Digital collection of Jay I. Kislak’s Mesoamerican Artifacts in the Library of Congress

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Washington/Canadian-Media: The collection of Jay I. Kislak Archaeology and History of the Early Americas containing important archaeological artifacts, rare books, manuscripts, maps, and graphic works of art, surveying the earliest history of the lands that would become known as the Americas is now described comprehensively in a new, online finding aid of the Library of Congress (LoC), LoC reported.

Besides the online finding aid, the LoC also maintains a new digital collection of selected items, including over 300 archaeological artifacts to improve the public’s ability to discover and learn more about this significant historical collection.

Kislak, a businessman, philanthropist, military aviator, and collector, donated his collection to the Library of Congress in 2014.

Included in the Kislak collection are many three-dimensional objects of pre-Columbian date, documenting the indigenous peoples of Mexico, the Caribbean, and Central and South America.

More than twenty indigenous cultures, including the Nahua, the Nuudzahui, the lowland, and highland Maya, the Taino, the Olmec, the Wari, the Inca, and many others are found in Pre-Columbian artifacts, which provide an overview of the arts of indigenous cultures in the period before the arrival of Christopher Columbus in 1492.

Some important texts are written with Mayan hieroglyphs, the only complete writing system originating in the Americas are found in the artifacts like the Tortuguero Box and the dynastic codex-style vase with sixty hieroglyphs.

Almost one thousand historically significant texts are found in the Kislak manuscript and rare book collection which give unique insights into the earliest interactions between the indigenous peoples of the Americas and Europeans during the early years of the sixteenth century in the hands of Philip II, King of Spain, the conquistadors Hernán Cortés and Francisco Pizarro, Bartolomé de Las Casas and others.

These manuscripts, along with rare books, maps, and graphic materials, make the Kislak Collection one of the most comprehensive collections of historical materials relating to the period immediately after the arrival in the Americas of Europeans found in private hands at the time of its donation to the LoC.

Examples are the earliest dictionary of the indigenous language of Nahuatl, the Vocabulario en lengua castellana ymexicana (1571) by Alonso de Molina, and the Historia de Nueva-Espana, printed in Mexico City in 1770, by Francisco Antonio Lorenzana y Butron, as well as early printed archaeological tracts like the Descripcion Historica y Cronologica de las Dos Piedras (1792) by Antonio de Léon y Gama.

Three important watercolor paintings of scenes from the Popol Vuh, a text recounting the Maya creation by the Mexican artist Diego Rivera comprise the graphic materials.

These are a series of eight large paintings of the conquest and the defeat of Montezuma II, the Aztec emperor of Mexico, by an unknown artist, and early photography of archaeological sites by Désiré Charnay.

​Other significant historical artifacts that round out the collection’s holdings include Important maps like those of Baptista Boazio illustrating the voyages of Sir Francis Drake and the Carta marina navigatoria Portugallen navigations atque tocius cogniti orbis terre marisque, 1516, by the mapmaker Martin Waldseemüller.

One of the great collectors of early American history and archaeology in the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries, Jay I. Kislak (1922–2018)’s trail through the world of Mesoamerican art, archaeology, and history led him to travel all over Central and South America and a path that crossed many borders and geographical and linguistics boundaries of time.

Having served as an aviator in the Second World War on the deck of the aircraft carrier Intrepid, he told the assembled group of family and friends on his ninety-fifth birthday, about his deep love for the LoC and how he knew that the collection had found its ideal setting.

He had once written that at LoC, scholars and the general public would have a chance to learn from the stories it had to tell and can be a source of knowledge and inspiration for everyone.

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