Collective Biographies: Ancient Maya Objects in Collections, Past and Present

Author(s): Megan E. O'Neil

Year: 2018


This paper explores the collecting, repositioning, and separating of ancient Maya objects, both in the ancient past and the twentieth century. Archaeological context provides evidence of ancient Maya aggregation of disparate objects in tombs, caches, or sculptural tableaux as well as evidence of repositioning or separating things. These changes are fundamental aspects of objects’ life histories. Yet in the twentieth century, ancient monuments and object sets also have been divided -- and new sets created--whether by national museums or research institutions seeking to trade duplicates or by players in the art market hoping to increase return by splitting paired or assembled objects. Such divisions are problematic, for new assemblages often frame modern understandings of them, and evidence for original assemblage may be difficult or impossible to reconstruct. This paper thus explores the importance of considering objects not just on their own but also in relation to other pieces to which they were connected. Thinking about biographies of objects--or collective biographies-- in the past and present is a way to theorize both objects’ individual trajectories and the connections and disconnections resulting from forming or splitting pairs, sets, or other groupings.

Cite this Record

Collective Biographies: Ancient Maya Objects in Collections, Past and Present. Megan E. O'Neil. Presented at The 82nd Annual Meeting of the Society for American Archaeology, Washington, DC. 2018 ( tDAR id: 444588)

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Spatial Coverage

min long: -94.197; min lat: 16.004 ; max long: -86.682; max lat: 21.984 ;

Record Identifiers

Abstract Id(s): 22416