Tatiana Proskouriakoff was a pioneering woman in the field of Maya archaeology. She devoted her career to interpreting the art, architecture, and hieroglyphic writing system of the ancient Maya. Several films have explored her impact on this field: one by National Geographic titled "Code of the Maya Kings," and more recently, "Breaking the Maya Code," by David LeBrun and Nightfire Films which aired on PBS' Nova series. In May 2009, California State University hosted a Mesoamerican conference as an homage to Proskouriakoff. It honored the centennial of her birth in Tomsk, Siberia January 23, 1909. Another documentary by a Norwegian film company documents the life and work of Mayanist Gustav Stromsvik, lifelong friend and colleague of Proskouriakoff.
Born in Siberia during a turbulent period in Russian history, Tatiana Proskouriakoff came to America with her family when her father was commissioned during World War I by Czar Nicholas II to oversee the production of munitions in the United States. With the Czar's abdication and the onset of the Russian Revolution, the Proskouriakoffs were unable to return to their home and instead, settled in the Philadelphia area. She excelled in art and completed a degree in architecture from the engineering department at Pennsylvania State College. She entered the field of Mesoamerican archaeology in the mid-1930s as a draftsperson and artist for a University of Pennsylvania archaeological project in the Petn rainforest of Guatemala. During her career, which spanned fifty years, Proskouriakoff became known for her thorough scholarship. In her landmark work, An Album of Maya Architecture, Proskouriakoff combined her artistic talents and architectural background to produce a vision of ancient Maya sites, such as Copan and Chichen Itza, at the height of their grandeur. By the end of her life, she had become one of the premier scholars of Mayan civilization, receiving some of the field's highest awards. In this biography of Proskouriakoff, Char Solomon chronicles the life of this remarkable woman.
Documentary Code of the Maya Kings
Now available for viewing online, this documentary is devoted to the life and work of Tatiana Proskouriakoff and John Lloyd Stephens.
Translating Maya History
A recent article published in Archaeology Magazine briefly looks at Proskouriakoff's contribution to interpreting the ancient Maya's hieroglyphic script.
"A new biography of this amazing scholar is sure to fascinate readers...[it] wins over the reader with a compelling portrait of one of archaeology's most important early personalities." Traci Arden, Jan-Feb 2003 Archaeology Magazine,
"A straightforward biography of a towering figure in Americanist research, examined through her personal diaries and through the recollections of people who knew and worked with her. In a way, it is a study of how one woman managed to change an entire field of research that was for most of its history a man's territory...Anyone interested in Maya research and in the study of the ancient New World should find this fascinating." Yale scholar, Michael Coe.
"In tracing out the course of Proskouriakoff's life and career, this biography does not present us with [her] finished masterpieces...Instead we see those works in progress. We see the highs and lows of Proskouriakoff's academic and personal life. Her insecurities, and self-doubt, her desire...not to hurt the feelings of her friends and colleagues. Her love of family and friends, and the difficult personal and professional choices she made throughout her life, make Proskouriakoff a human figure with whom anyone can relate." (Charles Golden, Ethnohistory 51:2)
"If you're in a women's book club that needs a good selection for March - Women's History Month - consider "Tatiana Proskouriakoff." The title is a mouthful. But the book is a concise, moving account of a Russian-born American who made a huge mark in the male-dominated field of Maya studies." (Sam Hodges, Book Editor, The Charlotte Observer, March 7, 2004.)
"This intimate biography of a revered scholar in Mayan studies describes the problems and pleasures of archaeological fieldwork, the organization of research, and the personalities of well-known archaeologists...The book will attract general readers and anyone interested in the ancient Maya." (September 2003 issue of "Choice," publication of the Association of College and Research Libraries.)
This is an excellent source of photographs of the Maya region maintained by Maya archaeologist Dr. David Hixson.
There is an interesting Youtube video which shows examples of Proskouriakoff's reconstruction drawings while in the background music by the Russian composer Rochmaninoff plays. Copy and paste this into your browser to view it: