National Institute of Anthropology

The federal government oversees all archaeological sites and most of the museums in Mexico. The Instituto Nacional de Antropología e Historia (otherwise known as INAH) is charged with maintaining and caring for these locations. INAH, which is headquartered in the modern Juárez colonia (neighborhood) of Mexico City, has offices all over Mexico to provide oversight and administration to nationally-owned museums and archaeological sites. INAH sits under the umbrella of the Secretariat of Culture, the Mexican cabinet office responsible for preserving the culture of Mexico and promoting it at home and abroad.

INAH considers its core mission as the preservation of the patrimony (ownership and originality) of Mexican archaeological sites and artifacts through four tasks: conservation, protection, maintenance, and restoration. Under the authority of the federal government, Mexico consolidates the collections of historical artifacts and objects and preserves archaeological sites using a plethora of federal laws dating back to the 1800s. When delicate sites begin to fall apart, INAH steps in to restore them to the best of its abilities.

Although founded in 1939, INAH has its earliest roots back to 1885 with the establishment of the Inspectorate of Monuments, an earlier government agency charged with overseeing archaeological sites. Working alongside its then-sister agency, the National Museum of Anthropology (founded in 1825), it conducted research on Mexico’s archaeological sites and collected and preserved antiquities from Mexico’s past. In the years after the Revolution, the Mexican government restructured its nationalized archaeological and antiquities regime with a new organization: INAH. On February 3, 1939, President Lázaro Cárdenas inaugurated INAH under the Secretariat of Public Education. Like its predecessor agency, INAH sat under the Secretary of Education until its transfer to the Secretary of Culture.

Today, INAH administers an expansive nationwide museum network of over 160 institutions, and the National Museum of Anthropology in Mexico City is considered its crown jewel.

Alongside the museums, INAH oversees the archaeological sites scattered throughout Mexico. The government, through INAH, maintains and cares for the sites. This legacy task dates to the Inspectorate of Monuments during the reign of dictator Porfirio Diaz. Starting in the late-1800s, and continuing today, Mexican leaders deem the protection and preservation of archaeological sites from the pre-Columbian era as a top priority. INAH has a monopoly on the power to use state resources and authority to maintain the old settlements and structures from the Aztec, Mayan, Toltec, and other pre-modern Mesoamerican civilizations.

Conservation and preservation are only part of INAH’s tasks. INAH also has a vast academic and research apparatus to enable the state to further explore Mexico’s pre-Columbian history and antiquities. The National School for Archaeology and History, located in southern Mexico City, sits under the INAH umbrella and is a major academic institution focused on the fields of history, anthropology, and archaeology. The institution offers specialized programs of study in various subdisciplines, including physical anthropology, social anthropology, linguistics, ethnography, and traditional history. INAH also possesses a second academic unit called The National School of Conservation, Restoration, and Museography, which is a government-run academic institution focused on training Mexico’s next generations of scholars in restoration, conservation, and museum studies. The institution offers several degree plans and is located in the Coyoacán municipality of Mexico City. Aside from academic institutions, INAH oversees the National Library for Archaeology and History, which is located on the first floor of the National Museum of Anthropology. Archaeological records and data collected by the Mexican government and various researchers over decades are collated and deposited at the library.

INAH also has several archival collections outside the areas of traditional archaeology. One of them is the National System of Photograph Collections (or SINAFO from its Spanish acronym), which is headquartered in Pachuca in the Hidalgo state northeast of Mexico City. Various collections are housed at this archive and are divided by topic, region, or photographer. SINAFO, created in 1993, is the first national photographical archive of its kind in Latin America. INAH also maintains a sound and music archive in Mexico City called the Fonoteca. The archive is dedicated to preserving the oral sounds and music of the many peoples of Mexico, including audio collections of musical artists and podcasts.

As a governmental institution, INAH has a vital interest in maintaining a relationship with the people of Mexico. INAH accomplishes this through an extensive social media campaign. INAH and its subordinate entities, including the National Museum of Anthropology, the Fonoteca, SINAFO, and other organizations have separate social media pages and sites that enable it stay in the public eye. For example, INAH has an exhaustive video list on YouTube (INAHTV), the National Museum has hundreds of posts on Instagram (@mnantropologia), and SINAFO has a presence on Twitter (@FototecaINAH). In addition, on INAH’s homepage, there are many publications and reports on historical topics and issues. With these resources, INAH maintains a physical and virtual presence all across Mexico.

INAH continues the tradition of the Mexican state nationalizing and protecting the patrimony of its historical artifacts and sites. However, INAH is not a unique institution. Similar to the Smithsonian Institution or the National Archives in the United States, the Israel Antiquities Authority, or the Ministry of Antiquities in Egypt, the preservation of a nation’s cultural heritage is a near-universal governmental interest. In addition, many countries have national offices dedicated to the protection of cultural heritage and its promotion. In Mexico, INAH has served this function for over eighty years and is slated to continue this mission into the future.