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The Curious Case of Coronado’s Shields: Towards a Pueblo Iconology on the Eve of Spanish Colonialism

Severin Fowles, Barnard College

Mon, 4/22 · 4:30 pm6:00 pm · 010 East Pyne

Program in the Ancient World, Department of Anthropology

In 1540, Francisco Vázquez de Coronado marched north with his troops to conquer, he hoped, the gold-bedecked kingdoms that were rumored to exist on the far northern frontier of the Spanish Empire. He encountered instead the Pueblo communities of what is today New Mexico and Arizona. This talk reconsiders one fleeting episode drawn from the Spanish account of Coronado’s violent travels throughout the region: the gift of shields by a Pueblo delegation to their invaders. To understand this gift, I argue, we must embark on a complicated cultural inquiry into not just the meanings of Pueblo shields but also the images that adorned them, the wider role of iconography in Ancestral Pueblo society, and the very nature of power, agency, and subjectivity within the indigenous traditions of the American West. As I hope to demonstrate, the curious case of Coronado’s shields also presents us with an opportunity to consider what archaeology and anthropology have to offer art history, and vice versa.

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