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Tatiana Proskouriakoff Portrait at Hacienda Chichen


Tatiana Proskouriakoff
(1909-1985) and her Contributions to Mesoamerican Archaeology
by Char Solomon

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   Tatiana Proskouriakoff (1909-1985) was one of the leading 20th century interpreters of Maya art, architecture, and hieroglyphs.  During a period when Mesoamerican archaeology was almost exclusively a profession for men of means, she sought new approaches to old questions about the ancient Maya, challenging long established views of the Maya ancient civilization Over the course of her fifty-year career, Tania’s field work, research, and publications eventually earned the respect of her colleagues and the highest accolades given in her profession. 

     From her earliest years in Siberia , Tania was nurtured and encouraged by her parents — one a chemist, the other a physician —  who discovered she could read fluently by the age of three.  She demonstrated a talent for drawing and received lessons in art and watercolor.  She later used these skills in the engineering school of Pennsylvania State University where she studied for a degree in architecture. In 1936, while sketching at the University of Pennsylvania Museum, she came to the attention of Linton Satterthwaite, director of a major Maya archaeological project.  He appreciated the detail and delicacy of her drawings and enlisted her to join his next expedition to Piedras Negras along the Usumacinta River on the border between Mexico and Guatemala.  This marked the beginning of her life long passion for the ancient Maya.

 Visit the Maya Temples Tatiana studied and loved.

    In 1940, Tania joined Sylvanus Morley and his wife in Mexico to work at the ruins of Chichen Itza, Uxmal, and Kabah. Archaeologist Morley, head of the First Mayan Explorers Expedition with the Carnegie Institution of Washington, had conceived of a project for which he felt Tania was particularly well suited.  He believed that a publication of drawings, which would reconstruct the majestic architecture of important Maya archaeological sites, would build world-wide interest in the region.  He was correct.  Tania’s completed work, An Album of Maya Architecture, first published in 1946, is still in print today.


    She went on to make significant contributions in this field, at times facing self-doubt and sacrificing personal happiness to her career.  In 1962, she received the Alfred Vincent Kidder Award for Eminence in the Field of American Archaeology, in part for her article, “Historical Implications of a Pattern of Dates at Piedras Negras , Guatemala ,” published in American Antiquity in 1960.  In this, she put forth her historical hypothesis that glyphic inscriptions found on Maya stone monuments dealt with key events in the lives of specific rulers by identifying glyphs for birth and accession. This article pointed the way for scholars’ breathtaking break-through that have since occurred in deciphering Maya texts.  In 1998, Tania’s ashes were buried by a group of international archaeologists in a touching ceremony at the site that marked the beginning and the pinnacle of her career – Piedras Negras.


    Tatiana loved her time at Hacienda Chichen, Chichen Itza, Yucatan, Mexico; she returned to her enchanting Jungle Cottage at the Hacienda many times during her lifetime and marvel at the majestic beauty of the Maya temples, and the amazing flora and fauna of the Hacienda's land.



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Maya Cultural Map by Tatiana Proskouriakoff
Article by Char Solomon
author of the biography

Tatiana Proskouriakoff: 2002 edition. Interpreting the Ancient Maya, published by the University of Oklahoma Press.

For more information, visit the website www.charsolomon.com and to know about Tatiana's influence in Chichen Itza, please visit the Hacienda Chichen's website.




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June 2007
Updated April, June 2009 / Aug. 2012 / August 2016