Curating Large Skeletal Collections: An Example from the Ancient Maya Site of Copan, Honduras

Author(s): Katherine Miller Wolf

Year: 2017


Bioarchaeologists draw data from the detailed study of human remains from archaeological contexts. The information embedded in the skeleton provides a powerful window into prehistory; informing us of past lifeways, health/disease, diet, kinship, migration, and conflict. The intimate relationship between the living and the dead is necessarily imbued with respect and an ethical responsibility to properly handle and curate the remains of those that we study. However, the conservation of skeletal collections may be hindered by a myriad of challenges at various scales including bureaucracy, unstable political climates, insufficient funding, missing field documentation, inadequate laboratory space, or a lack of basic necessities like storage containers or shelving units. Here, I will present the process and results of a decade-long project devoted to the conservation and re-housing of the Copan skeletal collection. The human remains curated at the Centro Regional de Investigations Antropológicas include more than 1,000 individuals excavated by various archaeological and rescue projects over the past 125 years. Special focus will be paid to the logistics of implementing a large-scale conservation project considering possible pitfalls and solutions, especially in a tropical climate. Finally, recommendations will be offered to prevent problems before they arise both in field and laboratory methodology.

Cite this Record

Curating Large Skeletal Collections: An Example from the Ancient Maya Site of Copan, Honduras. Katherine Miller Wolf. Presented at The 81st Annual Meeting of the Society for American Archaeology, Vancouver, British Columbia. 2017 ( tDAR id: 431464)


Geographic Keywords

Spatial Coverage

min long: -107.271; min lat: 12.383 ; max long: -86.353; max lat: 23.08 ;

Record Identifiers

Abstract Id(s): 16242