In 1862 the Societé d’Anthropologie de Paris published instructions for gathering anthropological data in Mexico. Juan Comas’ little book celebrates the centennial of this event with a short historical sketch of French anthropology from 1799 to 1862, a translation of the instructions, and a brief comment on what they reflect.
The instructions are part of a series directed to travelers and foreign observers. Others had been prepared for Brazil (1860), Canada (1860), Peru (1861), and Chile (1863). The document for Mexico was prepared by Auburtin Le Bret and L. A. Gosse, and consists of 17 discussions covering various topics. It is followed by advice from the famous Mexicanist, the Abbé Brasseur de Bourbourg, on how the traveler should behave in Mexico.
The topics are remarkable for their specific character and indicate clearly the problem orientation of French anthropology a century ago. Although the list is entitled “Instrucciones etnológicas. . .,” the bias, in modern terminology, is primarily in favor of physical anthropological data. Some of the subjects for which information was wanted include: the origins of Otomí, Mixtec, Toltec, and Aztec; cranial deformation and its possible hereditary implications; the effect of tropical living on Europeans; the relation between skin pigmentation and environment; and the possibility of finding human remains in association with extinct animals in cave deposits. Most of the topics have such a surprisingly modern flavor that one wonders whether anthropological research has progressed significantly in one hundred years.