archaeological collections at the National Museum of the American Indian (NMAI), Smithsonian Institution. Using current archaeological scholarship and classification systems CACRP researchers analyzed more than 12,000 complete or near complete ceramic objects originating from Panama north to Belize. This colossal effort brought distinguished field scholars and museum professionals from the U.S. and Central America together with university students who carried out much of our research.

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Tripod Cylinder Vessel w-Jaguar Paw
Tripod Cylinder Vessel w-Jaguar Paw

Ulua Polychrome - Tenampua class (AD 850 - AD 950); Ulua River Valley, Honduras; NMAI 243268; Photo by CACRP staff - used courtesy of NMAI

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The CACRP team also participated in a wide variety of educational and public programming initiatives to promote our research and connect with Central American communities in the greater Washington DC. region. The CACRP work ultimately led to the development of the NMAI's first major archaeology exhibition (also its first bilingual exhibition), Ceramica de los Ancestros: Central America's Past Revealed, currently on view at the NMAI, Wash. DC. (March 2013 to Feb. 2015). The exhibit will move to the NMAI in New York City between April 2015 and Feb. 2016.

 

     The following web pages document the history and evolution of the CACRP as it grew from a simple objects survey into a multifaceted research program and international collaboration, supporting what one senior scholar has labeled a new “renaissance” in Central American archaeology. Our work is presented here to illustrate one successful attempt to address an important challenge now facing the field of archaelogy and many museums; namely, how to make late-19th century to mid-20th century "legacy" archaeology collections relevant to 21st century scholarship and museum exhibits. Quite often the result of minimally documented excavating and collecting activities, many important "legacy" collections have languished in storage facilities for decades, disregarded by archaeologists and overlooked or simply forgotten by museum staff. Two recent developments are, however, beginning to change this situation: a) Less destructive (and non-destructive) analytical techniques now exist to study collections objects and provide us with useful data despite the absence of good provenience information; b) Archaeologists are re-discovering the potential of legacy collections to inform their field research. As one archaeologist expressed to CACRP staff, puzzling artifacts recovered in the field probably have complete examples in "legacy" museum collections, they just don't know where they exist! The data provided by current field research, combined with increased study of objects sitting on museum shelves can certainly paint a much more complete and accurate portrait of the past. The CACRP approach can serve as an important first step in reconnecting archaeologisits and "legacy" collections.

 

 

Re-Analysis -> Re-Integration​ -> Re-Discovery

Site created by Alex Benitez                                                                                                        Contact CACRP staff:   centamceramics at gmail

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