Universiteit Leiden

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Research project

Andean Mummies Journey to European Museums 1810-1970

A look into the political history of collecting and the collections of Andean mummies in Western European museums from 1830-1930 through archaeology and paleoimaging.

2014 - 2018
Universidades de Excelencia programme, Secretaria Nacional de Educación Ciencia y Tecnologia of Ecuador
Steven Engelsman Grant for collections research at the Rijksmuseum Volkenkunde 2014

Research questions

How can the relationship between Andean and Western European nations be evidenced by the history of the collecting and the collections of mummified human remains in national museums?

What are the regions, cultures and populations represented in Andean mummy collections in Western Europe and what is their relevance in relation to archaeological collections of the same nature in their countries of origin?

What has been and is the place of Andean mummies in Western European museum collections from the time of their acquisition until today?

Social relevance

With this project Maria Patricia Ordoñez presents comprehensive and reflective view of the historical relations between the Andes and Western Europe as seen by the trade of mummies.

The intellectual and trade networks formed at in the mid-19th century and continued until today shed light into the development of archaeology, physical anthropology and the perception of Andean antiquities in both regions. Some of these perceptions have changed but other remain unchanged almost a century later. With this research we introduce a series of discussions regarding identity, recognizing the use of archaeology as a tool for identity reaffirmation within the discourse of the “new Latin American left” movement, by means of repatriation and reburial claims.

Scientific relevance

The research proposed is innovative in two main ways. Firstly, it represents a multidisciplinary approach to the subject of mummified remains contextualization, as it adds techniques of osteoarchaeology and paleoimaging to reinforce the contextualization of the remains to the traditional archeological descriptive methods used in Andean archaeology. Secondly, this research proposes a historical perspective of Andean-European relations as viewed from the trade of antiquities and the role of Andean human remains collections in European museums.

There is very little knowledge regarding the amount and characteristics of Andean human remains in European museum collections. Disjointed research has been conducted with specific collections, but a holistic view of the case of these mummies within the European museum context has not been attempted before, creating a considerable gap in the knowledge of Andean human remains collections in Europe and hindering the possibilities for research with said collections either from European institutions or from researchers from the source countries of the remains.

Maria Patricia Ordoñez  had chosen to focus exclusively in Western Europe mainly because of the histot of colonial relations between the two areas, and as a comparative study of the information available on and from Andean human remains collections in Europe with that present in the Americas, especially after the introduction of NAGPRA in the United States in 1990.

Collections work

Maria Patricia Ordoñez worked with 15 museums in Europe, traveling to see the collections, photographing and describing the mummies as well as reading the documents in archive related to them. Around 250 mummies make part of this project, each with a unique interesting story to tell, as individuals and as part of the collection they are part of. She also visited 10 museums in the Andes, taking note on how their mummies were exhibited and stored in an effort to compare and incorporate the view on these mummified  human remains of source nations with those found in Europe.

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