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2004.24 (A)

Thompson, Edward Herbert, (1860-1935). Collection of Negatives, 1888-1931 : A Finding Aid

Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology Archives, Harvard University


Harvard University

© President and Fellows of Harvard College

Descriptive Summary

Location: Peabody Museum Archives
Call No.: 2004.24 (A)
Repository: Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology Archives, Harvard University
Creator: Edward Herbert Thompson
Title: Thompson, Edward Herbert, (1860-1935). Collection of Negatives, 1888-1931: A Finding Aid 188-1931
Date(s): 188-1931
Date(s): 1870-1923
Quantity: 146 negatives (photographs)
Abstract: This collection contains negatives of photographs taken by E. H. Thompson during his explorations of the Yucatán Peninsula (1889-1908), Minnesota (1902), and Utah (1931). Many of the photographs are of Mayan artifacts (wooden, ceramic, and stone), Mayan ruins, ancient and contemporary architecture, engravings, and landscapes.

Immediate Source of Acquisition:

These negatives are part of the core negative collection at the Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology, Harvard University and reflect research and field work undertaken by the Peabody Museum-sponsored expedition, Excavations at Labna, Loltun, Chacmultun, Chichen Itza, and other sites in Yucatan, 1888-1908.

Processed by:

Staff of NEH 2007-2008 grant; finding aid created by Melissa G. Gonzales Simmons College intern; edited by Patricia H. Kervick, Associate Archivist
October 2007

Conditions Governing Access:

Most views are unrestricted, except for culturally sensitive images. Permission to view culturally sensitive images may be obtained from the Peabody Museum's curatorial department

Conditions Governing Use:

As negatives have been digitized and are on the Peabody Museum website, researchers are encouraged to view the negatives online at http://www.peabody.harvard.edu/col/default.cfm Search by Peabody ID # = and type in the entire 2004.24 number listed in the inventory below.

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Biographical Sketch

Edward Herbert Thompson was born in Worcester, Massachusetts in 1860, and his family lineage in New England can be traced to colonial times. His paternal grandmother was a favorite niece of General Israel Putnam (or 'Old Put',) who fought at the Battle of Bunker Hill. As a small boy, Thompson's mother, a student of the artist Gladwin, planted the archaeological seed when they would search for arrowheads at the bottom of brooks near their summer home in Athol. At his uncle's farm, he and a friend would find North American artifacts and deposit them at the Worcester County Natural Historic Society.
Following public school, Thompson enrolled in the business college at Worcester Polytechnic Institute in the class of 1879. On February 6, 1883, he married Miss Henrietta T. Hamblin of West Falmouth, Massachusetts. Miss Hamblin was a school teacher and the daughter of a retired whaling captain. It was around this time that Thompson built a log cabin in West Falmouth on the grounds of his vacation home, where he could study and write
In 1879, Thompson wrote an article entitled "Atlantis Not a Myth" in the journal Popular Science Monthly. In this piece, he proposed that the ancient Mayan civilization on the Yucatan peninsula was once part of the lost continent of Atlantis. Luckily, this article caught the attention of Stephen Salisbury, Jr., who at the time, was vice president of the American Antiquarian Society (AAS) and associated with Harvard University. Since he was interested in the Maya, Mr. Salisbury invited E. H. Thompson to dinner in 1885, along with United States Senator George Frisbie Hoar and Reverend Edward Everett Hale, who were also affiliated with the AAS and Harvard University. At the dinner, Mr. Salisbury informed Thompson that the AAS and the Peabody Museum in Cambridge had selected him as a scientific investigator of ancient cultures of the Yucatan. Senator Hoar suggested to the President of the United States that Thompson be appointed the American consul to the Mexican states of Yucatan and Campeche. This appointment would provide greater access for E.H. Thompson, and allow a closer study of the ancient and modern Maya.
As the youngest American Consul in Mexican service, he moved to Chichen with his wife and daughter of two months, and established his home at a vacant hacienda. He served as American Consul for almost twenty-five years, and also held the titles of consul-archaeologist and archaeologist-planter. Even though he was working for the Peabody Museum, he was not trained by F.W. Putnam, and he also did explorations for the Field Museum in Chicago.
For 42 years Thompson studied the Maya civilization at the sites of Chichen Itzá,Uxmal,Mitla, and Palenque. Among his discoveries at Chichen Itzá were the following: the verification of the ancient traditions at the Cenote of Sacrifice, the 'Tomb of the High Priest', and the tablet of the Initial Series. Regardless of such accomplishments, Thompson desired to find a Rosetta Stone of the Mayan language. While living among the modern Maya, he listened to and retained their legends and folklore. During his stay in Mexico, Thompson suffered many maladies, and according to his account, he became slightly deaf as a result of diving into the Sacred Well of Chichen Itzá.
While away in Merida, a radical Socialist uprising resulted in the burning of his plantation home, including his library. Thompson restored the home only to have the Mexican government seize it, along with the Cenote artifacts, altogether valued at 1,300,000 pesos. The Mexican Supreme Court eventually ruled in his favor, and the property was returned to him. Thompson leased his property to the Carnegie Institution of Washington, which sent researchers to restore Chichen Itzá and study the local plants for medicinal value. He had also intended to donate some of his land to the villagers of Pisté for cornfields.
E.H. Thompson published many of his scientific and archaeological findings in those journals issued by the societies for which he did work. In 1932, shortly before his passing, he published a book entitled People of the Serpent: Life and Adventure Among the Mayas. In this book, Thompson recounts memorable experiences from his time in the Yucatan, archaeological highlights, and a history of the Maya.
On May 18, 1935, Edward Herbert Thompson passed away at the age of seventy-five in Plainfield, New Jersey.


There does not appear to be any formal arrangement; however, the negatives are ordered by Peabody negative number and seem to be grouped by expedition. Therefore, an artificial series based on place/site was created for this inventory.

Scope and Content Note

E. H. Thompson's negative collection consists of black and white glass plate negatives of the Peabody Museum Expeditions to the Yucatan Peninsula (1888-1908 and 1927,) Minnesota (1902,) and Utah (1931). Sizes range from 4" x 5" and 5" x 7" to 6" x 8". Most of the photographs are of Mayan artifacts (wooden, ceramic, and stone), Mayan ruins, ancient and contemporary architecture, engravings, and landscapes. This collection is part of the Peabody Museum's core negative collection, which is in the process of being digitized under a National Endowment for the Humanities grant running from 2007-2008. Images can be viewed at the Peabody Museum's collections online via the website: http://www.peabody.harvard.edu/col/default.cfm Search by Peabody ID # = and type in the entire 2004.24 number listed in the inventory below.

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