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Nuttall, Zelia (1857-1933), Papers 1886 - 1912: A Finding Aid

Peabody Museum of Archaeoogy and Ethnology


Harvard University

©1999 The President and Fellows of Harvard College

Descriptive Summary

Repository: Peabody Museum Archives
Call No.: Unaccessioned
Location: Archives
Title: Nuttall, Zelia (1857-1933), Papers1886 - 1912
Creator: Zelia Nuttall
Quantity: 1 linear foot
Sarah R. Demb, 1998; Revised: June 18, 2001

Acquisition Information:

The Zelia Nuttall Papers were transferred to the Museum in 1912 by PM trustee Charles Bowditch. They were not accessioned because the materials document museum activities, and are thus considered part of the institutional archives.

Historical Note

Zelia Maria Magdalena Nuttall was born to an Irish father, Dr. Robert Kennedy Nuttall, and a Mexican-American mother, Magdalena Parrott Nuttall, in San Francisco on September 6, 1857. Raised in Europe, Nuttall acquired her education in France, Germany, Italy, and England, where she studied at Bedford College, London. In 1876 when Zelia was nineteen, the Nuttall family returned to San Francisco. Four years later, she married French anthropologist Alphonse Louis Pinart, whom she lived with in the West Indies, France, and Spain until 1882 when they returned to San Francisco and their only child Nadine was born. The Pinarts separated in 1884 and were divorced in 1888.
Nuttall first went to Mexico for five months in 1884 with her mother, younger brother, sister, and daughter. During this time she worked for the National Museum and collected terracotta heads from San Juan Teotihuacan. After living in Baltimore for a year, she moved to Dresden, Germany, where she resided until 1899. During this period she made trips to California, Europe, and Russia. With the support of Curator F. W. Putnam, Nuttall was an Honorary Assistant in Mexican Archaeology at the Peabody Museum from 1886 until her death in 1933. In 1888 her work, "Standard or Head-Dress? An Historical Essay on a Relic of Ancient Mexico" was published as the first monograph in the first volume of the Peabody Museum Papers series. In 1902 Nuttall settled permanently in Mexico and twice visited the ruins of Yucatan. During the same year she purchased her home, Casa Alvarado, where she pursued her archaeological studies as well as her interests in Mexican gardens and botany.
Much of her work investigated early manuscripts. In 1890 in the Biblioteca Nazionale Centrale in Florence she re-discovered the Codex Magliabecchiano XIII.3 which she was able to publish in 1903 as "The Book of the Life of the Ancient Mexicans" (University of California). Nuttall was responsible for tracing the Zapotecan manuscript from the monastery of San Marco in Florence to its owner of the time, Lord Zouche of Hayworth. This manuscript then became known as the Codex Nuttall and was published as such in 1902 by the Peabody Museum. She continued to uncover similar manuscripts in the archives of Mexico, New York, and England.
Nuttall was a pioneering figure in her recognition of archaic (pre-Aztec) culture in Mexico and became an authority on the "sun cult" in ancient Mesoamerica and Peru. Her work "A Penitential Rite of the Ancient Mexicans" was published as the seventh monograph in the first volume of the Peabody Museum Papers series in 1904. She was a prolific writer and published many monographs, often using her knowledge of contemporary texts to buttress her work on archaeological findings. Nuttall died at Casa Alvarado, Coyoacan, Mexico, on April 12, 1933, an esteemed member of countless academic societies, an honorary Professor of Anthropology at the National Museum of Mexico, and an award-winning scholar.


Scope and Content

The Nuttall Papers consist of two series: I. Manuscripts and II. Correspondence. The manuscripts are different versions of Nuttall's seminal work on the Aztec calendrical system which she presented at various meetings of the Congress (Int.) of Americanists under the tutelage of F. W. Putnam. This work was intended to be published as the first volume of the Peabody Museum Memoirs, but Nuttall was not satisfied that it was complete and the volume was never published. Her work on the calendar was presented as numerous papers, pamphlets, and articles from 1894 through 1928.
The correspondence includes letters from Nuttall to Putnam and to Bowditch detailing her work in Mexico and subsequently on the progress of her writings. These letters clearly illustrate the mentor relationship Putnam had with many of his students, including Nuttall. Other letters are to Putnam's secretary Frances Mead, whom Nuttall often addressed as "dear friend," and to her various publishers, bookbinders, and paper suppliers.


Correspondent Index