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john hawks weblog

paleoanthropology, genetics and evolution

Photo Credit: Chichén Itzá, Mexico, by Jezael Melgoza on Unsplash

A look at the history of Mormon archaeology in Mexico

Science magazine this week has a feature article by Lizzie Wade, looking at some of the history of archaeological research in Mexico supported by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints: “How a Mormon lawyer transformed archaeology in Mexico—and ended up losing his faith”.

The story is fascinating, focused on Thomas Stuart Ferguson and his efforts to fund and carry out research in Mexico starting in the 1940s.

Ferguson, a lawyer by training, did go on to open an important new window on Mesoamerica's past. His quest eventually spurred expeditions that transformed Mesoamerican archaeology by unearthing traces of the region's earliest complex societies and exploring an unstudied area that turned out to be a crucial cultural crossroads. Even today, the institute he founded hums with research. But proof of Mormon beliefs eluded him. His mission led him further and further from his faith, eventually sapping him of religious conviction entirely. Ferguson placed his faith in the hands of science, not realizing they were the lion's jaws.

It’s interesting to see this kind of feature in Science. It is a long piece that brings light to an underexamined period of the history of American archaeology, one that illuminates both faith and loss of faith within scientific work.