A pottery exhibit at the Museum of Anthropology demonstrates the unique partnership between Kansas University and the University of Costa Rica.
Anthropologists learn about culture by talking to people. Archeologists, on the other hand, have to rely on objects to tell the story of ancient peoples.
That notion is reflected in the title of a new exhibit at Kansas University's Museum of Anthropology, "The Talking Pot: Interpreting Ancient Pottery from Costa Rica."
The exhibit, which is coordinated by John Hoopes, KU associate professor of anthropology, and Kiersten Latham, a KU graduate student who is museum director at the Legler Barn Museum Complex in Lenexa, runs through Aug. 15.
Hoopes said the exhibit shows the unique partnership between Kansas University and the University of Costa Rica. It is one of the events leading up to a three-day symposium in April at KU on the political and environmental issues facing the Central American country.
Last fall, Hoopes taught an archeological ceramics course; for the first time the focus was hands-on work.
"I had the students do analyses of dozens of pottery vessels," he said, emphasizing that KU is a research institution and uses the museum's collections as training tools.
The students became actively involved in selecting and researching items for the exhibit.
"I wanted the students to pick out items that illustrated the course of their work and focus on the regions, time periods and culture (of Costa Rica)," he said. "We picked the pieces in part because of aesthetic reasons and to show the range of styles of techniques (of pottery making)."
The exhibit also explains the function of pottery in the people's daily lives.
Included in the exhibit are:
- Pots from the El Bosque culture of the Atlantic Watershed. These pots, constructed from 50 B.C. to 400 A.D., typically are supported by long tripod legs and are decorated with images of people, bats, monkeys and other animals. They were handmade and fired in open pits or kilns.
- Tripod drinking vessels from the central highlands of Costa Rica made from 300 B.C. to 500 A.D. Some of these pots have "rattle feet," or hollow feet with clay balls inside that make a noise when carried or tipped.
- Biscuit ware from 1100 A.D. to 1500 A.D. These thin-walled, unpainted pots were found in southern Costa Rica and western Panama and decorated with birds, frogs and other animals native to the area.
"Costa Rica is famous for its tropical rainforests and many of its animals are included in the pottery," he said as he identified likenesses of armadillos, crocodiles, monkeys, birds and sharks on the pots.
- Two jaguar effigy vases with rattle feet from the 13th and 14th centuries. One vase is a replica of the other and shows the makers' contrasting skill levels.
- A variety of pots from northwest Costa Rica that demonstrate different styles and techniques, such as using a polished pebble to rub the surface of an unglazed pot to give it a shine.
Hoopes said all the pots in the exhibit came from burial sites rather than scientific excavation sites.
"They were looted by grave robbers starting about 30 years ago," he said. "It's not something that should be encouraged. ... We can't do anything about it now except to educate people that it still happens today."
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