The Testimony of Hands:
An Introduction for First Time Visitors

Please Help Shape This Exhibit!

87.51.4, figurine The Testimony of Hands highlights the archaeology collections at the Maxwell Museum, University of New Mexico. These objects live in storage, where few members of the public are able to see them. In 2012, many of the objects will be included in a gallery exhibit, but only for a while. This online exhibit makes it possible for people in New Mexico (and around the world) to see and learn about cultural treasures held in trust for them.

One important difference between Hands and any previous Maxwell Museum exhibit is our wish to involve you in the creative process. Do you have a question about a particular object, or would you like to see it from a different angle? Or do you know something about that type of object and if so, are you willing to share your knowledge with other online visitors? For that matter, do you know a web page out there we can link to, to expand on the content provided here? Finally, which of these objects would you most wish to see, when the gallery version of Hands opens in 2012? Don't let these questions limit you, however—we're open to any ideas you have about improving this exhibit. As you provide input through our User Feedback Page (notice the link to the left), we will use your input to develop the web site and gallery exhibit.We will also acknowledge your help. Please be part of the creative process!

Visiting the Web Site

One of the joys of working in a museum is wandering through rooms full of wonderful things. This web site will (we hope) allow users to have a similar experience. Links lead from the Home Page to every other page in the online exhibit, providing just enough of a "tree" structure to allow exploration. There are also "learning paths" that cross-cut the basic structure, to allow visitors to learn in a more formal way. Here and there you will find links that enable you to "drill down" to additional details. In some cases we suggest books or articles, which are listed on an additional readings page.

If you get lost, you can dig yourself out by using the links to the left—or just use your browser's "back" button. Welcome to the basement of the Maxwell Museum, and happy wandering.

About the Objects You Will See ... And the People Who Made Them

The human experience stretches uncounted generations into the past and, we hope, into the future. How we live today depends, in large part, on those who went before us. How—or if—future generations will live depends, in turn, on how we live.

We hope that humanity will not merely survive, it will succeed. But to accomplish that hope, we must understand who we are. One of many ways to seek that understanding is to examine the chain of human experience. The future is closed to us; we can only guess. But the memories of thousands of past generations are available to us, however imperfectly preserved. From those memories, we can learn.

As we look backwards in time, the sources of our knowledge quickly grow dim. A few generations ago there were no digital records; a few generations before that, no photographs. Time has ravaged most of the words ever written. If we go back far enough, no words were written. For most of the human experience, we have only lessons gleaned from the wreckage of the past.

The men and women who sift through the wreckage, and try to learn something interesting and useful to humanity, are archaeologists. As they work, they become conscious of lives lived hundreds or thousands of years ago. We all benefit from those lives: many tools we use, and most of the things we eat, were given to us by people whose names we'll never know. The wheels we travel on were invented in a village long turned to dust. The oats in our breakfast come from experiments made before that village existed. Most of us accept such gifts without a thought of how they came to be, or to whom we owe our survival and comfort. For so many generations, we have simply used the gifts as part of our birthright. But for those who look deep into time, the gift is not separate from the giver.

This exhibit is of things made by people like us. They were born, and died. They knew pain and heartbreak as well as joy. They used their minds and hands to survive and shape their world. As you look at each object, imagine the hands that made it. If you do, you'll begin to see the muscled arm, the darting eye, and in time the whole person. Don't you owe them that much? By living they kept the human chain alive; their struggles gave us things we take for granted today. The objects you will see were made with their hands, the way written words are made. It is their testimony, brought here for you to read.

The objects you will see are from the collections of the Maxwell Museum. Other collections, in other places, would tell the story differently—but it is only one story, just as there is only one chain of human experience.

A Few Useful(?) Facts

What those numbers mean

Museums have thousands or millions of objects, so they use numbering systems to help track objects. There is no "standard" system. At the Maxwell Museum we use three sets of numbers separated by periods. The first set of numbers is the year: two digits for the 1900s (e.g., "36" = 1936), four digits beginning in 2000. The second set of numbers indicates the nth collection of that year. The third set of numbers indicates the nth object of that specific collection. Thus, for example, "2004.12.20" would be the 20th object of the 12th collection acquired in 2004.

Why we don't know more about many objects

When archaeologists excavate objects, they are careful to record the location of the find, what was found with the object, and other information. They also take samples of "uninteresting" materials such as dirt, charcoal, and scraps of food bone, which can be analyzed to provide more information about the object and the site it was found in. In such cases, our information about the object is quite extensive.

For most of the objects included in this online exhibit, the story is quite different. They were removed by the ground by a looter, who sold the object to someone else, who sold it to ... and so on, until the object came into the possession of a collector who chose to break this cycle, by donating the object to a museum. The good news is that the object is now available for study and public display, and in some cases the museum will return the object to the country or traditional group from which it came. The bad news is that most of the object's history, both before and after it was looted, will forever remain unknown. It is this loss of information, more than anything else, that leads archaeologists to discourage the private collection of antiquities.


About the Contributors

Dave Phillips has been involved in archaeology as a volunteer, student, and professional since 1970. In 2003, after 22 years as a consulting archaeologist, he became the curator of the Maxwell Museum's archaeological collections. Dave is also a research associate professor of anthropology at UNM.

Catherine Baudoin is the Maxwell Museum's curator of photography and web master.

Bernie Bernard is a professonal photographer who has contributed his labor to create most of the images in Hands.

Lillian Greenawald is a graduate student in public archaeology at UNM. She has worked in museums and on field research in New Mexico since 2005.


Finally, special thanks to...

Lou Schuyler, for her feedback on initial web page design.


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