Ornithologists in Olman: Epistemological Ecologies in the Field and the Museum


  • Robert J. Kett


This article examines scientific activities surrounding a series of excavations of Olmec archaeological sites in the 1930s and 1940s. These excavations were the first to concertedly explore areas of Tabasco and Veracruz, Mexico that would come to be called Olman. These sites were the locus of various collecting activities including the unearthing of monuments and systematic studies of stratigraphies and ceramic sequences, as well as the gathering of ornithological specimens from an underexplored region. Through publications in National Geographic magazine and elsewhere, scientists would introduce Olman to wider scientific and popular audiences. This article explores this history in order to understand scientists’ attempts to make sense of a new region as they documented the Olmec and Olman's fauna. These collaborative scientific practices underline the need for ecological attention to how disciplinary knowledge-making practices interact during field research, an argument that is extended in a consideration of museum collections architectures.