The collection documents the
archaeological excavations, fieldwork, research, and writings of the nineteenth-century
photographers, antiquarians, and amateur archaeologists Augustus and Alice Dixon Le
Plongeon, the first persons to systematically excavate and photograph the Maya sites of
Chichén Itzá and Uxmal (1873-1886). The couple's pioneering work in documenting Maya sites
and inscriptions with photography, which in many cases recorded the appearance of sites and
objects that have subsequently been damaged or lost, was overshadowed in their own lifetimes
by their theories of Maya cultural diffusion, and in particular by their insistence that the
Maya founded ancient Egypt. The Le Plongeon's work, and evidence of their wide-ranging
interests, is found in manuscripts, diaries, correspondence, and photographs. The collection
also contains papers belonging to Maude and Henry Field Blackwell, who inherited the
literary estate of the Le Plongeons.
Augustus Henry Julian Le Plongeon was born on Jersey, Channel Islands on May 4, 1826. After
graduating from the Ecole Polytechnique in Paris he embarked on a series of adventures in
the Americas, beginning with an attempt to sail to Chile with a friend in the late 1840s.
Wrecked off the coast, they made their way to Valparaiso, Chile, where Le Plongeon took a
position at a local college. When gold rush fever reached Chile, he joined the exodus to
northern California. By 1850, Le Plongeon was working as a surveyor and city planner in
Marysville, California. To finance further travels he sold the land that he had received in
payment for his services, going first to England, where he reportedly badgered Henry Fox
Talbot into teaching him his new method for making photographic negatives on paper. From
England, Le Plongeon went to St. Thomas, Virgin Islands to experiment with Talbot's
techniques in tropical climates, and then traveled to Mexico, Australia, China, and the
Pacific Islands. He returned to California at the end of 1851, established a photography
studio in San Francisco, and also entered the medical profession, perhaps by apprenticing
himself to a local doctor. By the 1860s, Le Plongeon had appended the title Doctor to the
front of his name.
39.4 Linear Feet
Contact Library Reproductions
Open for use by qualified researchers.