KAANCAB: Clay Archive

7th November 2019
BY Lorena Ancona, | POSTED IN All Projects, Caribbean, Mesoamerica

The KAANCAB project seeks to deepen local knowledge about the natural resources of Southeastern Mexico focusing on naturally occurring clays in the Maya area.


Our name is inspired by the Maya words k´aan (yellow) and cab (earth), which are the words given to deposits that are rich in yellow clay in the Quintana Roo region. 

This clay archiving project uses anthropological, archaeological and artistic perspectives. It is based on the study of local clay and earth, as well as its classification, storage and ceramic production. Other interests have emerged from these initial activities, including the research of pre-Hispanic production techniques in collaboration with local communities. This collaborative work is expected to contribute to identity building in the Yucatan peninsula and other regions where Maya people live. 

Arcilla Tepacan de Campeche, photo by Lorena Ancona.


Clay Furnace

The project has two phases: 

  • The first phase involves the construction of the work space.  
  • The second stage is to organise the necessary equipment and acquire raw materials. The location of the workshop will be in Southeastern Mexico within the state of Quintana Roo, bordering the Akumal community, inside of a jungle nature preserve. The architecture of the laboratory will be sustainable, generating renewable energy with solar panels, dry toilets using stone and wood, privileging the use of natural sunlight. 

The projected activities include gathering and experimentation with different types of clays, research on Maya blue pigment, as well as other naturally occurring pigments. This knowledge will be compiled and integrated into the initial stages of experimental ceramic production.  

We are interested in recognising each material’s individual value, whether that be the particular qualities of a clay or soil deposit. The project also considers the practical value of its use, avoiding homogenisation or duplication between material use and application. In the same way, the study of ceramic styles that continue to exist in the Maya area enriches our knowledge about the technological and artistic origins of this culture in terms of clay usage, and other natural resources since pre-Hispanic times. 

In order to become familiar with the materials, it is necessary to work with them and study their behaviour. For this reason, we will work model the ceramics following the common techniques of slab building in conjunction with other decorative techniques used since pre-Hispanic times. In this creative production process, we seek to avoid the mass production associated with the tourist art market. We aim to promote the importance of the creative process through historical and cultural understanding. The project explores the human connection to the materiality of clay, and an understanding of the plasticity of the material. 

One of the local activities that inspired us to create KAANCAB is the current artistic practice that exists using clays and soils from the Tepakan area in Campeche. Although the clay used by Ticul potters in the State of Yucatan is extracted from Tepakan, very few inhabitants of Tepakan continue to produce traditionally crafted ceramics. In the interest of maintaining the continuity of the knowledge of the last traditional potters in the area, we held a workshop to revive ceramic practice and to re-establish social and labour relations that existed in the past. For example, the relationships between those people who collect firewood, those who have the knowledge of burning it for coal and those who have access to clay. 

In conclusion, KAANCAB tries to demonstrate how the study of the past and its material culture traditions can be relevant to contemporary communities. This project promotes the creative creation of Maya material culture through a multidisciplinary prism that combines ethnographic methods, natural sciences and archaeology. Although the Southeast of the Yucatan Peninsula and Quintana Roo have been strongholds of Maya resistance and a continuous source of ancestral cultural knowledge, KAANCAB is one of few notable attempts to combine heritage research with contemporary art practice. 

Publications related to women’s and maternal health with Wixárika communities by the author of this exhibition


Gamlin, Jennie B. (2013)
Shame as a barrier to health seeking among indigenous Huichol migrant labourers: An interpretive approach of the “violence continuum” and “authoritative knowledge”
Social Science and Medicine 97 75-81

Gamlin, Jennie B. (2023)
Wixárika Practices of Medical Syncretism: An Ontological Proposal for Health in the Anthropocene
Medical Anthropology Theory 10 (2) 1-26

Gamlin, Jennie B. (2020)
“You see, we women, we can’t talk, we can’t have an opinion…”. The coloniality of gender and childbirth practices in Indigenous Wixárika families
Social Science and Medicine 252, 112912

Jennie Gamlin and David Osrin (2020)
Preventable infant deaths, lone births and lack of registration in Mexican indigenous communities: health care services and the afterlife of colonialism
Ethnicity and Health 25 (7)

Jennie Gamlin and Seth Holmes (2018)
Preventable perinatal deaths in indigenous Wixárika communities: an ethnographic study of pregnancy, childbirth and structural violence BMC
Pregnancy and Childbirth 18 (Article number 243) 2018

Gamlin, Jennie B. and Sarah J Hawkes (2015)
Pregnancy and birth in an Indigenous Huichol community: from structural violence to structural policy responses
Culture, health and sexuality 17 (1)