By the late 1970s, the UMMAA Oaxaca Project had found a number of extremely valuable artifacts: a jadeite statue, an effigy incense burner, and several unique Zapotec funerary urns. The workmen at San José Mogote, who had been involved in the discovery of these items, asked Flannery and Marcus if the artifacts would remain in Oaxaca or be sent to Mexico City. They feared they might never see them again.
It occurred to Flannery and Marcus that it would be wonderful to have a museum right at the site of San José Mogote. When they approached the Director of INAH, Guillermo Bonfil, and the Director of the Oaxaca Regional Center, Manuel Esparza, both reacted favorably.
The village of San José Mogote offered to contribute a small, roofless building to the project. Once having received permission from INAH, Flannery and Marcus began work on the museum on their days off from the excavation. Not one penny of National Science Foundation funds was diverted for the project; Flannery and Marcus financed the entire museum out of their salaries from the University of Michigan.
It turned out that one of the San José Mogote workmen, Genaro Luis, was a professional mason. He directed the paving of the floor, the construction of a roof, and the filling of the windows with glass bricks. These glass bricks introduced considerable sunlight while making it impossible for thieves to break in. A local carpenter made an unbreakable wooden door. A local welder protected the most valuable objects by creating a cage out of steel reinforcing rods. Many citizens of San José Mogote contributed their labor.
Not only were the most valuable artifacts exhibited in the museum, several workmen built a miniature wattle-and-daub house in one corner to show visitors how the Formative villagers lived.
The local people’s favorite aspect of the museum, however, were labels specifying which workman found each item, and photographs of the crew in which each man was named (and his nickname given).
For years afterward, local villagers took turns making themselves available to unlock the museum whenever a visitor arrived. Soon taxi drivers were bringing tourists from Oaxaca to see the museum, allowing the local inhabitants to sell them soft drinks and homemade popsicles.
So successful was the rustic museum financed by Flannery and Marcus that INAH was eventually persuaded to create a more elegant version. They contracted Dutch architect Tony Zwollo to renovate the shell of the old nineteenth-century Hacienda “El Cacique,” and sent a team of professional museologists from Mexico City. The new version of the San José Mogote museum is still supervised by the local people, but maintained by INAH.
This on-site museum is the result of a multi-year collaboration between the University of Michigan archaeologists, local villagers, and the Mexican government. It is a permanent source of pride for the people of San José Mogote.
Figure 23. During the 1970s, Flannery and Marcus funded the construction of a small archaeological museum at San José Mogote. The purpose of the museum was (1) to ensure that all important objects found at San José Mogote remained at the site, and (2) to raise the local citizens’ awareness of their own heritage.
All the workmen shown here in the process of museum construction had participated in the excavation. At far left we see an exhibit case, made from a second-hand bookshelf. The cage in the center of the photo—made of steel reinforcing rods—successfully prevented the theft of the site’s most valuable objects. On the wall at far right are posters describing the history of the site’s occupation from its founding to its abandonment.
The museum shown here was understandably rustic. Eventually, however, its popularity inspired the Mexican government to build a larger and more elegant version, using professional architects and museologists.
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