This article examines the state project to gather pre-Hispanic artifacts in Mexico’s National Museum during the dictatorship of Porfirio Díaz (1876–1910). It focuses on the government project as part of a larger effort aimed at constructing an official national history and image. Through antiquity and the control of its remains, Porfirian elites sought to present Mexico as a modern, scientific, and sovereign nation with a sophisticated, ancient past. They based the government’s right to the artifacts on arguments that rested on appeals to nation and science. This article problematizes these claims. It demonstrates that far from an established science, archaeology was marked by a lack of technique and consensus about the meaning and display of artifacts. In addition, the official Indian past proved exclusionary in several ways. It celebrated certain ancient cultures and ignored others. It also negated the artifacts’ other uses and meanings. For many Mexicans the objects were not national but local patrimony, links to localized identities and histories. Although ordinary Mexicans aided the state, the transfer of artifacts to the museum did not go uncontested, a fact illustrated here by popular struggles to retain objects in Teotihuacán, Tepoztlán, and Tetlama, communities that battled with the inspector of monuments Leopoldo Batres, the principal state official in charge of gathering antiquities.

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