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April 11, 2012

Wheaton Anthropology Professor Publishes Article on Ancient Maya Pigment

Dean Arnold

An article by Wheaton College Anthropology Professor Dr. Dean Arnold and colleagues from the Field Museum of Natural History, the University of California at Long Beach, the US Geological Survey and the Smithsonian Institution in Washington was published recently in the Journal of Archaeological Science.

Dr. Arnold is internationally known as a scholar in ceramic ethnoarchaeology, a field which studies present-day societies in an effort to understand the materials of ancient societies excavated by archaeologists. One area of his research is Maya Blue, a pigment of clay and indigo used in the pottery and rituals of the ancient Maya. In 2008, he received international attention as the leader of a research team from the Field Museum which discovered how the ancient Maya produced the pigment.

His most recent article, titled “The First Direct Evidence of Pre-Columbian Sources of Palygorskite for Maya Blue,” demonstrates that palygorskite, a component of the color-rich and resilient pigment, was part of the practical knowledge of the contemporary Maya.

A 1964 graduate of Wheaton College, Dr. Arnold’s most recent research has focused on the modern potters of Ticul Yucatan, Mexico. “My research is not about ceramics per se, but about the people that make them,” he says. “It’s the exegesis of the past—trying to figure out what all of these materials humans have left behind tell us about ancient human cultures.”

Dr. Arnold has published numerous books and articles covering topics ranging from the ecology of production to the standardization of ceramic pastes and the social organization of potters. He is also an Adjunct Curator at the Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago. In 1996, he was awarded the Society for American Archaeology's Award for Excellence in Ceramic Studies. In 2008 he received the Wheaton College Alumni Association’s Alumnus of the Year Award for Distinguished Service to Alma Mater.

This spring, Dr. Arnold retires after teaching in the Sociology and Anthropology Department at Wheaton College for 39 years.

The article is available on the Science Direct website.