Harvard College Library

Hopkins Helps PBS' History Detectives Solve Anthropology Mystery

Mary Hopkins served as a consultant for the new PBS show History Detectives. She is pictured here with a printout from a thin-section analysis.

July 15, 2002 -- Mary Hopkins is a Library Assistant in the Spanish/Portuguese Division of HCL Technical Services … by day. She is also an anthropologist, an expert on ceramics and clays from Teotihuacan, Mexico, and recently a consultant for the new PBS program History Detectives. The show searches out the true facts behind local folklore, family legends, and interesting objects, and the pilot episode, featuring Hopkins, airs Monday, July 14, at 8pm on Channel 2 and will be rebroadcast on channel 44 on Tuesday, July 15, at 3am and 5 pm.

One of the three mysteries in the hour-long program concerns a small figurine head found on a beach in New Jersey. During the preliminary "investigation" by the history detective team, Hopkins was contacted to help them identify the origin of the object. The team already suspected that it might be from Teotihuacan. Hopkins’ doctoral dissertation dealt with cooking pots from the Teotihuacan archeological site and she had studied both modern potters' clays and clays of ancient ceramics from that area.

"I was asked to confirm that the figurine was from Teotihuacan. I spent a few days at home with my microscope, conducting thin-section analysis. I studied a sliver of the ceramic, looking at sand grains included in the clay, at the texture and color, and how the potters handled it. I then compared these findings to some samples of Teotihuacan ceramics," said Hopkins.

The team needed the results quickly, and therefore there was not enough time for Hopkins to do a chemical test that would have given a definitive answer on the birthplace of the object. But, having analyzed hundreds of samples from Teotihuacan in the past, she felt confident saying that the ceramic figurine was from this area or an extremely similar geological location.

Hopkins was filmed sitting at a microscope and explaining how details in the thin-section of ceramic indicated that the piece was from Teotihuacun and what these details said about how the piece had been made.

She has not seen a tape of the program, so how much footage of her interview is used is to be seen – stay tuned.

For more information on History Detectives go to: http://www.pbs.org/opb/historydetectives/


This story appears courtesy of the Harvard College Library Communications Office
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