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Fellowship Report Religion and Political Legitimacy: A Stylistic, Iconographic, and Contextual Analysis of Postclassic Huastec Sculpture

Kim Richter, University of California, Los Angeles, Junior Fellow 2009/10

My dissertation project is an analysis of Postclassic sculptures (dating from about 900–1521 AD) from the Huasteca region, located along the Gulf Coast of northeastern Mexico. The Huasteca is usually perceived as peripheral to and isolated from greater Mesoamerica, however I hope to demonstrate that the region was connected with other areas, most likely serving as a strategic stop along long-distance trade routes. I argue that the sculptures were inscribed with a regional variant of the Postclassic international style and symbol set, a pictorial language shared by multi-ethnic elites throughout Mesoamerica in order to signal their membership in the Postclassic elite network. The sculptures are primarily figural representing both men and women often dressed in elaborate costumes. The difficulty in interpreting the iconography of these sculptures is the lack of archaeological and primary written sources. Although usually interpreted as images of deities, I focus on their historical specificity and potential political function, and I aim to reconstruct their context through a stylistic and iconographic analysis.

While at Dumbarton Oaks, I wrote drafts of two chapters for the dissertation, which I will file this year. I also examined and photographed the Huastec sculpture at Dumbarton Oaks, which is prominently featured in one chapter focusing on the headdress iconography of female sculptures. In addition, I photographed twelve Huastec sculptures during a visit to the Museum Support Center (the storage facility of the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History) further adding to my image database of over 500 Huastec sculptures.

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