Thompson, Eric (1898–1975)

views updated

Thompson, Eric (1898–1975)

John Eric Sidney Thompson, a British-born eminent scholar of Maya epigraphy, archaeology, ethnohistory, and ethnography, made significant contributions to the understanding of the ancient Maya. Thompson was raised in London, and his pre-academic life included service in World War I and work as a gaucho in Argentina. From 1925 to 1926 he studied anthropology at Cambridge University.

In 1926, on his first of many trips to Mesoamerica, Thompson worked at the archaeological site of Chichén Itzá under the Mayanist Sylvanus Morley. Thompson published extensively on research from this and several other Maya archeological sites (e.g., Caracol, Lubaantun, Pusilha, Cobá, Rio Bec, San Jose, El Palmar, and Benque Viejo) while holding positions at the Chicago Natural History Museum and the Carnegie Institution. He was one of the first investigators to study smaller sites to learn about the lives of nonelites. Thompson also pioneered the use of ethnographic observations of modern Maya in his interpretations of their ancient ancestors.

Thompson's greatest contribution to Maya scholarship was his systematizing epigraphic studies translating ancient Maya hieroglyphs. He worked extensively on correlating the Maya and Gregorian calendars and on deciphering noncalendric hieroglyphs, and his publications on Maya epigraphy remain valuable resources. Thompson's approach to synthesizing archaeological, ethnographic, ethnohistoric, and ethnohistoric evidence in his work set the standard for anthropological research in Mesoamerica. For his scholarly contributions, Thompson was awarded numerous academic and national honors, including a British knighthood.

See alsoArchaeology; Chichén Itzá; Maya, The; Mayan Epigraphy; Mayan Ethnohistory; Morley, Sylvanus Griswold.


Primary Works

Maya Hieroglyphic Writing: Introduction. Washington, DC: Carnegie Institution of Washington, 1950.

The Rise and Fall of Maya Civilization. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1954.

A Catalog of Maya Hieroglyphs. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1962.

Maya Archaeologist. London: Robert Hale Limited, 1963.

Maya History and Religion. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1970.

Secondary Work

Hammond, Norman. "Sir Eric Thompson, 1898–1975." American Antiquity 42 (April 1977): 180-190.

                                Daniel M. Seinfeld

About this article

Thompson, Eric (1898–1975)

Updated About content Print Article


Thompson, Eric (1898–1975)