Can anyone give me advice on how to get a possible artifact identified.
February 19, 2015 8:51 PM   Subscribe

I was given this artifact?, and am now trying to figure out how to identify what it is.

When I was a kid around 10, a neighbor found out i had a rock collection and gifted me a couple items to add to it. Recently, I went back to my parents house, who are clearing out my remaining belongings, and rediscovered the collection along with this piece.

From my recollection, the neighbor who gave this to me was an older lady who lived across the street, who passed away not too long after giving me this. When she gave it to me, she told me she had acquired it on a trip to Mexico. I would like to figure out whether she was telling a nice tale to a kid to make an item she bought at a tourist trap more exciting, or if she stole this thing from some Aztec site.

Can I walk in to a museum and ask the front desk "Hey I have this thing, can anyone here help me figure out what it is?". Does anyone here have any idea other than that, or can possibly give any information from the picture? Thanks.
posted by keame to Society & Culture (7 answers total)
A museum would be fine, especially one specialized in pottery or Aztec artifacts. I've brought a couple of locally found items to tribal museums to get information (Miwok midden on family land, mostly bivalve shells and mouse skulls, but one time, a bone flute!). If you'd like to donate it to a museum, you can, but it shouldn't be required for them to have a look at it.
posted by Drosera at 9:04 PM on February 19, 2015

If you have a university nearby, you could also take it to the Anthropology department.
posted by entropyiswinning at 11:09 PM on February 19, 2015

IAAA (I am an archaeologist, but this isn't my specialty).

Without actually seeing it in person, it's impossible to tell for certain, but it does not look like an ancient artifact to me. My specialty isn't Maya or Aztec, but I know something about the iconography, and it doesn't particularly resemble anything I've seen. My best guess is that it's just a broken decoration from a hotel or tourist location somewhere in Mexico and your neighbor picked it up off the ground there.

If you want someone to look at it, you can probably bring it to a local museum or anthropology department at a university. It would have to be someone who knows Aztec or Maya carvings to be able to tell you anything about it. Honestly, most of the information we can get about artifacts is dependent on the context where they're found, so there's not too much they can tell you even if they say it is a real artifact.
posted by raeka at 11:50 PM on February 19, 2015 [1 favorite]

To me it looks like the start of a copy of this funerary monument in San Augustín Archaeological Park in Colombia, or one of the other very similar ones from that site.
posted by drlith at 3:24 AM on February 20, 2015 [2 favorites]

I work at a museum. Our policy us to decline to identify artifacts. Unless a museum specifically has a webpage offering the service, they are probably also going to decline to help you. As it is, simply declining to help is very time-consuming. If we did offer the service, we would be overwhelmed with tourist doodads that simply look old, and few people would be willing to pay for the time of a highly degreed expert.
posted by Mo Nickels at 7:35 AM on February 20, 2015 [1 favorite]

Another museum employee reporting in - at the very least, don't just walk into a museum and ask if they can identify it. Call first. You will likely be told that the museum has a policy against authenticating objects and also against valuing them for you. This is because it's an ethical hot spot and also because authentication takes a lot of time and specialized knowledge.
posted by PussKillian at 9:20 AM on February 20, 2015 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thank you everyone for your input. It sounds like it isn't appropriate to approach a museum with what is most likely a reproduction. Anyone have any alternative suggestions, I suppose there's no Antique Roadshow for this.
posted by keame at 5:43 PM on February 20, 2015

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