The emphasis in this book is on “the personal aspects of the individuals,” rather than on the history of Maya archaeology. However, the two subjects are necessarily interrelated, and throughout the body of the work, and in an epilogue, Brunhouse takes note of the professional impact or lack of it made by individuals treated in this book. The focus is on eight persons with a chapter devoted to each. The time period covered is from 1787 to 1935. The group is wildly disparate. Del Río, a Spanish artillery captain who made a descriptive report on the site of Palenque, is the earliest. Dupaix, also an army officer, made a careful report on many sites in Mexico. He also rejected the theories of the time which derived the ancient civilizations of Mexico from everywhere but the old world. He sarcastically remarked that only a direct route from the moon had not been suggested. Eric von Daniken has since supplied that lack with Chariots of the Gods. Galindo was an Irish political adventurer who wrote a good descriptive report on Copán. He seems to have been the first to argue that American civilization was indigenous. Waldeck was a Frenchman who published a book on Palenque, illustrated by drawings more dramatic than accurate. John Lloyd Stephens and Frederick Catherwood were extraordinarily active, accurate, and perceptive in their four volumes of travel books. They have been rightly characterized as being the first professionals in Maya archaeology. Brasseur de Bourbourg’s accomplishments were primarily in his discovery of indigenous scholarship: the Ximénez manuscript of the Popol Vuh, the Flores Cakchiquel grammar, Landa’s Relación, and other important materials. He reversed previous theories, and advanced America as the source of world civilizations. Brunhouse’s sketch of LePlongeon makes clear the nature of this egomaniacal trivialist whose ambitions far outran his abilities. And, finally, E. H. Thompson’s accomplishments were genuine, although most of his work was published by others who gave him credit. The Loltun cave and the Cenote of Sacrifice dredging operation were among his important activities.
This is an intriguing and an exasperating book. It is intriguing because of the anecdotal and interesting detail, which Brunhouse has worked hard and conscientiously to gather and organize. Brunhouse accomplishes much of what he set out to; to outline the personalities involved in the early days of Maya archaeology. Exasperation comes from the fact that a good deal more information was available, had Brunhouse talked to some Maya archaeologists. A serious error and allegation is made in the final chapter; the author implies that Peabody illegally retained material from the Cenote of Sacrifice. The Supreme Court of Mexico in 1944 ruled that the Peabody owned the material and that the antiquity act in force at the time of Thompson’s excavation allowed Thompson to dispose of the artifacts. In the meantime, Peabody has voluntarily returned one-third of the Cenote gold objects. Also missing from the book are other important pioneers: Maier, Charnay, and Maudslay. These flaws aside, the book is a worthwhile contribution.