Council on Latin American and Iberian Studies

Professor Oswaldo Chinchilla Mazariegos

Professor Oswaldo Chinchilla Mazariegos
December 7, 2020

Professor of Archeology in Yale’s Department of Anthropology, Oswaldo Chinchilla Mazariegos earned his Ph.D. in 1996 at Vanderbilt University. His dissertation focused on the pre-Columbian city of Cotzumalhuapa, near Guatemala’s Pacific coast. In the decades since, he has expanded our understanding of the site’s significance through his research, curating, and teaching.

“Cotzumalhuapa ranks among the largest pre-Hispanic cities in the country, and it was a center of great innovation, manifested especially in a distinctive sculptural style and writing system.” Funded by grants from the Wenner-Gren Foundation, the National Geographic Society, and the National Science Foundation, Professor Chinchilla Mazariegos has conducted extensive fieldwork on settlement patterns in the ancient city. His many articles analysing the city’s monuments and sculptural corpus have helped deepen understanding of urbanization and religion in pre-Columbian societies.

Despite decades of work to document the significance of Cotzumalhuapa, the site remains vulnerable. “It is quite neglected and in need of attention, as the sites are exposed to damage caused by urban growth, intensive agriculture, and other modern uses.”

Although Cotzumalhuapa ranks among the largest pre-Hispanic cities in Guatemala, some of the most important sculptures from the site are abroad. Chinchilla Mazariegos has played an important role in documenting this modern history. “I have traced the history of collections that were exported from the country in the nineteenth century, such as a major group of sculptures from Cotzumalhuapa that went to the Ethnology Museum in Berlin, and more recently, the history of the first National Museum of Guatemala, whose collection was also exported and dispersed. I recently traced the present whereabouts of some of the most important objects from that collection, which are now in U.S. museums.” In a recently published volume of the Corpus of Maya Hieroglyphic Inscriptions series (2017), Chinchilla Mazariegos published detailed records of the sculptures in Berlin and Guatemala.

Prior to joining Yale, Professor Chinchilla Mazariegos taught in the Archaeology Department of the Universidad de San Carlos and was curator of the Museo Popol Vuh in Guatemala City, which holds an important collection of Maya art. While serving as curator, Chinchilla Mazariegos helped make archeological information more accessible, coordinating exhibitions on chocolate and underwater archeology and launching the museum’s educational website.

In his 2017 book, Art and Myth of the Ancient Maya, Chinchilla Mazariegos deployed “an innovative methodology that involves the comparative study of mythical narratives compiled from colonial to modern times across Mesoamerica, and the identification of nodal subjects in ancient Maya mythical representations.” He has published important contributions to the study of the Popol Vuh, a sixteenth-century text that contains an extensive account of the myths and history of from the K’iche’ people of highland Guatemala, and explored its links with representations in ancient Maya art.

Through his work in multiple domains of scholarship, Chinchilla Mazariegos has shown why he is at the top of his field in shaping contemporary understanding of Pre-Columbian societies in Latin America. 

Written by Joshua Mentanko, CLAIS Programming and Communications, PhD Candidate, Yale Department of History