of American Archaeology excavations. The dig was to be funded by Charles P. Bowditch, of Cambridge, Massachusetts, and William H. Bixby, of St. Louis. Each was to contribute $1,500 per year for five years with half of the exportable finds to be divided among the Peabody Museum at Harvard and the St. Louis Society. Bowditch was a wealthy Boston businessman and amateur Mayanist who underwrote much of the Peabody Museum’s investigations in Mexico and Central America for more than 20 years, beginning in the 1890s. Most infamously, he supported Edward H. Thompson’s dredging of the sacred cenote , or well, at the Maya ruins of Chichén Itzá, with the finds, including many gold objects, shipped back to Harvard. Thompson’s cenote excavations and the legality of the export of his finds to the U.S. became a significant issue in the Mexican press, but not until after the Mexican Revolution had ended, in the 1920s, and after Bowditch’s death. The Bowditch-Bixby Palenque archaeology plan never came to fruition, mainly because it was eclipsed by the struggle over where the School of American Archaeology should be located. Whereas Hewett and his supporters argued for Santa Fe, Bowditch and his supporters, including the Columbia University anthropologist Franz Boas, preferred Mexico City, while the prominent writer Charles Lummis hoped to locate the school in Los Angeles.
In late 1908, the AIA governing committee for American archaeology voted for Hewett’s plan, which allowed him to successfully lobby the 1909 New Mexico Legislature to establish the Museum of New Mexico and to stipulate that both the museum and the School of American Archaeology would be housed in the Palace of the Governors. As Don Fowler notes in an article entitled “Harvard versus Hewett,” Bowditch and the Cambridge crowd were defeated, but they never ceased opposing Hewett’s projects or his belief that institutions based west of the Mississippi River should control Southwestern archaeology. While Thompson was dredging the Chichén Itzá cenote, Hewett and his crew, including Morley, traveled to Mexico and Guatemala in search of a suitable archaeological site to excavate. Letters to Hewett from F.W. Shipley, a professor of classics at Washington University and officer of the St. Louis Society relate that the society took over Bixby’s role as an underwriter. They also allocated funds for Hewett to purchase pre-Columbian antiquities for a planned display at the Museum of Fine Arts in St. Louis (now the St. Louis Museum of Art). In 1910, Hewett bought crates of Maya and Aztec objects for the St. Louis Society in Mexico and Guatemala. The same year, Hewett, Morley, and Jesse L. Nusbaum did an archaeological reconnaissance at the ruins of Quiriguá. The United Fruit Co. had purchased the property where the ruins are located to develop as a banana plantation, and it offered Hewett not only financial support but also valuable in-kind contributions, such as free passage for personnel and freight on company steamers and railways. As many of Nusbaum’s photos in the Palace of the Governors Photo Archives show, much of the first season of 1911 was spent cutting and burning the forest and vegetation from the ruins so that they might be mapped and excavations begin. While this was (and is) common practice in archaeological projects in the tropics, the problem, as the correspondence makes clear, is that Hewett’s St. Louis funders expected excavations to have begun and for
important and exportable specimens to have been uncovered. While one might suggest that Hewett ought to have planned a longer season in 1911, records show that they had barely enough funds to clear the jungle and map the ruins. The correspondence between Hewett and the members of the St. Louis Society from this period reveals a frequently strained relationship. The crates of antiquities Hewett purchased were held up and even temporarily lost in Mexico and Guatemala. Two letters written to Hewett in March 1910 from the St. Louis Society officer John Wulfing even requested that he purchase a necklace of pre-Columbian jade beads for his wife. Under Morley’s direction, the 1912 expedition did excavate several structures at Quiriguá and uncovered not only the ceramic vessel that is the subject of this column but also an important Maya hieroglyphic text and other fine examples of architectural sculpture.
But the findings failed to meet the expectations of the St. Louis Society, and in 1912, the governing body voted to cease funding the project. The reasons for this decision, as far as can be traced in the correspondence in the Hewett papers, had primarily to do with what the society rightly perceived as a lack of results. Only a handful of papers about the excavations were published in scholarly journals, and no final report was ever compiled. The St. Louis society members were also bitterly disappointed that Hewett’s excavations failed to produce the quantity and quality of archaeological specimens they felt entitled to by their financial contribution. Although Hewett continued to negotiate with the St. Louis society into 1913, there was no renewal of sponsorship. It did not help Hewett’s cause when, in March of that year, Morley unintentionally upset the St. Louis people because he failed to mention their support in an article he wrote for The National Geographic on the Quiriguá excavations. At the time, Morley was in Yucatán with Nusbaum, working on a doomed film project for the Panama California Exposition, held in San Diego in 1915. The pair also visited the ruins of Tulum and were reported to have been eaten by cannibals on the east coast of Yucatán. Hewett was able to send an expedition to Quiriguá in 1914, with the continued support of United Fruit, but also because the work was now primarily funded and directed toward developing exhibits for the Panama California Exhibition.
Back to the present. Although the AIA issued two further notices warning of increasingly harsh penalties should the St. Louis Society sell further collections, the Bonhams auction of the Quiriguá vase did take place. The St. Louis Society web page tells its side of the story (http://users.stlcc.edu/mfuller/aia/). The statement on the Quiriguá vase notes that it was displayed at the St. Louis Museum of Art until 1980, when it was removed to make way for the pre-Columbian collection of the department-store magnate Morton D. May. It notes further that the sale proceeds will be used to reestablish the society’s community-archaeology program. Right before the AIA Executive Committee voted to revoke the charter of the St. Louis Society, on Jan. 10, its acting president, Michael Fuller, who is a professor emeritus of anthropology at the St. Louis Community College, was allowed to read a statement. He makes the excellent points that the academic and professional archaeological community in the U.S. has done nothing to deal with the problem of orphan objects created by the field’s current laws, ethics, and best practices. He also notes that most of the regulations deal with undocumented objects. And no one would say that either the Harageh Treasure or the Quiriguá vase were undocumented. But given the fact that the St. Louis Museum of Art just reinstalled its pre-Columbian collection, it seems unlikely that the museum would have refused to accept the Quiriguá vase, as is advanced in these statements. Three years ago, when, as a scholar in residence at the New Mexico History Museum/Palace of the Governors, I contacted the St. Louis Museum of Art about the Quiriguá objects, the curator at the time had no knowledge of any overtures from the St. Louis Society. The latest in this ongoing tale is that, on Jan. 25, the St. Louis Society voted to comply with the demands of the AIA, and all previous officers and board members have been replaced. But was it a pyrrhic victory for the AIA? The objects are still gone. Perhaps a Santa Fe museum should have tried to purchase the Quiriguá vase, which was excavated by a project directed from our own Palace of the Governors.
Hewett stands next to Zoomorph P in Quiriguá, Guatemala, circa 1910-1911, Negative No. 118274; top left, Sylvanus G. Morley at the base of a giant matapalo (strangler fig) in Quiriguá, 1910, Negative No. 061131; top, structures 1 (left) and 2 in Quiriguá, 1911, Negative No. 061082; photos Jesse Nusbaum, images courtesy the Palace of the Governors Photo Archives (NMHM/DCA)