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HOME > PAST ISSUE > May-June 2003 > Article Detail

FEATURE ARTICLE

The Ancient Ceramics of West Mexico

Corpse-eating insects and mineral stains help a forensic anthropologist and a chemist determine the authenticity of 2,000-year-old figurines

Robert Pickering, Ephraim Cuevas

Figure 3. Insect's life cycle in the Huitzilapa tomb . . .Click to Enlarge Image

Archaeologists and anthropologists are in the business of solving mysteries. Like police detectives they're faced with the task of reconstructing what happened at a particular place, based on what was left behind. Sometimes even their methods are the same. In this instance, forensic anthropologist Robert Pickering and chemist Ephraim Cuevas used their knowledge of corpse-eating insects and the oxidation of metals by bacteria to assess the authenticity of 2,000 year-old ceramic figurines. Authentic figures are valuable to scientists as clues to an ancient people's way of life, and to collectors of antiquities as works of art. That combination has fueled a vigorous underground market in sophisticated forgeries. Pickering and Cuevas suggest a new way of identifying the real thing.


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