Clemency Chase Coggins—1997 Gold Medal Award for Distinguished Archaeological Achievement

Award Citation:

Clemency Chase Coggins, an outstanding art historian and Maya scholar, deserves much of the credit for raising the issue of the relationship between the antiquities market and long-term archaeological goals, for convincing archaeologists of the need to examine their larger professional responsibilities, and for keeping these issues in the forefront even when few fellow professionals wanted to engage them. Her seminal article, "Illicit Traffic of Pre-Columbian Antiquities" (ArtJ 1969, 94-99), was a courageous statement, coming at a time when most archaeologists turned a blind eye to illicit traffic, having never given thought to how it might affect their own work. Through numerous publications and public lectures, Dr. Coggins has eloquently and effectively sustained interest in the subject of safeguarding cultural property, which has now become an ongoing dialogue among archaeologists, art historians, art dealers, collectors, legal scholars, lawmakers, and the general public.

Clemency Coggins has worked tirelessly and energetically with the Archaeological Institute of America on antiquities matters, chairing the Committee on Preservation of Archaeological Resources and the Professional Responsibilities Committee for many years. While laboring in the vineyard on behalf of AIA, she has worked closely with countless slow-moving congressional committees toward the development and ultimate passage of the U.S. Implementing Legislation for the UNESCO Convention on Cultural Property. Appropriately, she was among the first appointed by the President to the United States Cultural Property Advisory Committee. Coggins' recent activities in the antiquities trade arena-e.g., participation by invitation in numerous international conferences, including serving as the keynote speaker in 1994 at the Fifth International Symposium on the Legal Trade in Works of Art in Vienna, and placing a recent article on the ethics of collecting in the Mexican journal Arqueología Mexicana- indicate the high regard in which she is held internationally. Indeed, Clemency Coggins' efforts to oppose the illicit trade in antiquities have fundamentally changed the face of modern American archaeology.

Dr. Coggins' accomplishments and reputation in the area of professional ethics are such that archaeologists who work outside of Mesoamerica may not realize that she has contributed equally to Maya scholarship and understanding. With a B.A. in Fine Arts from Wellesley College (1959), including a year at the Sorbonne, M.A.s in Library Science from San Jose State University (1965) and in Fine Arts from Harvard University (1968), she completed her Ph.D. at Harvard in 1975. Her outstanding thesis, Painting and Drawing Styles at Tikal: An Historical and Iconographic Reconstruction, is a study of Maya royal tombs at an important Classic-period (A.D. 300-900) site in the southern lowlands of Guatemala. Even in this early work, Coggins exhibited the ability to look at problems from many points of view. Her dissertation involved groundbreaking research that brought together diverse archaeological information, as well as providing a detailed analysis of Tikal's painting and drawing styles to produce an historical and iconographic reconstruction of the site's burial rites. Publication of Maya burial assemblages have tended to be split up according to the field of expertise of each reporting archaeologist (i.e., skeletal remains, lithics, ceramics, inscriptions, architecture), with the focus generally on demographic analysis and formulating and testing hypotheses about subsistence, trade, and other economic questions. Dr. Coggins' initial contribution to the field of Maya archaeology was her ability to bring all of the associated burial elements together and publish them as historical contexts, the meaning of which lies in their association: she looked at Maya tombs as part of larger historical and religious events.

Dr. Coggins also has set models of creative, synthetic fieldwork in her more recent work at the post-Classic sites of Dzibilchaltun and Chichén Itzá. She spends considerable time in the field, which is one of the reasons she has acquired her broad view and wide-ranging knowledge of pan-Mesoamerican imagery. This experience, combined with a particularly sensitive eye, often allows her to place a specific observation or finding, within a broader framework. Coggins always brings the wider context to any archaeological problem. This talent served her well as editor of an important volume, Artifacts from the Cenote of Sacrifice: Chichén Itzá, Yucatán (Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1992) which finally completed publication of the contents of the Maya's "sacred Well," a cache of pre-Hispanic material that had been excavated by the Peabody Museum at Harvard University from 1904-1911.

Of equal caliber to Coggins' professional contributions are the roles she has successfully fulfilled in her family life: daughter, sister, wife, mother, and grandmother. Those of us fortunate enough to know her as a valued friend can attest that the integrity and ethical conduct displayed in her career are also reflected in her personal world, including her teaching, currently at Boston University. Clemency Coggins is truly an outstanding role model for aspiring students of archaeology.

In awarding this Gold Medal for Distinguished Archaeological Achievement, the Archaeological Institute of America acknowledges the outstanding contributions of Clemency Chase Coggins to our profession.

Dig Deeper

Email the AIA Facebook Instagram YouTube Twitter
Subscribe to the AIA e-Update

Sign Up!