Alfred Maudslay
Alfred Percival Maudslay (March 18, 1850 – January 22, 1931) was a British colonial diplomat, explorer and archaeologist. He was one of the first Europeans to study Mayan
Maya civilization
The Maya is a Mesoamerican civilization, noted for the only known fully developed written language of the pre-Columbian Americas, as well as for its art, architecture, and mathematical and astronomical systems. Initially established during the Pre-Classic period The Maya is a Mesoamerican...


Maudslay was born at Lower Norwood Lodge, near London, England into a wealthy engineering family descended from Henry Maudslay
Henry Maudslay
Henry Maudslay was a British machine tool innovator, tool and die maker, and inventor. He is considered a founding father of machine tool technology.-Early life:...

. He was educated at Royal Tunbridge Wells
Royal Tunbridge Wells
Royal Tunbridge Wells is a town in west Kent, England, about south-east of central London by road, by rail. The town is close to the border of the county of East Sussex...

 and Harrow School
Harrow School
Harrow School, commonly known simply as "Harrow", is an English independent school for boys situated in the town of Harrow, in north-west London.. The school is of worldwide renown. There is some evidence that there has been a school on the site since 1243 but the Harrow School we know today was...

, and studied natural sciences at Trinity Hall, Cambridge
Trinity Hall, Cambridge
Trinity Hall is a constituent college of the University of Cambridge, England. It is the fifth-oldest college of the university, having been founded in 1350 by William Bateman, Bishop of Norwich.- Foundation :...

 in 1868-72, where he was acquainted with John Willis Clark
John Willis Clark
John Willis Clark , sometimes J. W. Clark, was an English academic and antiquarian.Clark was born into a Cambridge University academic family, and was a nephew of Prof. Robert Willis...

, then Secretary of the Cambridge Antiquarian Society
Cambridge Antiquarian Society
The Cambridge Antiquarian Society is a society dedicated to study and preservation of the archaeology, history, and architecture of Cambridgeshire, England....


After graduation, Maudslay enrolled in medical school but left because of acute bronchitis
Acute bronchitis is an inflammation of the large bronchi in the lungs that is usually caused by viruses or bacteria and may last several days or weeks. Characteristic symptoms include cough, sputum production, and shortness of breath and wheezing related to the obstruction of the inflamed airways...

. He moved to Trinidad
Trinidad is the larger and more populous of the two major islands and numerous landforms which make up the island nation of Trinidad and Tobago. It is the southernmost island in the Caribbean and lies just off the northeastern coast of Venezuela. With an area of it is also the fifth largest in...

, becoming private secretary to Governor William Cairns
William Cairns
Sir William Wellington Cairns, KCMG was a British colonial administrator, born in County Down, Ireland. He served in various senior colonial civil service posts in the British Empire before being appointed Governor of Queensland in January 1875. He held the post for two years before becoming...

, and transferred with Cairns to Queensland
Queensland is a state of Australia, occupying the north-eastern section of the mainland continent. It is bordered by the Northern Territory, South Australia and New South Wales to the west, south-west and south respectively. To the east, Queensland is bordered by the Coral Sea and Pacific Ocean...

. He subsequently moved to Fiji
Fiji , officially the Republic of Fiji , is an island nation in Melanesia in the South Pacific Ocean about northeast of New Zealand's North Island...

 to work with Sir Arthur Gordon
Arthur Gordon
Arthur St. Clair Gordon was a manufacturer and Ontario provincial politician. Gordon, a Liberal, was first elected to the Legislative Assembly of Ontario in the 1934 provincial election that brought Liberal Mitchell Hepburn to power. He represented the riding of Kent West from 1934 until 1945.He...

, its governor, and helped campaign against rebellious local tribes. Later he served as British consul in Tonga
Tonga, officially the Kingdom of Tonga , is a state and an archipelago in the South Pacific Ocean, comprising 176 islands scattered over of ocean in the South Pacific...

 and Samoa
Samoa , officially the Independent State of Samoa, formerly known as Western Samoa is a country encompassing the western part of the Samoan Islands in the South Pacific Ocean. It became independent from New Zealand in 1962. The two main islands of Samoa are Upolu and one of the biggest islands in...

. In February 1880, Maudslay resigned from the colonial service to pursue his own interests, having spent six years in the British Pacific colonies. He then joined his siblings in Calcutta during their round-the-world trip, returned to Britain in December, and then set out for Guatemala
Guatemala is a country in Central America bordered by Mexico to the north and west, the Pacific Ocean to the southwest, Belize to the northeast, the Caribbean to the east, and Honduras and El Salvador to the southeast...

 via British Honduras
British Honduras
British Honduras was a British colony that is now the independent nation of Belize.First colonised by Spaniards in the 17th century, the territory on the east coast of Central America, south of Mexico, became a British crown colony from 1862 until 1964, when it became self-governing. Belize became...


In Guatemala, Maudslay began the major archaeological work for which he is now best remembered. He started at the Mayan ruins of Quirigua
Quiriguá is an ancient Maya archaeological site in the department of Izabal in south-eastern Guatemala. It is a medium-sized site covering approximately along the lower Motagua River, with the ceremonial center about from the north bank. During the Maya Classic Period , Quiriguá was situated at...

 and Copan
Copán is an archaeological site of the Maya civilization located in the Copán Department of western Honduras, not far from the border with Guatemala. It was the capital city of a major Classic period kingdom from the 5th to 9th centuries AD...

 where, with the help of Frank Sarg, he hired laborers to help clear and survey the remaining structures and artifacts. Sarg also introduced Maudslay to the newly found ruins in Tikal
Tikal is one of the largest archaeological sites and urban centres of the pre-Columbian Maya civilization. It is located in the archaeological region of the Petén Basin in what is now northern Guatemala...

 and to a reliable guide Gorgonio Lopez. Maudslay was the first to describe the site of Yaxchilán
Yaxchilan is an ancient Maya city located on the bank of the Usumacinta River in what is now the state of Chiapas, Mexico. In the Late Classic Period Yaxchilan was one of the most powerful Maya states along the course of the Usumacinta, with Piedras Negras as its major rival...


In the course of his surveys, Maudslay pioneered many of the later archaeological techniques. He hired Italian expert Lorenzo Giuntini
Lorenzo Giuntini
Andrew Lawrence Giuntini was born ca. 1843 in Cheltenham, Gloucestershire, England. His father, Andrea Giuntini, was born ca. 1808 in Italy and, having immigrated to England, married Mary Woulds on May 12, 1839 in Lincoln. Lorenzo Giuntini married Susannah Louisa Barnett on September 11, 1866 in...

 and technicians to make plaster
Plaster is a building material used for coating walls and ceilings. Plaster starts as a dry powder similar to mortar or cement and like those materials it is mixed with water to form a paste which liberates heat and then hardens. Unlike mortar and cement, plaster remains quite soft after setting,...

 casts of the carvings, while Gorgonio López made casts of papier-mâché
Papier-mâché , alternatively, paper-mache, is a composite material consisting of paper pieces or pulp, sometimes reinforced with textiles, bound with an adhesive, such as glue, starch, or wallpaper paste....

. Artist Annie Hunter
Annie Hunter
Annie G. Hunter was an English professional artist and illustrator, best known for her reproduction drawings of pre-Columbian Maya monuments and inscriptions. In the late 1890s Hunter was commissioned by the early Mayanist scholar Alfred Maudslay to provide drawings and watercolored illustrations...

 drew impressions of the casts before they were shipped to museums in England and the United States. Maudslay also took numerous detailed photographs - dry plate
Dry plate
Dry plate, also known as gelatin process, is an improved type of photographic plate. It was invented by Dr. Richard L. Maddox in 1871, and by 1879 it was so well introduced that the first dry plate factory had been established...

 photography was then a new technique - and made copies of the inscriptions.

All told, Maudslay made a total of six expeditions to Maya ruins. After 13 years of preparation, he published his findings in 1902 as a 5-volume compendium entitled Biologia Centrali-Americana, which contained numerous excellent drawings and photographs of Maya ruins, Maudslay's commentary, and an appendix on archaic calendars by Joseph Thompson Goodman.

In 1892, Maudslay married US-born Anne Cary Morris, a granddaughter of Gouverneur Morris
Gouverneur Morris
Gouverneur Morris , was an American statesman, a Founding Father of the United States, and a native of New York City who represented Pennsylvania in the Constitutional Convention of 1787. He was a signatory to the Articles of Confederation. Morris was also an author of large sections of the...

. For their honeymoon, the couple sailed to Guatemala via New York and San Francisco. There the Maudslays worked for two weeks on behalf of the Peabody Museum
Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology
The Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology is a museum affiliated with Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts, USA.Founded in 1866, the Peabody Museum is one of the oldest and largest museums focusing on anthropological material, and is particularly strong in New World ethnography and...

 of Harvard University
Harvard University
Harvard University is a private Ivy League university located in Cambridge, Massachusetts, United States, established in 1636 by the Massachusetts legislature. Harvard is the oldest institution of higher learning in the United States and the first corporation chartered in the country...

. Their account was published in 1899 as A Glimpse at Guatemala.

Maudslay also applied for permission to make a survey of Monte Albán
Monte Albán
Monte Albán is a large pre-Columbian archaeological site in the Santa Cruz Xoxocotlán Municipality in the southern Mexican state of Oaxaca...

 in Oaxaca
Oaxaca , , officially Estado Libre y Soberano de Oaxaca is one of the 31 states which, along with the Federal District, comprise the 32 federative entities of Mexico. It is divided into 571 municipalities; of which 418 are governed by the system of customs and traditions...

 but when he finally received permission in 1902, he could no longer finance the work with his own money. The firm of Maudslay, Sons and Field had gone bankrupt and reduced Maudslay's income. He unsuccessfully applied for funding from the Carnegie Institution. The Maudslays moved to San Ángel
San Ángel
San Ángel is a colonia or neighborhood of Mexico City, located in the southwest in Álvaro Óbregon borough. Historically, it was a rural community, called Tenanitla in the pre Hispanic period. Its current name is derived from the El Carmen monastery school called San Ángel Mártir...

 near Mexico City
Mexico City
Mexico City is the Federal District , capital of Mexico and seat of the federal powers of the Mexican Union. It is a federal entity within Mexico which is not part of any one of the 31 Mexican states but belongs to the federation as a whole...

 for two years.

In 1905, Maudslay began to translate the memoirs of Bernal Díaz del Castillo
Bernal Díaz del Castillo
Bernal Díaz del Castillo was a conquistador, who wrote an eyewitness account of the conquest of Mexico by the Spaniards for Hernán Cortés, himself serving as a rodelero under Cortés.-Early life:...

, who had been a soldier in the troops of the conquistador
Conquistadors were Spanish soldiers, explorers, and adventurers who brought much of the Americas under the control of Spain in the 15th to 16th centuries, following Europe's discovery of the New World by Christopher Columbus in 1492...

s; he completed it in 1912. In 1907 the Maudslays moved permanently back to Britain. Maudslay become a President of the Royal Anthropological Institute
Royal Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland
The Royal Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland is the world's longest established anthropological organization, with a global membership. Since 1843, it has been at the forefront of new developments in anthropology and new means of communicating them to a broad audience...

 1911-12. He also chaired the 18th International Congress of Americanists
International Congress of Americanists
The International Congress of Americanists is an international academic conference for research in multidisciplinary studies of the American Continent. Established August 25, 1875 in Nancy, France, the scholars' forum has met regularly since its inception, presently in three year increments. Its...

 in London in 1912.

Annie Maudslay died in 1926. In 1928 Maudslay married widow Alice Purdon. In the following years he finished his memoirs, Life in the Pacific Fifty Years Ago.

Alfred Maudslay died January 1931 in Hereford
Hereford is a cathedral city, civil parish and county town of Herefordshire, England. It lies on the River Wye, approximately east of the border with Wales, southwest of Worcester, and northwest of Gloucester...

, England. He was buried in the crypt of Hereford Cathedral
Hereford Cathedral
The current Hereford Cathedral, located at Hereford in England, dates from 1079. Its most famous treasure is Mappa Mundi, a mediæval map of the world dating from the 13th century. The cathedral is a Grade I listed building.-Origins:...

 next to his first wife. Materials he collected are currently stored at Harvard and the British Museum
British Museum
The British Museum is a museum of human history and culture in London. Its collections, which number more than seven million objects, are amongst the largest and most comprehensive in the world and originate from all continents, illustrating and documenting the story of human culture from its...


Selected works

  • Biologia Centrali-Americana: Contributions to the Knowledge of the Fauna and Flora of Mexico and Central America (reprint), University of Oklahoma Press, 1983. ISBN 978-0-8061-9919-1.
  • Anne Cary Morris Maudslay and Alfred Percival Maudslay, A Glimpse at Guatemala, and Some Notes on the Ancient Monuments of Central America, London, John Murray, 1899. (Reissued by Cambridge University Press
    Cambridge University Press
    Cambridge University Press is the publishing business of the University of Cambridge. Granted letters patent by Henry VIII in 1534, it is the world's oldest publishing house, and the second largest university press in the world...

    , 2010. ISBN 978-1-108-01704-6)
  • Life in the Pacific Fifty Years Ago, London: George Routledge & Sons, 1930.
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