In 1981 Manchester Museum accepted a generous donation of just under 300 objects from South and Central America on behalf of the Wellcome Historical Medical Museum. Amongst the collection were parts of Manuel García Elgueta’s Mayan collection which Sir Henry Wellcome (1853 – 1936) had acquired.
Elgueta (b. 1846) was a pioneer of Mayan linguistics and archaeology, and simultaneously a politician, writer, and journalist. He collected extensively in the Huehuetenango region of northwestern Guatemala and his objects were displayed at the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition, Chicago, USA, and the 1894 Mid-Winter Fair, San Francisco, USA.
The stonework in the collection comes from the important pre-Hispanic Mayan site of Pichiquil, Guatemala, and dates to the Classic Maya period AD200 – 900. Elgueta’s collection has been widely dispersed with the California Academy of Sciences, San Francisco, USA, in possession of a very significant amount.
Elgueta studied the people and cultures of the Guatemalan highlands, specifically the K’iche’, in an attempt to demonstrate cultural continuity with the pre-Hispanic Maya. Today the K’iche’ continue to fight for indigenous rights and promote their Mayan heritage in Guatemala and beyond. To learn more about the history of the K’iche’ in the 1960s and 1970s visit the the University of New Mexico K’iche’ Maya Oral History Project. As part of the Wikitongues project you can also hear examples of the K’iche’ Mayan language being spoken, such as this clip featuring Lorenzo: