150 Years of Smithsonian Research in Latin America

Over the past century and a half, Smithsonian scientists have found a fertile field for collaborative research and exploration in Latin America. 150 Years of Smithsonian Research in Latin America offers a window on the complex and rich relations among scientists throughout the Americas.


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Jesse Walter Fewkes

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Jesse Walter Fewkes (1850-1930), Smithsonian Institution Archives, SIA Acc. 90-105 [SIA2008-0593].
Born in Newton, Massachusetts, his scientific career is divided into two distinct research fields and time periods. The first deals with marine zoology and the last with anthropology. Fewkes received a Ph.D. in marine zoology from Harvard in 1877, and was curator of lower invertebrates at the Museum of Comparative Zoology until 1887. While on a collecting trip in the western United States, he became interested in the culture and history of the Pueblo Indians. Fewkes began a study of the Hopi and made some of the first recordings of their music. In 1895 he embarked on various archaeological explorations for the Smithsonian's Bureau of American Ethnology, and in 1918 was appointed chief of the Bureau.

Jesse Fewkes was particularly interested in the prehistoric inhabitants of the island of Puerto Rico, which became a possession of the United States as a result of the Spanish-American war. His objective was to collect specimens that would shed light on the island's prehistoric inhabitants. Excavations there yielded information about the physical characteristics and the manner of life of its early indigenous people.

Among the archaeological artifacts recovered by Fewkes were some "problematic archeological objects," then called stone collars or rings. Fewkes was perhaps the earliest anthropologist to call attention to these pieces, and attempt to associate them with other Mesoamerican artifacts we now know to be related to the ball game.

He excavated a number of Precolumbian sites in Puerto Rico and extended his research to neighboring islands such as Haiti, Cuba, Trinidad and the Lesser Antilles. His book, Aborigines of Porto Rico and Neighboring Islands, published in 1907 is a classic of early archaeology, and is profusely illustrated with photographs of his many important finds. Jesse Fewkes retired from the Smithsonian Institution in 1928 and died two years later.