Felipe Solis: Archaeologist who assembled one of the world's greatest collections of Pre-Colombian artefacts

Thirty-one years ago, when Felipe Solis was working with the team that discovered the first image of the Moon Goddess, Coyolxauhquil, he "felt the hands of the gods on my shoulder."

He knew that the huge carved stone disk representing one of the most important members of the Aztec pantheon would be one of the highlights, not only of his own illustrious career but of modern Mexican archeology. Last year, on the anniversary of the find, he confirmed studies which showed that the three-and-a-half-ton stone monolith was used to catch the bodies of prisoners sacrificed at the Templo Mayor, making it one of the most important objects unearthed at the site, which stands next to the present day Zocalo or main square in Mexico City.

Solis, who died in the Mexican capital from pneumonia following a long battle with heart disease, went on to become head of one of the world's greatest collection of Pre-Colombian artefacts – Mexico City's spectacular National Anthropology Museum, often referred to as "El Antro".

A tour of the collection with Solis was a true privilege, "a walking tutorial," recalls Colin McEwan, head of the Americas collection at the British Museum who knew him for 20 years. A week before he died, Solis escorted President Obama around the museum's Mexica Room, which he had curated for many years before becoming overall director of the museum in 2000. Early in his career as a field archeologist, working sometimes with his mentor Ignacio Bernal, who also became director of the Antro and, like Solis, a senior member of the National Institute of Archeology and History (INAH), he spent time in the southern state of Chiapas at the then little-explored site of Yaxchilan before returning to his beloved Mexico City, where he oversaw the rescue of the great aqueduct. He wrote or co-authored more than 200 publications, occasionally with members of a select band of protégés whom he tutored informally.

Along with Eduardo Matos, Solis was to play a key role in the way archeology – which has always been treated as a distinct science in Mexico – is conducted in a country with one of the richest pre-conquest cultures in Latin America. He was admired for his precise approach to his work which increasingly took him overseas, becoming a roving ambassador for archaeology, not only in Mexico, where his interests lay predominantly with the Aztec or Mexica peoples and the gulf coast civilizations.

He traveled widely and held professorships at the largest university in the Americas, UNAM as well as institutions in Chile and Spain. He never tired of rummaging among the storage rooms housing the Americas collections at the British Museum. Yet he also believed that archeology should be accessible to all, and he helped to publish a guide for children in his final months.

A workaholic, Solis was collaborating on several new openings at the time of his death: a new show about the Aztec capital Teotihuacá*will start in Mexico next month, while the forthcoming landmark exhibition on the Aztec emperor Moctezuma is due to open at the British Museum in the autumn. Solis had recently submitted an essay for inclusion in the catalogue to accompany the exhibition and his loss is, says McEwan, "a huge blow" to plans for the exhibition which will now surely form part of his legacy.

He kept his personal life very private, and did not comment on newspaper stories some years ago that he had wittingly or unwittingly helped the art trafficker, Leonard Patterson, to disguise the provenance of a number of pieces confiscated by police during a raid on a warehouse in which more than 1,000 Pre-Columbian artifacts were allegedly found. In keeping with Mexican tradition a number of family members, friends and colleagues attended his velación, or wake, at the museum to which he gave so much of his life.

Elizabeth Mistry

Felipe Solis Olguin, archeologist: born Mexico City 18 December 1944; died Mexico City 23 April 2009.

Sport
footballLIVE City face Stoke, while Warnock returns to Palace dugout
Arts and Entertainment
The Doctor and the Dalek meet
tvReview: Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering
Arts and Entertainment
books
Life and Style
3D printed bump keys can access almost any lock
gadgets + techSoftware needs photo of lock and not much more
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn evocation of the conflict through the eyes of those who lived through it
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Inside the gallery at Frederick Bremer School in Walthamstow
tvSimon Usborne goes behind the scenes to watch the latest series
Life and Style
Silvia says of her famous creation: 'I never stopped wearing it. Because I like to wear things when they are off the radar'
fashionThe fashion house celebrated fifteen years of the punchy pouch with a weighty tome
Arts and Entertainment
Gregg Wallace in Summer's Supermarket Secrets
tv All of this year's 15 contestants have now been named
News
i100Steve Carell selling chicken, Tina Fey selling saving accounts and Steve Colbert selling, um...
Life and Style
A picture taken on January 12, 2011 shows sex shops at the Paris district of Pigalle.
newsThe industry's trade body issued the moratorium on Friday
Arts and Entertainment
Could we see Iain back in the Bake Off tent next week?
tv Contestant teased Newsnight viewers on potential reappearance
News
i100
News
The slice of Prince Charles and Princess Diana's wedding cake and the original box from 29 July 1981
newsPiece of Charles and Diana's wedding cake sold at auction in US
Voices
The Ukip leader has consistently refused to be drawn on where he would mount an attempt to secure a parliamentary seat
voicesNigel Farage: Those who predicted we would lose momentum heading into the 2015 election are going to have to think again
Arts and Entertainment
Cara Delevingne made her acting debut in Anna Karenina in 2012
film Cara Delevingne 'in talks' to star in Zoolander sequel
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Junior VB.NET Application Developer (ASP.NET, SQL, Graduate)

£28000 - £30000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: Junior VB.NET ...

C# .NET Web Developer (ASP.NET, JavaScript, jQuery, XML, XLST)

£40000 - £50000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# .NET Web De...

Clinical Negligence Solicitor

Highly Competitive Salary: Austen Lloyd: HAMPSHIRE MARKET TOWN - A highly attr...

Network Engineer (CCNP, CCNA, Linux, OSPF, BGP, Multicast, WAN)

£35000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Network Engineer (CCNP, CCNA, Linux, OSPF,...

Day In a Page

Doctor Who Into the Dalek review: A classic sci-fi adventure with all the spectacle of a blockbuster

A fresh take on an old foe

Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering
Ukraine crisis: The phoney war is over as Russian troops and armour pour across the border

The phoney war is over

Russian troops and armour pour into Ukraine
Potatoes could be off the menu as crop pests threaten UK

Potatoes could be off the menu as crop pests threaten UK

The world’s entire food system is under attack - and Britain is most at risk, according to a new study
Gangnam smile: why the Chinese are flocking to South Korea to buy a new face

Gangnam smile: why the Chinese are flocking to South Korea to buy a new face

Seoul's plastic surgery industry is booming thanks to the popularity of the K-Pop look
From Mozart to Orson Welles: Creative geniuses who peaked too soon

Creative geniuses who peaked too soon

After the death of Sandy Wilson, 90, who wrote his only hit musical in his twenties, John Walsh wonders what it's like to peak too soon and go on to live a life more ordinary
Caught in the crossfire of a cyber Cold War

Caught in the crossfire of a cyber Cold War

Fears are mounting that Vladimir Putin has instructed hackers to target banks like JP Morgan
Salomé's feminine wiles have inspired writers, painters and musicians for 2,000 years

Salomé: A head for seduction

Salomé's feminine wiles have inspired writers, painters and musicians for 2,000 years. Now audiences can meet the Biblical femme fatale in two new stage and screen projects
From Bram Stoker to Stanley Kubrick, the British Library's latest exhibition celebrates all things Gothic

British Library celebrates all things Gothic

Forthcoming exhibition Terror and Wonder: The Gothic Imagination will be the UK's largest ever celebration of Gothic literature
The Hard Rock Café's owners are embroiled in a bitter legal dispute - but is the restaurant chain worth fighting for?

Is the Hard Rock Café worth fighting for?

The restaurant chain's owners are currently embroiled in a bitter legal dispute
Caribbean cuisine is becoming increasingly popular in the UK ... and there's more to it than jerk chicken at carnival

In search of Caribbean soul food

Caribbean cuisine is becoming increasingly popular in the UK ... and there's more to it than jerk chicken at carnival
11 best face powders

11 best face powders

Sweep away shiny skin with our pick of the best pressed and loose powder bases
England vs Norway: Roy Hodgson's hands tied by exploding top flight

Roy Hodgson's hands tied by exploding top flight

Lack of Englishmen at leading Premier League clubs leaves manager hamstrung
Angel Di Maria and Cristiano Ronaldo: A tale of two Manchester United No 7s

Di Maria and Ronaldo: A tale of two Manchester United No 7s

They both inherited the iconic shirt at Old Trafford, but the £59.7m new boy is joining a club in a very different state
Israel-Gaza conflict: No victory for Israel despite weeks of death and devastation

Robert Fisk: No victory for Israel despite weeks of devastation

Palestinians have won: they are still in Gaza, and Hamas is still there
Mary Beard writes character reference for Twitter troll who called her a 'slut'

Unlikely friends: Mary Beard and the troll who called her a ‘filthy old slut’

The Cambridge University classicist even wrote the student a character reference