Thompson, Edward Herbert, (1860-1935). Collection of Negatives, 1888-1931: A Finding Aid 188-1931
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Conditions Governing Use
146 negatives (photographs)
Following public school, Thompson enrolled in the business college at Worcester Polytechnic Institute in the class of 1879. On February 6, 1883, he married Miss Henrietta T. Hamblin of West Falmouth, Massachusetts. Miss Hamblin was a school teacher and the daughter of a retired whaling captain. It was around this time that Thompson built a log cabin in West Falmouth on the grounds of his vacation home, where he could study and write
In 1879, Thompson wrote an article entitled "Atlantis Not a Myth" in the journal Popular Science Monthly. In this piece, he proposed that the ancient Mayan civilization on the Yucatan peninsula was once part of the lost continent of Atlantis. Luckily, this article caught the attention of Stephen Salisbury, Jr., who at the time, was vice president of the American Antiquarian Society (AAS) and associated with Harvard University. Since he was interested in the Maya, Mr. Salisbury invited E. H. Thompson to dinner in 1885, along with United States Senator George Frisbie Hoar and Reverend Edward Everett Hale, who were also affiliated with the AAS and Harvard University. At the dinner, Mr. Salisbury informed Thompson that the AAS and the Peabody Museum in Cambridge had selected him as a scientific investigator of ancient cultures of the Yucatan. Senator Hoar suggested to the President of the United States that Thompson be appointed the American consul to the Mexican states of Yucatan and Campeche. This appointment would provide greater access for E.H. Thompson, and allow a closer study of the ancient and modern Maya.
As the youngest American Consul in Mexican service, he moved to Chichen with his wife and daughter of two months, and established his home at a vacant hacienda. He served as American Consul for almost twenty-five years, and also held the titles of consul-archaeologist and archaeologist-planter. Even though he was working for the Peabody Museum, he was not trained by F.W. Putnam, and he also did explorations for the Field Museum in Chicago.
For 42 years Thompson studied the Maya civilization at the sites of Chichen Itzá,Uxmal,Mitla, and Palenque. Among his discoveries at Chichen Itzá were the following: the verification of the ancient traditions at the Cenote of Sacrifice, the 'Tomb of the High Priest', and the tablet of the Initial Series. Regardless of such accomplishments, Thompson desired to find a Rosetta Stone of the Mayan language. While living among the modern Maya, he listened to and retained their legends and folklore. During his stay in Mexico, Thompson suffered many maladies, and according to his account, he became slightly deaf as a result of diving into the Sacred Well of Chichen Itzá.
While away in Merida, a radical Socialist uprising resulted in the burning of his plantation home, including his library. Thompson restored the home only to have the Mexican government seize it, along with the Cenote artifacts, altogether valued at 1,300,000 pesos. The Mexican Supreme Court eventually ruled in his favor, and the property was returned to him. Thompson leased his property to the Carnegie Institution of Washington, which sent researchers to restore Chichen Itzá and study the local plants for medicinal value. He had also intended to donate some of his land to the villagers of Pisté for cornfields.
E.H. Thompson published many of his scientific and archaeological findings in those journals issued by the societies for which he did work. In 1932, shortly before his passing, he published a book entitled People of the Serpent: Life and Adventure Among the Mayas. In this book, Thompson recounts memorable experiences from his time in the Yucatan, archaeological highlights, and a history of the Maya.
On May 18, 1935, Edward Herbert Thompson passed away at the age of seventy-five in Plainfield, New Jersey.
- Thompson, Edward Herbert. People of the Serpent: Life and Adventure Among the Mayas. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1932.
- Tozzer, Alfred M. "Notes and News." American Anthropologist 37, New Series, no.4, pt. 1 (Oct.-Dec. 1935): 711-12.
- Series I: Chacmultun
- Series II: Chichen Itza
- Series III: Cozumel
- Series IV: Kabah
- Series V: Labna
- Series VI: Loltun Cave
- Series VII: Utah
- Series VIII: Other locations including Sabacche, Tikal, Tzula, Xul, and Chicago World's Fair
Immediate Source of Acquisition
These negatives are part of the core negative collection at the Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology, Harvard University and reflect research and field work undertaken by the Peabody Museum-sponsored expedition, Excavations at Labna, Loltun, Chacmultun, Chichen Itza, and other sites in Yucatan, 1888-1908.
- Thompson, Edward Herbert, (1860-1935). Collection of Negatives, 1888-1931 : A Finding Aid
- Peabody Museum Archives
- EAD ID
Part of the Peabody Museum Archives Repository
The Peabody Museum Archives contains primary source materials that reflect the Museum’s archaeological and ethnographic research and fieldwork since its founding in 1866. Archival collections contain photographs, documents, papers, and records of enduring value that were created or collected by the Museum, its individual affiliates, or other related entities. The collections also document the history or provenience, as well as the creation of many of the Museum’s artifact collections. To learn more about research visits at the Peabody Museum, please see https://www.peabody.harvard.edu/research-visits.
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