Collecting Teotihuacan Project
Teotihuacan was the largest Precolumbian metropolis of the New
World, flourishing between 100 BC and AD 600. Located northeast of
Mexico City, Teotihuacan was once home to a multiethnic population
of more than 100,000 people. Temples, plazas, palaces, and two of
the world's largest pyramids rose from the urban center.
"Some might refer to Teotihuacan as the Rome of the New World,"
said Dr. Marc Levine of the Denver Museum of Nature &
Dr. Levine is conducting a project that examines collections of
Teotihuacan artifacts in museums across the United States. The
Collecting Teotihuacan Project began with an assessment of
artifacts from the ancient Mexican city included in the Crane
American Indian Collection at the Denver Museum of Nature &
"We're always looking for opportunities to carry out research on
our collections at the Museum," Dr. Levine said, "and this was an
opportunity to do that."
But the study goes beyond examining in-house artifacts. Dr. Levine
also evaluates the history and distribution of Teotihuacan
artifacts in other museums and in the art market. More than 50 U.S.
museums have participated in a survey conducted by Dr. Levine, and
a study of Precolumbian artifacts auctioned at Sotheby's over the
past 75 years provides additional information regarding the demand
for Teotihuacan-style artifacts on the private art market.
"One of the goals is to place our collection in a broader
context," Dr. Levine said.
According to Dr. Levine, many museum collections-including the
Crane Collection-reflect fluctuations and changing tastes of the
art market. Items such as stone masks and ceramics from Teotihuacan
are popular among private collectors and also have a strong
presence in museum collections. This is because many archaeological
objects are donated to museums by private collectors.
"We wish to better understand the collection at the Denver Museum
of Nature & Science and disseminate relevant information about
this collection to the wider scientific community," Dr. Levine
The Collecting Teotihuacan Project will also serve as a case study
for the larger issue of collecting Precolumbian antiquities. The
demand for these artifacts has led to the highly unfortunate
looting and destruction of archaeological sites throughout Latin
"A better understanding of the nature of this market over the last
75 years may put us in a better position to combat illicit trade in
the future," Dr. Levine said.