Copan Stela Cache Residue Analysis Project

In the 1930s, the Carnegie Institution of Washington re-erected numerous stone stelae at the Classic Maya site of Copan, Honduras. Objects found in offering chambers beneath each stela were housed in the Copan Museum until the 1970s when they were moved into storage in the Centro Regional de Investigaciones Arqueológicas (CRIA). As artifacts were re-numbered and re-housed in the decades since discovery, many lost their original provenience information or were separated from the other objects with the same excavation context. From 2013 to 2014, Barbara Fash, Katherine Brunson, and Alexis Hartford (pictured below) worked with CRIA collections manager Norman Martinez and Librarian Reina Flores to identify and re-contextualize the ceramic vessels excavated by the Carnegie project. In 2015, with the collaboration of Hans Barnard and Kym Faull at the University of California, Los Angeles, we completed a pilot residue analysis project using liquid chromatography mass spectrometry (LC/MS) to identify chemical markers of the cacao plant (Theobroma cacao) in residue samples taken from five of the vessels. Over the coming months, we will analyze the residue samples using Gas Chromatography Mass Spectrometry (GC/MS) to identify additional chemical markers that can provide clues about the vessels’ contents.

Images by Katherine Brunson.