The Houston Museum of Natural Science was founded in 1909 – meaning that the curators of the Houston Museum of Natural Science have been collecting and preserving natural and cultural treasures for a hundred years now. For this yearlong series, our current curators have chosen one hundred exceptional objects from the Museum’s immense storehouse of specimens and artifacts—one for each year of our history. Check back here frequently to learn more about this diverse selection of behind-the-scenes curiosities—we will post the image and description of a new object every few days.
This description is from Dirk, the museum’s curator of anthropology. He’s chosen a selection of objects that represent human cultures throughout time and around the world, that we’ll be sharing here – and at 100.hmns.org – throughout the year.
The Pre-Columbian Maya were excellent craftsmen, capable of producing exquisite pieces like this eccentric piece of chert. Some obsidian and chert tools were used as knives, spear points, etc.; this object had no direct utilitarian purpose.
Archaeologists and anthropologists like to classify items like these as “ceremonial,” meaning they had a purpose we can only guess at. Perhaps it was used as a symbol of political power, hence the term scepter, or manikin scepter.