Tatiana Proskouriakoff,
Interpreting the Ancient Maya

Writing a full-length biography of Proskouriakoff has been rewarding for me as a writer. Women in the field of archaeology today are numerous and successful, but this was not the case before the 1960s. One who bucked the odds was Tatiana Proskouriakoff. She set a standard of excellence that has served as an example for many women who have since entered the field. Artist, architect, and archaeologist, Tania began her career in Maya archaeology in 1936 when she was asked to serve as surveyor and draftsperson for the University of Pennsylvania expedition to the lush rainforest on the border between Mexico and Guatemala. She was to measure and survey the existing ruins of Piedras Negras and from this, make reconstruction drawings of how the site may have appeared during the height of the Maya Civilization one thousand years before. For the rest of her life, Tania worked hard to understand and interpret the ancient Maya, making major contributions along the way. It was a remarkable life.

Through Tania's diaries and field notebooks and interviews with her colleagues, former students, and relatives, I have pieced together the story of her adventurous life. All have led me to an understanding of the complexities of this extraordinary woman. It is this that I hope is conveyed in the biography, "Tatiana Proskouriakoff: Interpreting the Ancient Maya." This book includes previously unpublished photographs from private family collections, as well as archived photographs of the Carnegie Institution of Washington, and the University of Pennsylvania Museum.

The National Geographic Channel aired a documentary February 28, 2001 entitled "Code of the Maya Kings." Part of the television series, The Treasure Seekers, it focused on the explorations of the 19th century American, John Lloyd Stephens and on the life and work of Tania Proskouriakoff, for which I was interviewed. Clips of this interview were used in the film, along with those of such prominent Maya scholars as Ian Graham and George and David Stuart.

Another film, Breaking the Maya Code, by David LeBrun, traced the 200 year history of the attempts to decipher Maya hieroglyphs and Tania's role in finally achieving this goal.

In 2012, I was interviewed for a documentary about Tania's friend and colleague Gustav Stromsvik. It was produced for Norwegian television by Paulo Chavarria of Flimmer Films and explored the life of this colorful figure in 20th century Maya archaeology.