Le Plongeon, Augustus (1826–1908)

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Le Plongeon, Augustus (1826–1908)

Amateur archaeologist and photographer Augustus Le Plongeon (May 4, 1826–December 13, 1908) and his wife Alice spent close to twelve years investigating Yucatán sites such as Chichén Itzá and Uxmal. Arriving in 1873, they lived continuously at Yucatán until 1885, recording monuments and searching for cultural connections between the Maya and ancient Egypt.

Although Le Plongeon invited criticism with his monogenetic theories of the Maya as the cradle of civilization, he was a pioneer in systematic photographic documentation. More than 500 photographs provide information about the appearance of structures and objects subsequently damaged, moved, or destroyed. Taking hundreds of three-dimensional photographs, he documented entire structures such as the Governor's Palace at Uxmal. He also photographed miscellaneous sculptures including a rare in situ photograph of a phallic sculpture from the Nunnery Quadrangle. At Chichén Itzá he excavated and made cross-section drawings of the Platform of Venus and excavated a Chacmool figure from the Platform of the Eagles and Jaguars.

Although Le Plongeon's theories were deemed outlandish by contemporaries Alfred Maudslay and Teobert Maler and were nearly forgotten as a result, his methodical approach and dedication to understanding Maya culture provide scholars with valuable visual and contextual information. His work also provides insight into the nineteenth-century fascination with Maya culture.

See alsoChacmools; Chichén Itzá; Jaguar; Uxmal; Yucatán.


Brunhouse, Robert L. In Search of the Maya: The First Archaeologists. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1973.

Desmond, Lawrence Gustave. "Augustus Le Plongeon: A Fall from Archaeological Grace." In Assembling the Past: Studies in the Professionalization of Archaeology, edited by Alice B. Kehoe and Mary Beth Emmerichs. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1999.

Desmond, Lawrence Gustave, and Phyllis Mauch Messenger. A Dream of Maya: Augustus and Alice Le Plongeon in Nineteenth-Century Yucatan. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1988.

Le Plongeon, Alice. "Ruined Uxmal." New York World, June 27, 1881.

Le Plongeon, Augustus. Maya/Atlantis: Queen Moo and the Egyptian Sphinx. Blauvelt, New York: R. Steiner Publications, 1976.

                                     Laura M. Amrhein