Teoberto Maler or Teobert Maler (12 January 1842 – 22 November 1917) was an explorer who devoted his energies to documenting the ruins of the 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...
Teobert Maler was born in Rome
Rome is the capital of Italy and the country's largest and most populated city and comune, with over 2.7 million residents in . The city is located in the central-western portion of the Italian Peninsula, on the Tiber River within the Lazio region of Italy.Rome's history spans two and a half...
Germany , officially the Federal Republic of Germany , is a federal parliamentary republic in Europe. The country consists of 16 states while the capital and largest city is Berlin. Germany covers an area of 357,021 km2 and has a largely temperate seasonal climate...
parents. His father was a diplomat
A diplomat is a person appointed by a state to conduct diplomacy with another state or international organization. The main functions of diplomats revolve around the representation and protection of the interests and nationals of the sending state, as well as the promotion of information and...
for the Duchy of Baden. Maler studied architecture
Architecture is both the process and product of planning, designing and construction. Architectural works, in the material form of buildings, are often perceived as cultural and political symbols and as works of art...
Engineering is the discipline, art, skill and profession of acquiring and applying scientific, mathematical, economic, social, and practical knowledge, in order to design and build structures, machines, devices, systems, materials and processes that safely realize improvements to the lives of...
The City of Karlsruhe is a city in the southwest of Germany, in the state of Baden-Württemberg, located near the French-German border.Karlsruhe was founded in 1715 as Karlsruhe Palace, when Germany was a series of principalities and city states...
, then at the age of 21 moved to Vienna
Vienna is the capital and largest city of the Republic of Austria and one of the nine states of Austria. Vienna is Austria's primary city, with a population of about 1.723 million , and is by far the largest city in Austria, as well as its cultural, economic, and political centre...
where he took a job with architect Heinrich von Ferstel
Heinrich von Ferstel
thumb|right|The [[Votivkirche]], Vienna, designed by FerstelHeinrich von Ferstel thumb|right|The [[Votivkirche]], Vienna, designed by FerstelHeinrich von Ferstel thumb|right|The [[Votivkirche]], Vienna, designed by FerstelHeinrich von Ferstel (July 7, 1828, Vienna - 14 July 1883, Grinzing, near...
, and became an Austria
Austria , officially the Republic of Austria , is a landlocked country of roughly 8.4 million people in Central Europe. It is bordered by the Czech Republic and Germany to the north, Slovakia and Hungary to the east, Slovenia and Italy to the south, and Switzerland and Liechtenstein to the...
He was eager to see more of the world and went to Mexico
The United Mexican States , commonly known as Mexico , is a federal constitutional republic in North America. It is bordered on the north by the United States; on the south and west by the Pacific Ocean; on the southeast by Guatemala, Belize, and the Caribbean Sea; and on the east by the Gulf of...
as a soldier with Emperor Maximilian. He rose from Cadet
A cadet is a trainee to become an officer in the military, often a person who is a junior trainee. The term comes from the term "cadet" for younger sons of a noble family.- Military context :...
to Captain. After surrendering to the Mexican Republican forces, Maler opted to stay in Mexico rather than being exiled back to Europe. Maler later obtained Mexican citizenship and changed his first name to "Teoberto", more easily pronounced in the Spanish language
Spanish , also known as Castilian , is a Romance language in the Ibero-Romance group that evolved from several languages and dialects in central-northern Iberia around the 9th century and gradually spread with the expansion of the Kingdom of Castile into central and southern Iberia during the...
Maler developed interests in photography
Photography is the art, science and practice of creating durable images by recording light or other electromagnetic radiation, either electronically by means of an image sensor or chemically by means of a light-sensitive material such as photographic film...
and in the antiquities of Mesoamerica
Mesoamerica is a region and culture area in the Americas, extending approximately from central Mexico to Belize, Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, and Costa Rica, within which a number of pre-Columbian societies flourished before the Spanish colonization of the Americas in the 15th and...
. In 1876 he made detailed photos of the structures at Mitla
Mitla is the second most important archeological site in the state of Oaxaca in Mexico, and the most important of the Zapotec culture. The site is located 44 km from the city of Oaxaca. in the upper end of the Tlacolula Valley, one of the three that form the Central Valleys Region of the...
. In the summer of the following year he moved to San Cristóbal de las Casas
San Cristóbal de las Casas
San Cristóbal de las Casas also known as it's native Tsotsil name, Jovel is a city and municipality located in the Central Highlands region of the Mexican state of Chiapas...
, and in July set out to visit the ruins of Palenque
Palenque was a Maya city state in southern Mexico that flourished in the 7th century. The Palenque ruins date back to 100 BC to its fall around 800 AD...
. While several accounts of the site had been published by this time, it was still little visited, and Maler needed to employ a team of the local Indios to open a path to the ruin with machete
The machete is a large cleaver-like cutting tool. The blade is typically long and usually under thick. In the English language, an equivalent term is matchet, though it is less commonly known...
s. He spent a week at Palenque, sketching, measuring, and photographing the site, and became aware that earlier published accounts were inadequate, and that most earlier visitors had limited their descriptions to only a portion of the buildings observed there. While Maler was there another visitor came to the ruins, Gustave Bernoulli, a Swiss
Switzerland name of one of the Swiss cantons. ; ; ; or ), in its full name the Swiss Confederation , is a federal republic consisting of 26 cantons, with Bern as the seat of the federal authorities. The country is situated in Western Europe,Or Central Europe depending on the definition....
botanist who shared his interest in Maya sites, and had recently made a visit to 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...
. Bernoulli confirmed Maler's suspicion that there was much work that needed to be done to document the area's ruins.
In the spring of 1878 Maler was obliged to return to Europe to settle his father's estate, which was tied up in considerable legal difficulties. While the lawyers he hired sorted it out, Maler lived in Paris
Paris is the capital and largest city in France, situated on the river Seine, in northern France, at the heart of the Île-de-France region...
, where he gave lectures on Mexican antiquities and studied and read everything about Mesoamerica he could find in the city. In 1884 the estate was settled, with Maler inheriting a small fortune, and he returned to Mexico to devote himself to study of the Maya.
He settled in Yucatán
Yucatán officially Estado Libre y Soberano de Yucatán is one of the 31 states which, with the Federal District, comprise the 32 Federal Entities of Mexico. It is divided in 106 municipalities and its capital city is Mérida....
with small house in the town of Ticul
Ticul is one of 106 municipalities in Yucatán state, Mexico. It is located in the western part of the state at 100 km south of the state capital city of Mérida. The municipality, which has an area of 355.12 km² , in the 2005 census reported 25,621 inhabitants...
, where he set up a photographic studio and learned the Maya language
A Maya language is one of a group of languages spoken by the Maya peoples of Mesoamerica.Maya language may also refer to:* Yucatec Maya language or Maya, a Mayan language spoken in the Yucatán Peninsula...
. However he spent most of his time in the forests, accompanied by a few Maya to help clear the jungle from the ruins and carry Maler's photographic equipment. He started off visiting major sites already well-known, such as Chichen Itza
Chichen Itza is a large pre-Columbian archaeological site built by the Maya civilization located in the northern center of the Yucatán Peninsula, in the Municipality of Tinúm, Yucatán state, present-day Mexico....
Uxmal was dominant from 875 to 900 CE. The site appears to have been the capital of a regional state in the Puuc region from 850-950 CE. The Maya dynasty expanded their dominion over their neighbors. This prominence didn't last long...
, but zealously followed all leads and became the first to document many new ruins. At Chichen, he lived in the ruins for 3 months, and documented the site much more fully than had earlier visitors.
Over the next years Maler also made investigations of many remote sites in the el Petén region of 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...
and along the course of the Usumacinta River
The Usumacinta River is a river in southeastern Mexico and northwestern Guatemala. It is formed by the junction of the Pasión River, which arises in the Sierra de Santa Cruz and the Salinas River, also known as the Chixoy, or the Negro, which descends from the Sierra Madre de Guatemala...
Maler became disgusted by the then common practice of 19th century antiquarians and archeologists of removing interesting sculptures from the sites to send to cities in Europe or North America. Maler noted the damage to the sites this often caused. He became dedicated to the notion that the ruins should be preserved intact, and wrote extensively to the Mexican government advocating that approach. Maler's views are now considered ahead of their time.
Maler realized the importance of publishing his investigations, but had somewhat mixed success. The Peabody Institute
The Peabody Institute of the Johns Hopkins University is a renowned conservatory and preparatory school located in the Mount Vernon neighborhood of Baltimore, Maryland at the corner of Charles and Monument Streets at Mount Vernon Place.-History:...
of 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...
arranged to publish his reports starting in 1898. A series of important books resulted, but the relationship between Maler and the Peabody was strained. Maler tried to insist that the books contain more minute detail and illustrations than the Peabody editors wished to include, and communications were difficult as Maler often left to make new expeditions in the forests and could not be contacted for months at a time for proofreading. The Peabody ended their agreement with Maler in 1909, although it took them until 1912 to finish the publication of the material they had received from him. The books are still an important reference in Maya studies.
Maler ended his physically demanding expeditions in the jungles in 1905 and retired to his home in Mérida, Yucatán
Mérida is the capital and largest city of the Mexican state of Yucatán and the Yucatán Peninsula. It is located in the northwest part of the state, about from the Gulf of Mexico coast...
In 1910 Maler made a trip to Europe in hopes of finding patrons for publishing more of his reports, but had no success other than to sell some of his photographs to the Bibliothèque nationale
Bibliothèque nationale de France
The is the National Library of France, located in Paris. It is intended to be the repository of all that is published in France. The current president of the library is Bruno Racine.-History:...
In his later years Teoberto Maler was known as something of a misanthrope. His money apparently gone, he made a modest living selling copies of his photographs to tourists and young archaeologists and giving lectures on Maya art and architecture at the Mérida school of fine arts. Maler died in Mérida, aged 75.
Many of his accounts were published posthumously, one batch in the 1930s, more in the 1970s and 1990s.