Monday, December 30, 2013

Alfred Maudslay -- An English Maya Preservationist of Note

Alfred Maudslay is a man of worthy mention when it comes to the preservation of the ancient Maya civilization. Born to well-off parents, he made many trips into Mesoamerica to help record various sculptures and architecture -- and the inscriptions found on both. What Maudslay had published from his preservation efforts gave people the first good resource for studying the writing system of the ancient Maya.

Birth, Education and First Trip to the Americas
Alfred Percival Maudslay was born March 18, 1850 to Anna Maria Maudslay and her husband Joseph, one of the couple's many children. First attending a boarding school in Tunbridge Wells, then another boarding school four years later called Harrow, Alfred began studying at Cambridge University in 1868. His career included being secretary for the Governor of Queensland (one of Australia's states), after which he took the position of British Consul in Samoa, before becoming Consul General in Tonga.

When Maudslay took his first trip to the Americas, however, it was not in the interest of a government career, although it was connected to making money. A business trip, Maudslay checked up on two things: a Californian property being used to produce fruit as well as a gold mine in Mexico. This trip is also significant because he met the woman who became his first wife, Cary Ann Morris, an American (they married in Rome, May 31st, 1892). Cary Ann later died in September 1926, was cremated then buried in Hereford Cathedral's crypt (Alfred later remarried).

Trips to Mesoamerica
Having read the writings of John Lloyd Stephens and Frederick Catherwood, Maudslay decided to get involved in preserving the ancient Maya civilization. From 1881 until 1894 he made eight trips to the Maya area (his wife accompanying him) to make a record of the ruins (sometimes taking pieces of the ruins away). On these trips various media were used to make records including photography (via a wet-plate camera) as well as paper and plaster casts. Written records were also made. Of the different sites he visited, certain ones received greater attention than others, including Yaxchilán (during which he met explorer Desirée Charnay), Palenque, Quiriguá, Copán and Chichén Itzá. Looking at the ruins, Maudslay began to notice recurring subjects in the art, and also noticed images that are now called full-figure glyphs (anthropomorphized versions of regular glyphs.)

Contributing to Posterity
Maudslay didn't keep his casts to himself. Instead he decided to contribute to posterity and offered them to the Victoria and Albert Museum. However, he had some terms attached to his proposed donation: he wanted the museum to produce a second set of casts from the original casts, and he wanted the museum to pay for their production. Not only that, he wanted his assistant Guitini hired to actually make the casts. The museum agreed to these conditions, and between 1886 and 1891 the casts were made.

From 1889 to 1902, Maudslay had his work published in parts as an appendix of Biologi Centrali-Americana, a work that included a number of volumes. Published items include site plans, site descriptions and lithographic plates by Annie Hunter (who made use of the photographs and casts). The inscriptions located within this published work still help people study the ancient Maya writing system today.

Maudslay's publishings were later published on their own (one volume that just had writing and four consisting of photographic plates). These volumes were collectively titled Archaeology.

Memoir and Death
In his old age, Maudslay wrote a memoir, Life in the Pacific 50 Years Ago,(published 1930), a book whose recollections only go up to when he was thirty. Then, in 1931, Maudslay died.

Items from Maudslay's trips -- known as the Maudslay Collection -- can still be seen in the British Museum's Department of Ethnology. This collection has casts, paper and plaster casts, journals and photonegatives. There are also a number of things Maudslay took away from the Maya area: eight lintels from the site of Yaxchilán as well as nine sculptures (made of stone) from the site of Copán.

The British Museum: Alfred P. Maudslay (1850 - 1931)
"Breaking the Maya Code"; Michael D. Coe; 1992
"Maya Art and Architecture"; Mary Ellen Miller 1999

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