Tatiana Proskouriakoff: Drawing out the ancient Maya
Tatiana Proskouriakoff at El Tajin, Veracruz, Mexico (date unknown). Courtesy Char Solomon. Not to be reproduced without prior permission.
Anybody who knows anything about Maya archaeology should know Tatiana Proskouriakoff, whose contributions to the field include not only expertly drawn reconstructions of the well-known sites of Piedras Negras, Copan and Chichen Itza, but also the decipherment of Maya glyphs.
Born in Siberia in 1909, she earned a degree in architecture at Penn State and began her archaeological career as a volunteer at the U Penn Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology. In 1936, she excavated at Piedras Negras and created drawings in her spare time. It was these fantastic drawings that led to the Mayanist Sylvanus Morley petitioning for funds for her to visit and draw at Copan and Chichen Itza, writing “Indeed, I believe Miss Proskouriakoff’s architectural restorations give a better idea of how these ancient centers of the Maya Old Empire really looked in the heydays of their respective prosperities, than any other type of portraying them that has ever been made.”
As if that weren’t enough, as a research associate at the Carnegie Institute in Washington in the 1950s and 60s, she argued that hieroglyphs held historical information and laid the groundwork for large-scale decipherment of Maya writing! (But that’s another post.)
It seems fitting that in 1998, her ashes were buried at the site of Piedras Negras in Guatemala, a site she had first visited over 60 years earlier.
You can read more about her life and work in this biography by Char Solomon.
written by Suzie
posted by Brenna
Proskouriakoff contributed so much to Maya epigraphy that it continues to boggle my mind. All I can do is hope that someday I might make a fraction of that contribution.