University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Athropology

Author: Elin C. Danien

The Ritual on the Ratinlixul Vase

Pots and Politics in Highland Guatemala

By: Elin C. Danien

One of the ironies of archaeology is that as it has matured and changed from what was called “antiquarianism” to a more scientific discipline, its practitioners have tended to ignore early museum collections gathered on an indiscriminate basis and to concentrate their efforts instead on new excavations designed to test hypotheses and methodologies. Certain­ly, modern […]

Send Me Mr. Burkitt…Some Whisky and Wine!

Early Archaeology in Central America

By: Elin C. Danien

At the end of the last century, the pre-Columbian ruins of Mexico and Gua­temala attracted adven­turers and archaeologists whose names are known to every modern student of the Maya. Maler . . . Morley . . . Maudslay . . . Thompson . . . these men helped write some of the most impor­tant chapters […]

Chicken Soup and Canvas Bags

Advice for the Field

By: Elin C. Danien

Today when the Internet is almost ubiqui­tous and air travel is as common as a walk down the lane, it’s difficult to grasp the im­mense difficulties that Mayanist archaeologists faced in the early years of the l9th century. The University of Pennsylvania Museum’s excavation of Piedras Negras provides both a reminder of those early days […]

Food Notes: Yom Yom Cacao!

A Favorite Maya Drink Lives On

By: Elin C. Danien

  One of the most important choc­oholics who ever lived was, argu­ably, Carl von Linné, the 18th-century Swedish scientist who created the system of taxonomic classification still used to identify all living things by genus and species. If he had not succumbed to the pleasures of chocolate, would he have placed the species cacao in the most […]

On the Dilemma of a Horn

The Horned Shamans of West Mexico

By: Elin C. Danien

In one of the Wall cases of the Penn Museum’s Mesoamerican Gallery two small figures curl and turn around each other, joined together as they have been for per­haps two thousand years. Each grasps the other by the single horn that protrudes from his forehead. Because this small clay sculpture, like many others from west […]

Painted Metaphors

Politics and Pottery of the Ancient Maya

By: Elin C. Danien

Pottery and Politics of the Ancient Maya features a unique collection of Maya artifacts, including the Chama polychrome ceramic cylinders, excavated by Robert Burkitt for Penn Museum (University of Pennsylvania Museum) almost one hundred years ago. It tells the story of the ancient Maya as witnessed by the villagers in the backcountry of Guatemala’s Alta […]

Maya Home and Hearth

From the Archives

By: Elin C. Danien

  Robert Burkitt, who was Penn Museum’s “man in Guatemala” from 1912 to 1937, had an insatiable curiosity bout all things Maya. This went beyond his interest as an archaeologist or his desire as a linguist to understand and record the highland Mayan languages. Although not a trained cultural anthropologist, he was interested in the […]

Mirroring the Maya

From the Guest Editor

By: Elin C. Danien

Not too long ago the Maya were thought of as an enigmatic people who had inhabited a large portion of Mesoamerica and then mysteriously disappeared. Romantic tales of ruined cities and carved monuments frequently accompanied accounts of explorers and adventurers daring the dangers of scorpions, jaguars, river rapids, and torrential rains to discover these amazing […]

Treasure in the Stable: The Long Lost Papers of Robert Burkitt

Field Experience

By: Elin C. Danien

Eccentrics abound among the explorers, adventurers, and archaeologists who have contributed to Mesoamerican archaeology. One who has intrigued me for more than three decades is Robert Burkitt, whose work, more than half a century after his death, continues to contribute to our knowledge of the Maya. I first heard of him in the late 1970s, […]

A Ritual Vessel in a Maya Cave: Chocolate-Loving Monkeys and Humans

What in the World

By: Elin C. Danien

Caves in the Alta Verapaz region of Guatemala were frequently used for rituals and burials by the ancient Maya. This cylindrical vessel comes from a cave near the village of Senahú, where it was collected by Robert Burkitt during the early 20th century. Although Burkitt called it a burial cave, his usually meticulous notes do not reveal […]

Caroline Dosker: She Dusted the Mummies


By: Elin C. Danien

For many of us who knew her, Caroline Dosker’s death on June 26, 2005, marked the end of a more free‑wheeling era in the Museum. Caroline was fond of boasting that she grew up in the Museum, play­ing in its galleries as a child and making up stories about objects on exhibit while her father, […]