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Tatiana Proskouriakoff Papers
This is a finding aid. It is a description of archival material held at the University of Pennsylvania. Unless otherwise noted, the materials described below are physically available in our reading room, and not digitally available through the web.
- University of Pennsylvania: Penn Museum Archives
- Tatiana Proskouriakoff Papers
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- 0.75 Linear feet
- Born in Russia in 1909, Tatiana Proskouriakoff came to the United States in 1916. She received a BS degree in Architecture from Penn State University in 1930. Because of the lack of architecture jobs during the Depression, she enrolled in graduate studies in anthropology at the University of Pennsylvania. Through her volunteer archaeological drawings at the University Museum, she was invited by Linton Satterthwaite to participate in two seasons of field work at the Maya site of Piedras Negras, starting what became a brilliant career in Maya scholarship. Proskouriakoff produced a series of reconstructive drawings depicting ancient Mayan cities, which were published as “An Album of Maya Architecture.” She secured positions at the Carnegie Institute of Washington under Sylvanus Morley and at the Peabody Museum of Harvard University. Her painstakingly detailed studies of Mayan glyphs became a turning point in the decipherment of Maya hieroglyphic writing. She died in 1985 as one of a pioneering generation of Mayanists. The Tatiana Proskouriakoff collection of personal papers includes representative personal documents and her correspondence between 1944 and 1985. Other related records and drawings for her at the Penn Museum Archives are found in the Piedras Negras excavation records and the Linton Satterthwaite papers. Her artist’s wooden stool is also located in the Museum.
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Tatiana Proskouriakoff, was born in Tomsk, Siberia in 1909 and came to the United States with her family in 1916. The Russian Revolution made their stay permanent. She received a B.S. degree in Architecture from Penn State University in 1930, but the depression closed off job opportunities in architecture. She enrolled in graduate studies in anthropology at the University of Pennsylvania and volunteered to do archaeological drawings at the University Museum. Her work impressed Linton Satterthwaite, Assistant Curator of the American Section, who invited her to join his 1936 expedition to the Maya site of Piedras Negras in northwestern Guatemala. Proskouriakoff’s two seasons of field work for the University Museum under Satterthwaite’s expert leadership led to what became a brilliant career in Maya scholarship.
Beginning with Piedras Negras, Proskouriakoff produced a series of reconstructive drawings depicting ancient Mayan cities. Silvanus Morley of the Carnegie Institution of Washington (CIW) sent Proskouriakoff to Copan, Honduras, and then Chichen Itza and other sites in Yucatan, Mexico to produce restoration architectural drawings of Mayan ruins. Her reconstruction drawings, always exhaustively researched, were published in 1946 as “An Album of Maya Architecture.” Although Proskouriakoff never obtained a degree in archaeology, her ability and her dedication to Maya studies secured her positions at the Carnegie Institution in 1939 and then the Peabody Museum of Harvard University. In her painstakingly complex 1950 work, “A Study of Classic Maya Sculpture,” she theorized that the evolution of Maya iconography could be used to date monuments that lacked calendrical information. Her detailed study of Maya glyphs led to her paper, “Historical Implications of a Pattern of Dates at Piedras Negras, Guatemala,” in 1960 and became a turning point in the decipherment of Maya hieroglyphic writing. Tatiana Proskouriakoff died in 1985 as one of the last of a pioneering generation of Mayanists who had begun the transformation of Maya studies. Fittingly her ashes were eventually interred at the summit of the Acropolis in Piedras Negras.
Scope and Contents
The Tatiana Proskouriakoff collection of personal papers includes representative personal documents and her correspondence between 1944 and 1985. Major correspondence with individuals and institutions is housed in individual folders, which are arranged alphabetically by correspondent and then chronologically within the folders. Single letters are grouped together in alphabetical order by correspondent (ex. Correspondence “A-D”).
This collection was received by the Penn Museum from Sean Eirik Simpson in 2002. He received it directly from Tatiana Proskouriakoff shortly before she died, while he was a graduate student at Harvard University.
Other related records for Tatiana Proskouriakoff at the Penn Museum Archives are found in the Piedras Negras records, which include her drawings, and the Linton Satterthwaite papers. Her artist’s wooden stool, with an identifying inscription, is located in the Tikal Room on the Museum’s second floor.
Controlled Access Headings
- Maya language