Council for Museum Anthropology
Oral Presentation Session
In January 2016 the council representing Honduran Miskitu people denounced an archaeological project in their traditional territory that resulted in removal of carved stone objects to national curation facilities. Declaring that places within their territory identified as archaeological sites "never have been unknown to the children of the Muskitia", crediting "ancestral knowledge from our grandparents", the statement argued that Miskitu assured "the inviolability of these sacred places by looters". The Miskitu people, it said, have a "millenial history related to its own culture, values, traditions, and natural riches", a patrimony needed for "traditional use for their continuity (for their natural and spiritual coexistence)."
This statement records an indigenous claim to have curated abandoned settlements and safe-guarded objects within them as a patrimony, managed for traditional reasons. This paper takes this proposition seriously, to illuminate the history of the earliest precolumbian objects to make their way from Honduras to Europe: large stone vases originating in what was in the 18th century an independent Miskito realm. Setting aside the assumption that the historical value of such items was unrecognized until Europeans arrived, this paper defines practices of indigenous and local curation that were obscured as objects entered into European and North American museums. The paper shows that a continuing practice of setting aside local understandings and with them histories of local collecting can be countered by new readings of archives. Support for the Miskitu assertion of long-term protection and management of sites and objects of cultural heritage emerges from these records.