Scope and Content of Collection
Title: Augustus and Alice Dixon Le Plongeon papers
Date (inclusive): circa 1840-1937 (bulk 1860-1910)
Le Plongeon, Augustus, 1826-1908
39.4 Linear Feet
The Getty Research Institute
1200 Getty Center Drive, Suite 1100
Los Angeles 90049-1688
Business Number: (310) 440-7390
Fax Number: (310) 440-7780
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
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,
photographs. The collection also contains papers belonging to Maude and Henry Field Blackwell, who inherited the literary
estate of the Le
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Language: Collection material is in English, Spanish, and French.
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.
In 1862, Le Plongeon moved to Lima, Peru, where he opened a photography studio and also practiced medicine, specializing in
treatments. He traveled extensively throughout Peru studying and photographing Inca ruins, as well as the causes of earthquakes.
His reading of Abbé
Brassuer de Bourboug's work on ancient Central American and Mexican cultures led him to consider the notion that civilization
had its beginnings in
the New World, and, after reading John Lloyd Stephens's and Frederick Catherwood's accounts of Central America and Yucatan,
to form the notion that
perhaps the Maya had disseminated civilization. During this time he also carried out a public debate with a Jesuit priest
in the Lima newspapers,
and consequently published two anti-Jesuit books,
La religion de Jesus comparada con las ensenanzas de la
Los Jesuitas y el Peru (1869).
After eight years in Peru, Le Plongeon returned briefly to California where he presented a series of lectures on ancient Peruvian
on seismology to the California Academy of Sciences (he had become a member of the academy in 1856). From California he traveled
to New York to
lecture, also hoping to sell paintings by Bartolomé Esteban Murillo and Juan del Castillo that he had acquired in Peru, and
then to London to study
Spanish manuscripts held by the British Museum. One day by chance he met Alice Dixon (b. 1851), the young daughter of the
Henry Dixon, who was out running an errand for her father. According to Alice she went home after their meeting and said to
her mother, "Mother,
while I was out to-day I met him who I know that I shall have to marry by and bye." By the end of January, 1873, the couple
was in New York
preparing for their explorations of Maya Yucatan.
While in New York Augustus published his
Manual de Fotografia (1873), which he had written in Peru.
He also attempted, without success, to reclaim the glass negatives that he had sent to New York in 1863 via Ephraim G. Squier,
with whom he had
collaborated in Peru, and who had published them as his own work. In July, the couple set sail for the Yucatan peninsula,
where they were to spend
most of the next twelve years searching for the evidence to prove Augustus's theory that Maya travelers had diffused their
Southeast Asia and the Middle East, and that it thus predated Egyptian culture.
The Le Plongeons excavated and extensively recorded the ruins at Chichén Itzá and Uxmal, and photographed sites at Izamal,
Isla Mujeres, Cozumel,
Cancun, and Ake. Their photographic work was thorough and inclusive. They took aerial site views, documented individual structures
from all angles,
and made close-ups of entire facades of structures such as the Governor's Palace at Uxmal, and also recorded individual architectural
glyphs, bas reliefs, and other sculptures, as well as the artifacts that they unearthed. They made wet collodion glass plate
negatives, most often
using a stereoscopic camera. Alice was particulary instrumental in the photography work, having been thoroughly trained in
her father's studio. At
Chichén Itzá, the Le Plongeons also discovered a superb Chac Mool figure while excavating the Platform of the Eagles and Jaguars,
and made extensive
tracings of the murals in the Upper Temple of the Jaguars.
During their time in Yucatan the Le Plongeons sent dispatches about their work to organizations such as the American Antiquarian
published accounts of their work in Mexican and American newspapers and journals, and Augustus published his
Vestiges of the Mayas (1881). Augustus also became embroiled in debates with scholars such as Daniel Brinton, Samuel
Haven, and Philipp Valenti over theories of cultural diffusion. He believed that his discoveries of carved reliefs at Uxmal
symbols proved the link between Yucatan and Egypt. As Augustus was never one to back down from an argument, his beliefs soon
estranged him from his
fellow Mesoamericanists, who, in discounting his theories, also overlooked the meticulous work he and Alice had accomplished
in the field.
The Le Plongeons returned to the New York in 1885 and settled in Brooklyn where they continued to write and lecture on the
Maya and Egypt.
Augustus's published books include
Sacred Mysteries among the Mayas and Quiches, 11,500 Years Ago
Queen Moo and the Egyptian Sphinx (1896), and
Origin of the Egyptians
(1913-1914). Alice became a prolific writer of articles on a wide range of topics that were published in
scientific, popular, and theosophical journals. In addition to writing about archaeology, she also wrote on contemporary Maya
and Yucatecan culture,
and other ethnographic and natural history subjects. Her books include
Here and There in Yucatan
Queen Moo's Talisman (1902), an epic poem. She also delivered many popular lantern
slide lectures on a wide range of subjects including the ancient and modern Maya, Christopher Columbus and the discovery of
the Americas, and the
architecture of old London.
Estranged from the academic archaeological community, the Le Plongeons increasingly concentrated their activities in theosophist
circles. At some point they met Henry Field Blackwell, an electrical engineer and inventor, and his wife Maude, perhaps through
connection, as both men were Freemasons. The two couples became close friends, and Maude in particular championed the Le Plongeon's
died in 1908 at the age of eighty-three, and only two years later Alice died at age fifty-nine. The Blackwells inherited the
research and writings
of the Le Plongeons, promising to make every attempt to continue publishing and promulgating their work. In 1913-1914, Maude
successful in seeing Augustus's
The Origin of the Egyptians and
The Pyramid of Xochicalco published in
The Word, a theosophical
journal, but she subsequently fell on hard times following her husband's death. Alone in Los Angeles, where the couple had
moved in the late 1920s,
Maude struggled to survive through the Great Depression. Although her connections to theosophist circles increased, Maude's
efforts during the 1930s
to interest archaeologists such as Frans Blom and Sylvanus Morley in the work of the Le Plongeons came to naught. Nevertheless,
twentieth century the Le Plongeons and their theories continued to be mentioned in scholarly, theosophical, and popular literature,
and in recent
years the value of their fieldwork and photography has been reassessed by scholars.
Open for use by qualified researchers.
Augustus and Alice Dixon Le Plongeon papers, circa 1840-1937, bulk 1860-1910, The Getty Research Institute, Los Angeles, Accession
Acquired in 2004.
Beth Ann Guynn processed and described the Augustus and Alice Dixon Le Plongeon papers in 2004-2006. Jamie Allen processed
and described Series
III.E, glass lantern slides, during the summer of 2005. Lawrence G. Desmond, an independent Le Plongeon scholar, provided
invaluable advice and
knowledge during the processing and cataloging of the collection.
The following related collections are part of the Getty Research Library, Special Collections and Visual Resources:
Views of Maya ruins in the Yucatan. Special Collections accession number 96.R.137.
Desmond, Lawrence G.,
The nineteenth century photographs of Alice Dixon Le Plongeon and Augustus
Le Plongeon: a catalog of collections from American Museum of Natural History, Donald Dixon Album, Getty Research Institute,
Peabody Museum at
Harvard University, Philosophical Research Society
. Special Collections reference call number NH32.L597 D46 2005.
The following institutions hold significant collections of Le Plongeon materials:
Negatives, photographs, and lantern slides. Photographic Archive, Division of Anthropology, American Museum of Natural
History, New York.
Letters from Alice Dixon Le Plongeon to Phoebe Apperson Hearst. George and Phoebe Apperson Hearst papers, BANC MSS 72/204
c, The Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley.
Photographs. Photographic Archives, Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology, Harvard University, Cambridge, MA.
Negatives, photographs, mural tracings, field notes, correspondence, and the manuscript of Augustus Le Plongeon's
The Origin of the Egyptians. The Philosophical Research Society, Los Angeles.
Additionally, copies of Le Plongeon prints, lantern slides, negatives, and mural tracings found in some of the collections
listed above are held at
The Center for Maya Research, Barnardsville, NC.
Scope and Content of Collection
The collection documents the archaeological excavations, fieldwork, research, and writings of Augustus and Alice Dixon Le
Plongeon, the first
persons to systematically excavate and photograph the Maya sites of Chichén Itzá and Uxmal. 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 lifetime by their theories of Mayan cultural diffusion, and in particular by their insistence that
the Maya founded
ancient Egypt. The Le Plongeons' archaeological work and evidence of their wide-ranging interests is recorded in unpublished
correspondence, drawings, plans, and photographs. The collection also contains the papers of Maude and Henry Field Blackwell,
who inherited the
literary estate of the Le Plongeons.
The papers of Augustus Le Plongeon span from his time in Peru until his death, and evidence his wide-ranging interests. Early
sketckbooks and drawings, photographs, notebooks, manuscripts, and correspondence. Topics covered include hydroelectric therapy,
comparative religion, and Inca culture. A scrapbook and a portfolio of writings document Le Plongeon's sustained debate on
the Jesuits and their
religious practices in Peru. Unpublished manuscripts include Le Plongeon's lectures on ancient Peru, delivered before the
California Academy of
Sciences; his collodion emulsion recipes and notes on photography; and an untitled manuscript on the Inca and another on the
Yucatan peninsula, as
well as writings on ancient religions and Maya architecture. Published manuscripts include
Queen Moo and
the Egyptian Sphynx
, with reviews and publication correspondence, and his
, which was published posthumously.
The papers of Alice Dixon Le Plongeon coincide with her married life, and consist of correspondence, her field diary, research
manuscripts, and published articles. Her correspondence includes 12 letters from their benefactor, Phoebe Hearst. Research
writings, and published articles attest to the wide range of subjects on which Alice wrote and lectured after the couple's
return from Mexico, and
include not only Mexican archaeological and ethnographical topics, but also subjects such as Hawaii, old London, natural history,
rights. Unpublished manuscripts include the typescript for a book entitled "Yucatan: Its Ancient Palaces and Modern Cities."
Photographs by the Le Plongeons include a few of Augustus's photographs from St. Thomas and Peru, and the extensive photographic
by the couple during their travels in Yucatan and Central America, which records ancient architecture, sculpture, city views,
observations. Maya sites photographed include Chichén Itzá, Uxmal, Ake, and Mayapan. Several photographs document the Le
Plongeons's discovery of
the Chacmool sculpture in the Platform of the Eagles and the jaguars at Chichén Itzá. There are also views of Izamal, Merida,
and Progresso, and
scenes from daily Yucatecan life, including photographs related to the region's long-running civil war. Although there are
some early salt prints
made by Augustus, most of the photographs are either albumen or collodian stereographic prints, either in stereo or half prints;
some later prints
are gelatin silver. Wet collodion glass plate negatives, both single and stereographic, include the Le Plongeons's original
plates made in the
field, as well as copy work negatives to be used for publications and lecture slides. Glass lantern slides, which the Le Plongeons
lectures, include both copies of their original photographs and copy work from illustrations. Subjects include Peru, Mexico,
Pompeii, old London
(from photographs by Henry Dixon), the South Pacific (including Captian Cook), and the life and voyages of Christopher Columbus.
Drawings and plans include tracings made by the Le Plongeons of the murals in the Upper Temple of the Jaguars at Chichén Itzá,
and hand-drawn maps,
site plans, and building plans for Chichén Itzá, Uxmal, and Xochicalco. The tracings, in sanguine outline, represent the earliest
record of the murals which depict scenes from ancient Maya history, religious, and daily life.
The papers of Henry and Maude Alice Kane Blackwell contain personal and family documents, and include Henry Blackwell's drawings,
blueprints, and notebooks for his various inventions. Maude Blackwell's papers focus on her efforts to champion the work of
the Le Plongeons, and
include letters from archaeologists Frans Blom and Sylvanus Morley.
Organized in five series:
Series I. Augustus Le Plongeon papers, 1846-1914;
Series II. Alice Dixon Le Plongeon papers, 1873-1910;
Series III. Photographs, 1851-1933;
Series IV. Drawings, maps, and plans, 1860-1931;
Series V. Papers of Henry Field Blackwell and Maude Alice Kane Blackwell, 1763-1940.
Subjects - Names
Morley, Sylvanus Griswold, 1883-1948
Le Plongeon, Alice D. (Alice Dixon), 1851-1910
Blom, Frans Ferdinand, 1893-1963
Blackwell, Maude Alice
Blackwell, Henry Field
Hearst, Phoebe Apperson, 1842-1919
Dixon, Henry, 1820-1892
Cook, James, 1728-1779
Subjects - Corporate Bodies
Subjects - Topics
Mayan languages -- Writing
Mayas -- Antiquities
Mayas -- Religion
Mayas in polular culture
Photography -- Handbooks, manuals, etc.
Maya mural painting and decoration
Indian art -- Mexico
Earthquakes -- Peru
Subjects - Places
Xochicalco (Mexico) -- Antiquities
Yucatán (Mexico : State) -- History
Yucatán Peninsula -- Description and travel
Chichén Itzá Site (Mexico)
London (England) -- Description and travel
Oceanea -- Description and travel
Mexico -- Antiquities
Pompeii (Extinct city) -- Description and travel
Uxmal Site (Mexico) -- Antiquities
Subjects - Titles
The pyramid of Xochicalco–1914
Manual de fotografia–1873
Queen Móo and the Egyptian sphinx–1896
Genres and Forms of Material
Lantern slides -- Peru -- 19th century
Lantern slides -- Mexico -- 19th century
Sketchbooks -- Mexico -- 19th century
Stereographs -- Mexico -- 19th century
Sketchbooks -- Peru -- 19th century
Wet collodion negatives -- Mexico -- 19th century
Albumen prints -- Mexico -- 19th century
Albumen prints -- Peru -- 19th century
Blueprints -- United States–19th century
Blueprints -- United States–20th century
Cabinet photographs -- 19th century
Collodion prints-Mexico–19th century
Diaries -- 19th century
Gelatin silver prints -- Mexico -- 19th century
Half sterographs -- Mexico -- 19th century
Le Plongeon, Augustus, 1826-1908