4940 - Teotihuacan Masks ¿ Looking Beneath the Surface

Teotihuacan masks have been collected since at least the 1300s during Aztec times. Collecting dramatically intensified during the 19th and early 20th century, when the masks became highly valued by collectors and museum curators. Fewer than a dozen masks can be documented to archaeological contexts, while hundreds are found in museums and private collections. Where did they all come from, who made them? The creation of “ancient” artifacts to fill an exploding demand for pre-Columbian collections began early in the 19th century and the industry still operates today with museum collections filled with fakes and forgeries that are only unmasked through scientific examination and analysis. This paper will present an overview of the materials, methods and tools used in the production of documented Teotihuacan stone masks to establish criteria for judging artifacts in museum collections which lack provenience. A selection of documented masks from Teotihuacan, Malinalco and Xochicalco will be examined and compared with masks in early collections, such as that of Joel Poinsett, 1825, in the University of Pennsylvania Museum, and a later group collected by Eugène Boban in 1860, in the Quai Branly Museum in Paris. Silicone molds taken from the documented masks will be examined under scanning electron microscope (SEM) with the intention of creating a database of tool marks that can be used to determine tools and manufacturing techniques. This data set will be compared with masks in the two early collections, in addition to other unprovenienced masks. Findings will assist in determining provenance and authentication.

Keywords: masks, raw material, tools, tool marks, SEM

Author: Walsh, Jane MacLaren (Smithsonian Institution, Austria / Österreich)


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