Les Field, UNM Asst. Professor of Anthropology


UNM Professor of Anthropology Les Field and a colleague Cristobal Gnecco, professor, Department of Anthropology, Universidad del Cauca in Colombia, have organized an international professional event in Colombia titled, "Illicit Excavation, Archaeology, Communities and Museums: An International Workshop on Complex Relationships and Future Perspectives."  The workshop will be held January 27 – 29 at the Universidad Del Cauca in Bogota, Colombia.

The purpose will be to discuss the complex relationships between illicit excavation of and trade in historic artifacts, archaeology, and museums and to explore ways local communities near excavation can mediate trade in, knowledge about and interpretation of the artifacts.  Renowned scholars from seven countries will discuss the problem with a specific focus on Colombia with participating Colombian scholars.

The group will travel to the Museo Del Oro (the Gold Museum) during one day of the conference.  That is something Field is particularly interested in because it houses the history of Colombia in gold through a variety of artifacts.  "The treasures there are probably the most stunning gold work ever done in the Americas," Field said.

Field has worked in Colombia for more than 20 years. Initially, he worked in agricultural development, but he has always been riveted by the pre-Columbian heritage of the country.  Farmers he worked with were finding artifacts in their fields and had their own interpretation of the past and the meaning of the objects.  Field had to leave Colombia for years because of the drug related violence in the country, but was able to return in 2005.

When he returned to the area north of Calí, he learned what had happened in his absence.  In the early 1990's a sugar cane worker was plowing a field when he looked back at his work and saw gold artifacts coming out of the ground.  Field says within two days, there were thousands of people digging in the field, looking for gold objects.  He said it created a social convulsion in that part of the country.

He knew immediately that this was a terrifically important story for a cultural anthropologist to explore.  The government had made an effort throughout the 20th century to promote the Museo Del Oro and to encourage Colombians to think of that as their heritage.  But the discovery  and mass looting of pre-Columbian gold artifacts in a field in the 1990's suggested that those efforts had not necessarily created that sensibility.

Field worked in Colombia from 2007 through 2010 on the project funded by a Fulbright Fellowship. He has written an article "The Gold System:  Explorations of the Ongoing Fate of Colombia's pre-Columbian Gold Artifacts" for the Colombian anthropology journal "Antipode" and will submit an updated version of that text to an anthropology journal in the U.S. as well. He is currently working with a number of Colombian anthropologists in his research into the history of the gold find and the way that the country discusses its own history.

The conference is funded by the Wenner-Gren Foundation for Anthropological Research, Inc. along with Universidad de los Andes in Bogota, Columbia, Instituto Colombiano de Antropologia y Historia Nacional and the Fundacion de Investigacions Arqueologicas Nacionales (Colombia).

Conference attendees have all written papers to share and discuss.  They plan to publish the papers in collaboration as a book in the future.

Media contact: Karen Wentworth; e-mail: kwent2@unm.edu