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New Archive of Pre-Columbian Art

Posted On October 22, 2014 | 10:34 am | by jessicas | Permalink
The Christopher B. Donnan and Donna McClelland Moche Archive

Dumbarton Oaks is pleased to announce the donation of a major new scholarly archive of Pre-Columbian art, the Christopher B. Donnan and Donna McClelland Moche Archive. The Moche Archive was created by Professor Christopher B. Donnan over the course of nearly five decades, assembling materials that document the art and iconography of the Moche, an ancient South American people who inhabited river valleys in the arid coastal plain of northern Peru (ca. 100–ca. 850 CE). 

Donnan is an archaeologist who has devoted a lifetime’s study to the Moche civilization. He earned his PhD at the University of California, Berkeley, in 1968 and then became a faculty member at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), where he founded the program on Andean archaeology. While at UCLA, Donnan systematically gathered photographic documentation of Moche ceramics from more than 200 public and private collections around the world and developed a photographic method of documenting all parts of a vessel to capture the totality of iconographic detail. For more than 35 years, he collaborated with research associate Donna McClelland, who created the fineline drawings that document the complex iconography of Moche vessels. 

Upon his retirement as professor from the Department of Anthropology and director of the Fowler Museum at the University of California, Los Angeles, Donnan donated the Moche Archive to Dumbarton Oaks to ensure that this great resource would remain accessible to scholars and researchers. Donnan was a Senior Fellow (1977–1984) and a Visiting Scholar in Pre-Columbian Studies (2009) at Dumbarton Oaks.  

The Moche Archive comprises approximately 116,000 items, including photographic prints, reprographic prints, 35 mm slides, and black-and-white and color negatives. There are also some original drawings by Donna McClelland. The bulk of the archive’s subject matter relates to the modelled figures and painted scenes on ceramic vessels. Other media, such as metalwork, textiles, wood sculpture, mural painting, and architecture, are also represented. A unique feature of the Moche Archive is the ninety-plus iconographic subject categories devised by Donnan to organize the photographic materials and fineline drawings. Researchers may browse the holdings for themes as diverse as coca chewers, warriors, llamas, and music, as well as specific iconography such as the “Burial Theme” and the “Presentation Theme” or “Sacrifice Ceremony.” These subject categories are listed in an appendix to the finding aid for the collection.

In announcing the donation, Professor Jan Ziolkowski, director of Dumbarton Oaks, notes that “Dumbarton Oaks is one of the few institutions in the world that draws Pre-Columbianists from across the humanities and social sciences who are supported on-site by superb library, museum, and archival collections.” The Moche Archive has served for many decades as a major research tool for the study of one the most important ancient American cultures, and its acquisition provides Dumbarton Oaks with an unparalleled opportunity to enhance its research offerings, to expand significantly opportunities for fostering constructive interdisciplinary dialogue in Pre-Columbian Studies, and to reinforce the institution’s scholarly mission. 

The archive will be administered by the Image Collections and Fieldwork Archives (ICFA) at Dumbarton Oaks. To access the archive, researchers should consult the finding aid and contact ICFA to schedule an appointment. One-month stipends are available on a competitive basis to researchers wishing to use this archive as well as other Dumbarton Oaks resources.

Donnan comments: “It has been a pleasure for me to transfer the Moche Archive to Dumbarton Oaks. It is wonderful to know that it is in their capable hands, and will be available in perpetuity for scholarly research.”


- For further information or research queries about the archive, contact