Field Research

Tihosuco Heritage Preservation and Community Development Project (Quintana Roo, Mexico)

The Tihosuco Heritage Preservation and Community Development Project is an ongoing collaboration between the PennCHC, the Museum of the Caste War, the Tihosuco Ejido, and the Mayor’s office of Tihosuco. Together with the PennCHC, these partners are committed to exploring diverse aspects of local cultural patrimony and evolving Maya identity.

Tihosuco, a small Maya town located on Quintana Roo’s northern frontier with the state of Yucatán, has a unique history as the place where the Caste War started in 1847. A rebellion and war of resistance that lasted many decades, the Caste War’s imprint defines both the region and the town. The Caste War of Yucatán (also known as the Maya Social War) is generally acknowledged as the longest and most successful indigenous rebellion in Latin American history. For the past 80 years, the people of Tihosuco have been preserving the remnants of this rebellion on their ejido lands. Abandoned towns, haciendas, ranchos, roads and walls are all found throughout the ejido lands surrounding the town.

Tihosuco’s remarkable early colonial history, its abandonment during the 60-year Caste War and eventual re-settlement in the 1930s creates a natural division in research focus: before and after abandonment. Personnel from the Tihosuco partners, the University of Pennsylvania, and Mexican scholars respond to community-defined priorities focused on the ties that bind place and people, the past to the present and the present to the future.

The project aims to:

Weyka Heritage Project (California, USA)

The PennCHC is acting as a resource to Shasta Indian communities in northern California who are working to protect their cultural landscapes, restore their cultural heritage, and revitalize their language.

Beginning in 1851, Shasta Indian communities were adversely affected by California’s Gold Rush; today Shasta Indian people are working to assert a cultural and political identity. Collaborative archaeological fieldwork since 2014 has identified, mapped, and recorded sacred sites for Shasta Indian people. These efforts are leading to greater protection of sacred places and enabling Shasta Indian people to have a stake and a voice in the preservation of their cultural heritage. Additionally, this project is working with the linguistic materials of the late Sonoma State University linguist Shirly Silver to develop ways to reclaim the Shasta language. The Weyka Heritage Project draws inspiration from current scholarly discussions about Indigenous and community archaeology, and seeks to understand the ways in which the protection of cultural heritage can also enable Native communities seeking political rights and recognition.

Marzememi Maritime Heritage Project (Sicily, Italy)

The Marzamemi Maritime Heritage Project is a collaborative excavation, survey, and heritage management initiative focusing on maritime landscape and seaborne communication off the southeast coast of Sicily.

The concentration of accessible sites and their location at the intersection of the eastern and western Mediterranean facilitates inquiry into long-term structures of regional and interregional maritime exchange since antiquity. Archaeological fieldwork since 2013 has focused on the so-called Marzamemi “church wreck”, which sank while carrying prefabricated architectural elements for the construction of a church alongside other cargo from the eastern Mediterranean and Aegean during the 6th c. AD.

The project situates fieldwork within a broader dialog on community archaeology, collaborative heritage practices and the development of sustainable tourism, including the creation of underwater parks and dive trails. At the heart of these efforts is the museum at the Palmento di Rudinì, a restored 19th-century winery that serves as the project’s operational base and conservation laboratory. Since its recent reopening as a local community space and nascent ecomuseum, the structure is being transformed into the “Museum of the Sea” through initiatives of the Comune of Pachino with the support of the Soprintendenza del Mare and the Marzamemi project’s various archaeological and heritage experts.

Safeguarding the Heritage of Syria and Iraq Project (Syria, Iraq)

The PennCHC supports Syrians and Iraqis in their efforts to protect cultural heritage in conflict-affected areas through the Safeguarding the Heritage of Syria and Iraq (SHOSI) Project.

Alongside the Smithsonian Institution, the International Council of Museums, and other organizations, the Penn Cultural Heritage Center has spearheaded efforts to work directly with Syrian and Iraqi archaeologists, museum professionals, and conservators who are working to protect endangered sites and collections in their care in often desperate conditions. In 2017, the PennCHC co-curated the exhibit Cultures in the Crossfire: Stories from Syria and Iraq at the Penn Museum to spotlight these efforts, and continued on-the-ground preservation interventions. Ongoing efforts in the Ancient Cities of Northern Syria World Heritage Site are focused on working with communities displaced by the conflict who have taken shelter in the standing ruins, preserving traditional cultural handicraft traditions, and the protection of the museums in the area. Download this article to read more about the SHOSI Project’s efforts in the current conflict.