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Mollie Scheerer: A History Thesis


I traveled to Honduras from January 13th to 18th to do research for my senior thesis, “Mayan Copàn, the Hieroglyphic Stairway, and Museum Collecting: Issues of National Identity in Honduras”. I did so after applying to and receiving a generous grant from the Colin Leroy ’10 Research Fund. In doing so, I was fortunate enough to be the first Trinity student to travel abroad for thesis research.

In my thesis I explore the controversial nature of museums and their practice of collecting cultural artifacts from other countries through examining a magnificent hieroglyphic staircase in the ancient Maya city of Copán, Honduras that dates to that Civilization’s classic period, that is from 300-900 AD. Pieces of the stairway currently are found in the Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology at Harvard University. They were brought from their original site in Honduras in 1893 after Harvard funded expeditions to Copán in the late nineteenth century. At the time, there was a legal agreement between Harvard and the Honduran government that half of the stairway  findings were to remain at the original site and half could go back to Cambridge. This agreement, however, continues to create problems as many of the pieces of the stairway under Honduran jurisdiction are missing. A large part of my research is dedicated to how the removal of these pieces continues to affect Honduran national identity today.


My father accompanied me on my trip to Honduras and we traveled first to the city of San Pedro Sula, where we met the former Minister of Culture, Dr. Rodolfo Pastor Fasquelle, and his anthropologist wife, Teresa Campos. She is the director of the first museum in San Pedro Sula, Museo de Antropología e Historia. Three hours west of the city lay the remains of the Maya city of Copán, as well as several institutes and museums that we visited. I was able to do a great deal of research at the archives of the Centro Regional de Investigaciones Arqueológicas (CRIA) and there I found documents I probably would not have gotten my hands on otherwise in my research at Harvard or elsewhere. For example, I found legislative texts concerning the collection of movable cultural property specific to Honduras created by United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) in 1984. This organization also declared Copan a World Heritage Site because of the Hieroglyphic Stairway, a great point of cultural and national pride for Honduras as it is recognized as a site of “outstanding international importance and therefore as deserving special protection” defined by UNESCO. The stairway itself is part of the main Acropolis of Copan, was completed in 755 AD, and is the longest inscribed text in the Maya region. It details the reigns of the rulers of Copan and links them to their ancestor, the first ruler Yax’ K’uk Mo’ with many of the inscriptions depicting warfare. Five large sculptures were originally seated ascending the stairway, but one is currently in the Peabody. Today, the stairway is covered with a canvas to prevent further erosion and damage to the soft volcanic rock from which it is carved.


I would like to extend my sincerest gratitude to the Trinity College History Department and to the family of Colin Leroy for the opportunity to go to such an extraordinary place and conduct research.




My beautiful picture


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