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Nationalist archaeology and foreign oil exploration in El Tajín, Mexico, 1935–1940

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  15 May 2020

Sam Holley-Kline*
Department of History, Florida State University, Tallahassee, Florida, USA


This article discusses the American Compañía Stanford’s efforts to drill an oil well on the outskirts of the archaeological site of El Tajín, Mexico, during the 1930s. Drawing on recent scholarly efforts to think beyond archaeology and the nation state, this article problematizes the notion of a unitary state behind the concept of nationalist archaeology, the constitution of archaeology and extractive industry as separate spheres, and their apparent mutual exclusivity. Exploring the negotiations between site guards, archaeologists, inspectors, oil company officials and labourers shows that different state actors worked at cross-purposes, and that the nominally separate spheres of nationalist archaeology and foreign oil extraction were in fact characterized by the sharing of infrastructure, equipment, expertise and labour. Consequently, this article advocates for close attention to the administration and management of archaeology in specific historical contexts, demonstrating that it is more reasonable to assume archaeology’s imbrications with the nation state and extractive industries.

© The Author(s) 2020. Published by Cambridge University Press

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