Art History Associate Professor Michael D. Carrasco was awarded a National Endowment for the Humanities Digital Humanities Start-Up Grant, Level II $60,000 (2014-2015) to support The Mesoamerican Corpus of Formative Period Art and Writing. This is a collaborative, multidisciplinary project among Drs. Carrasco, Joshua Englehardt (Centro de Estudios Arqueológicos, El Colegio de Michoacán), and Dennis Slice (FSU’s Department of Scientific Computing). The project will also involve graduate student researchers Lesley Wolff from the Department of Art History and Cameron Berkley from the Morphometrics Lab (Department of Scientific Computing). The grant was the only NEH Digital Humanities Start-Up Grant to be awarded to a Florida researcher this year.
The Olmec are known both as a Formative period culture centered along the coast of the Gulf of Mexico and as an iconographic assemblage and artistic style that stretched from western Mexico to Costa Rica from approximately 1500–400 BCE. The antiquity of Olmec culture and the widespread presence of Olmec iconographic elements in subsequent traditions suggest that later regional writing systems, such as Mayan hieroglyphs, developed from a Formative period Olmec iconographic and sign system. Accordingly an understanding of this foundational system is vital for comprehending many of the hallmark features of later Mesoamerican cultures, in which writing played a significant social role as a medium of artistic expression and a communicative technology.
Exciting new discoveries and four decades of intensive research have provided a clear view of the steps spanning art and writing in Mesoamerica that potentially illustrate the critical moment when writing was invented. In collaboration with the Museo de Antropología de Xalapa, Universidad Veracruzana, and the Museo Regional de Tabasco Antropología Carlos Pellicer Cámara, two of the largest repositories of Formative period Mesoamerican art in Mexico, this project will significantly advance research on this period of transition from iconography to phonetic scripts and thereby test current hypotheses on the emergence of writing in one of the few locations in the world where writing developed. By combining new archaeological finds with poorly documented data gleaned from disparate, restricted sources into a centralized database, and creating a suite of analytic digital tools accessible through web and mobile device applications, the Corpus project will allow investigators to consider the evidence in a new light, generate new hypotheses, and reassess the critical role of Olmec art in the invention of writing in the Americas.