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J. Alden Mason linguistic expeditions to Mexico records


Held at: University of Pennsylvania: Penn Museum Archives [Contact Us]3260 South Street, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, 19104-6324

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J. Alden Mason, noted archaeological anthropologist and linguist, was born in Orland, Indiana but moved to the Germantown area of Philadelphia early in his life. He attained his A.B. from the University of Pennsylvania in 1907 and pursued his Ph.D. at the University of California, Berkeley completing his dissertation on the ethnography of the Salinan Indians of California. Following the completion of his Ph.D., Mason was chosen to represent the state of Pennsylvania for two seasons in Mexico at the International School of Archaeology and Ethnology, a joint enterprise between Mexico and the United States.

Mason's linguistic work centered on the Tepecano Indians of Mexico and he traveled to sites near Durango, lower Pima Bajo, Sonora, and Chihuahua in six expeditions beginning in 1911. The languages of this region are part of the Piman family described by Mason as "six slightly differentiated languages for a thousand miles down the Mexican Sierra Madre from Arizona to Jalisco." The initial trip focused on the ceremonialism and prayers of the Tepecano culture, including botany and cosmological notes. Mason published a "short grammar" based on this trip in 1917. He promised a "larger grammar of Papago will soon be published." The second trip in 1930 was an aerial survey of land never before seen from this perspective. The trip was financed by Percy C. Madeira, Jr., nephew of Louis C. Madeira and later elected to the Board of Managers of the Museum. Madeira accompanied Mason in a twin-motor Sikorsky plane flown by two Pan American pilots.

The Durango Expedition, Expedition III, conducted in 1936 is documented in 162 photographs and 8 field notebooks. In 1947-1948, Mason visited the Northern Tepehuan for linguistic and archaeological research. (Expedition IV) He shot a twenty minute film during the trip, "Unedited Pictures of the Southern Tepehuan Indians and the Region of Durango, Mexico" which is part of the Museum collection. A brief trip in 1951 produced photographs of the Northern Tepehuan area in Chihuahua. Mason returned in 1954 for Expedition V to study the Nevome language and culture.

Mason's curatorial career began in 1917 as an Assistant Curator of Mexican and South American Archaeology at the Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago. He married Florence Roberts in 1921. Mason remained at the Field Museum until 1924 when he assumed an Assistant Curator position at the American Museum of Natural History. Mason held this position briefly as he moved to The University Museum at the University of Pennsylvania as Curator in 1925. He gave 25 years of service to the Museum, becoming Emeritus Curator of the American Indian Section in 1955.

Mason published regularly in The Museum Journal, Journal of American Folklore, International Journal of American Linguistics, and American Anthropologist, serving as editor of American Anthropologist from 1945 to 1948. His published works included "The Language of the Papago Indians" and "The Languages of the South American Indians" among others.

When Mason retired from the museum in 1955, he continued his contributions including a dig at Chiapas, Mexico in 1958 while serving as Editor and Archaeological Advisor to the New World Archaeology Foundation. Mason held this post until his death in 1967.

J. Alden Mason embarked on at least six trips to Mexico to investigate the languages of the Tepehuan Indians of the Piman region. The Tepehuan languages belong to the Uto-Aztecan group of the Southwestern United States and Mexico. Alden's excursions were conducted in 1912-1913, 1930, 1935-37, 1948, 1951, and 1954 and mark the series titles for the collection.

The collection consists of correspondence, notes, expenses, field notebooks, a catalogue of objects from the 1936 trip, photographs, plates, articles, and publications related to the trips. They are arranged by expedition number with the exception of the 1951 trip which is placed chronologically. Original order is maintained within the expeditions. The material from the earliest expedition is in fragile condition. In addition to the languages, Mason reported on Tepecano botany, prayers and ceremonialism, particularly in the first expedition. Two archival boxes contain the photographs taken while Mason was on an aerial survey of the region with Percy C. Madeira, Jr.. The photographs of the 1936 trip, a "museum set" are located in 27 envelopes and remain with the items from that trip. They depict mostly landscapes with a few pictures of people and objects. Some of these were published in the Museum Journal. There are also a group of studio photographs from Evrardo Gamiz with the 1936 expedition materials.

Seven plates relate to the 1937 article, "Late Archaeological Sites in Durango, Mexico". The smaller plates, and a photographic set, are in a folder with the 1936 trip materials. Several oversized plates are placed in drawer M-47-9 in the map case. The larger photos are located with the photo collection boxes CA1, CA2 and CA4.

Expedition I series is contained in 7 folders. It includes correspondence interestingly with Dr. John M. Fogg of the Morris Arboretum regarding the plants of the region and Ida Langman, a botanical expert. The linguistic materials are reflected in a Tepecano Index as well as Mason's notes on "Relationship terms", "Nature of Person Addresses" in the Tepecano dialect. Mason's writings from this time period as well as maps and notes on weaving, ceremonial objects, primitive religions and prayers for various ceremonies and favors are part of this series.

Expedition II, also known as the Durango Expedition, was a jointly sponsored trip by the American Philosophical Society and The University Museum. Mason was accompanied by Robert M. Merrill, an engineer from Grand Rapids, Michigan who completed the survey of the region. The series includes notebooks from Mason and Merrill as well as a catalogue of objects and a compilation of field expenses. During this trip, Mason retrieved objects from Canon El Molino, Rio Guatinape, Hervideros, Arroyo Chupaderos, Caravito Cave, Zape Chico, Cueva de la Manada, Cueva de Dos Puertas, Pueblito, and Los Remedios for the Museum.

Photographs and plates are also part of this series including photographs of the pictographs and petroglyphs from Zape Chico, Coahuila, Cuevo Covedango, and Cueva del Agua, along with the Gamiz photographs of mummies found in the region. Small photographs, approximately three by six inches and numbered from 1 to 162 are placed in envelopes.

Two folders of correspondence complete the materials from Expedition II. Most are communications with Horace Jayne and the Museum staff and reflect Mason's daily life. They are grouped by date, January to March 1936 and March to June 1936. Included with the letters is a "digest of the Merrill correspondence" regarding expenses and financial "accounts of the Durango Expedition".

Expedition III, a Northern Tepehuan trip, conducted in 1948 for the purpose of, "study the language but all phases of the life of the Indians, including the archaeology of the region". The materials are contained in two folders. A provisional itinerary and a Museum publicity release for the expedition complete the first folder along with receipts and correspondence with Froelich Rainey and the Museum. Photographs from Xoconestle, Durango are in folder two.

Mason traveled to Mexico again from March 8 to April 24,1951. Noted as the Northern Tepehuan Linguistic Expedition, Mason recorded stories and songs in the Northern Tepehuan language considered to be the "most variant of the languages composing the Piman linguistic family branch of the Utaztecan stock" and tells of this in his "Report on the Northern Tepehuan Linguistic Expedition Baboringame, Chihuahua, Mexico." This report is contained in the single folder with 15 photographs of daily life.

The 1954 Expedition(IV) was conducted from December 26, 1953 to January 13, 1954. Mason traveled to Sonora, Mexico to study the language of the Nevome Indians. A report of the trip along with several letters to the Museum record this expedition in a single folder.

University of Pennsylvania: Penn Museum Archives
Finding Aid Author
Finding aid prepared by Jody Rodgers
Finding Aid Date
August 2009
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Collection Inventory

Linguistic notes.
Box 1
Unfinished Tepecano manuscript.
Box 1
Tepecano prayers 1918.
Box 1
Perdones Tepecanos.
Box 1
Textile weaving, botany correspondence, ceremonies.
Box 1
Manuscript-"The Ceremonialism of the Tepecan" Undated.
Box 1
Pen and Ink drawings from Mason photographs.
Box 1

Field notebooks 1-4.
Box 1
Field notebooks 5-7.
Box 1
Field notebook Robert H. Merrill.
Box 1
Catalogue of objects, lists, expenses.
Box 1
Photographs, Pictography, Petroglyphs.
Box 2
Lists of sites, photographs, objects, notes, correspondence 1943.
Box 2
Durango photographs 1-162.
Box 2
Plates drawn for "Late Archaeological Sites in Durango, Mexico" 1937.
Box 2
Correspondence Jan.-Mar. 1936.
Box 2
Correspondence Mar.-June 1936.
Box 2

Itinerary, Receipts, Correspondence with F. Rainey.
Box 2
Photographs Southern Tepehuan.
Box 2

Photographs, report on expedition.
Box 2

Report on expedition, Correspondence Jan.-April 1954.
Box 2

Print, Suggest