Gift of Honduran Artifacts Returned by Anthropology Dept.

TAMPA, Fla. (March 26, 2008) –Is it possible that some gifts are simply too precious to keep? Such was the case of a gift of rare prehistoric pottery given to the University of South Florida’s Department of Anthropology. An important collection of 157 prehistoric pottery artifacts was returned to the Honduran Institute of Anthropology and History, the branch of the Honduran government that oversees the country’s cultural heritage. The artifacts, which are associated with the prehispanic Pech culture of the eleventh through fifteenth centuries AD, include ceramic bowls, plates, and jars from Roatan Island in the Bay of Honduras, Central America. The collection was donated to USF in 1990 by a Tampa Bay area family after having been recovered from the family’s property on Roatan earlier last century. The Honduran government plans to display the pieces in a new museum being constructed on Roatan Island.

“Much as we have enjoyed having the opportunity to study and display this collection at USF, we believe that the right place for them is Honduras, where they can be exhibited and appreciated by the people of that country,” noted USF Anthropology Chair Elizabeth Bird. “We were delighted to be able to work with the Honduran officials to repatriate this precious collection and we know that the original donors were also pleased to hear that the collection is going home.”

USF Assistant Professor Christian Wells, accompanied the collection to Tegucigalpa. “I have worked in Honduras for nearly 15 years and have never seen such a large collection of archaeological materials from Roatan ever in one place,” he said. “This collection is hugely important because the prehispanic cultures of the Bay Islands are virtually unknown archaeologically.”

The repatriation took place at a press conference at the Ministry of Culture in Tegucigalpa on March 11, where Wells was joined by Honduras Minister of Culture Rodolfo Fasquelle, Director of the Honduran Institute of Anthropology and History Darío Euraque, and the Institute’s archeology chief Eva Martínez.

Wells and his archaeological team from USF, which included Assistant Professor Karla Davis-Salazar and graduate students José Moreno-Cortés and Lorena Mihok, analyzed the collection before it was returned to Honduras. They believe the pottery was probably manufactured by the Pech during the Early to Middle Postclassic period, roughly AD 1000 to 1400. Wells describes the pottery as “shallow outcurving and flaring-walled bowls, plates, and jars, decorated on the exterior with abstract curvilinear scrolls, usually finely incised.”

Wells said, “The Pech are indigenous hunter-gatherers and small-scale farmers that occupied the Bay Islands throughout the eleventh to sixteenth centuries. After being displaced to mainland Honduras by Spanish and English settlers in the seventeenth century, the Pech today occupy parts of the north coast of Honduras. As of 2001, the Pech numbered roughly 3,800, making them one of the smallest ethnic groups in Honduras.”

As reported by the Honduran press, the team believes that the pottery was likely used by shamans in ceremonies carried out after the death of a community member. Wells explained that these practices involved drinking fermented (alcoholic) beverages made from yucca or corn and eating special foods such as tamales made of yucca.

“Today, Pech communities along the Moskito Coast continue this tradition, although participants typically use plastic dishware instead of the traditional pottery,” said Wells.

The University of South Florida is among the nation's top 63 public research universities and one of 39 community engaged public universities as designated by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching. It is one of Florida's top three research universities. USF was awarded more than $300 million in research contracts and grants last year. The University offers 219 degree programs at the undergraduate, graduate, specialist and doctoral levels, including the doctor of medicine. The University has a $1.8 billion annual budget, an annual economic impact of $3.2 billion, and serves more than 45,000 students on campuses in Tampa, St. Petersburg, Sarasota-Manatee and Lakeland. USF is a member of the Big East Athletic Conference.

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