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

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.

Life and Style
tech
Arts and Entertainment
Robin Thicke's video for 'Blurred Lines' has been criticised for condoning rape
music
News
Paper trail: the wedding photograph found in the rubble after 9/11 – it took Elizabeth Keefe 13 years to find the people in it
newsWho are the people in this photo? It took Elizabeth Stringer Keefe 13 years to find out
Voices
Yes supporters gather outside the Usher Hall, which is hosting a Night for Scotland in Edinburgh
voicesBen Judah: Is there a third option for England and Scotland that keeps everyone happy?
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Arts and Entertainment
Matt Damon as Jason Bourne in The Bourne Ultimatum (2007)
filmMatt Damon in talks to return
News
peopleThe report and photo dedicated to the actress’s decolletage has, unsurprisingly, provoked anger
Arts and Entertainment
Evil eye: Douglas Adams in 'mad genius' pose
booksNew biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Life and Style
tech... and together they're worth at least £100 million
Arts and Entertainment
While many films were released, few managed to match the success of James Bond blockbuster 'Skyfall'
filmsDaniel Craig is believed to be donning skies as 007 for the first time
Arts and Entertainment
Fringe show: 'Cilla', with Sheridan Smith in the title role and Aneurin Barnard as her future husband Bobby Willis
tvEllen E Jones on ITV's 'Cilla'
Life and Style
Bono and Apple CEO Tim Cook announced U2's surprise new album at the iPhone 6 launch
tech(but you can't escape: Bono is always on your iPhone)
Sport
Tim Wiese
sport
Life and Style
Kim Kardashian drawn backlash over her sexy swimsuit selfie, called 'disgusting' and 'nasty'
fashionCritics say magazine only pays attention to fashion trends among rich, white women
Arts and Entertainment
TVShows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Arts and Entertainment
Hit the roof: hot-tub cinema east London
architectureFrom pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
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

Food Technology Teacher

£6720 - £38400 per annum: Randstad Education Nottingham: Can you teach Food Te...

Bookkeeper / Accounts Administrator - Central London, £30-40k

£30000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Bookkeeper - Central London, £30-40k...

Permanent KS2 Teacher required

Negotiable: Randstad Education Ilford: A Redbridge based Primary School is see...

NVQ Assessor Level 2 & 3 Sport Development

£19200 - £26880 per annum: Randstad Education Manchester Secondary: In NVQ Ass...

Day In a Page

Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

The Imitation Game, film review
England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week