100 Years – 100 Objects: Pre-Columbian figurine fragments

November 23, 2009

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.

Pre-Columbian figurine fragments - fourThis collection of ceramic figurine fragments was chosen because it illustrates the problem many museums face. What do we want to display? What do we want to collect?

In most cases, the answer will be “museum quality” pieces, which often translates into “pristinely preserved.” While there are a good number of high quality pieces out there, there are many more that are broken. That is what we see here.

These imperfect reminders of a past are no less important than an intact piece. For one, as is the case here, the sheer volume of figurine fragments from Mesoamerica tells us that they were abundant. What were they used for? Where do we find them? How were they made? Even broken artifacts like these can give us some answers. For this reason alone, they are treasured given a spot on our virtual exhibit.

Explore thousands of years of Native American history in the John P. McGovern Hall of the Americas, a permanent exhibition at the Houston Museum of Natural Science.

You can see more images of this fascinating artifact – as well as the others we’ve posted so far this year – in the 100 Objects section at 100.hmns.org

Authored By Dirk Van Tuerenhout

As curator of anthropology, Dirk is responsible for the museum’s artifact collection and is involved in its temporary and permanent anthropology exhibits. Dirk is an expert in human cultures; he curates the Museum’s Hall of the Americas and specializes in native American cultures like the Aztec and Maya.

6 responses to “100 Years – 100 Objects: Pre-Columbian figurine fragments”

  1. Marshall says:

    These are great! It seems like a big loss to have our public understanding of the past limited by a distinction as arbitrary as broken/unbroken after five centuries!

  2. Dirk Van Tuerenhout says:

    Hello Marshall,

    Thanks for your email. I often wonder what archaeologist 5000 years down the road will be using to reconstruct our society. My bet is that there will be a few broken items in there as well. Yet, broken or not, every item has the potential to contribute to our understanding of the past, and especially the people that made the artifacts recovered.

  3. victor rodas-vela says:

    I want to know more about pre columbian faces because I have an urn or incensario made of terra cota with 15 faces and don’t know what part of America this piece belongs. Can you help?

  4. Howdy! Do you use Twitter? I’d like to follow you if that would be okay. I’m absolutely
    enjoying your blog and look forward to new posts.

  5. Dirk Van Tuerenhout says:

    Hello victor rodas-vela. WIth apologies for the late reply. I have been busy helping out with the new Hall of Ancient Egypt. Please do send me an email at Dirk AT hmns.org (the AT stand for the ampersand sign) and I will take a look at the objects you are trying to identify. Regards.

    Dirk Van Tuerenhout

  6. Dirk Van Tuerenhout says:

    Hello “rc4s-pasadena-home.jimdo.com” Thanks for your twitter-related question. Unfortunately, I do not work in the Twitterverse. I am busy enough as it is. I am greatful that you like the museum’s blogs.


    Dirk Van Tuerenhout

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