Alfred P. Maudslay in Guatemala
Stephens travelled with Frederick Catherwood (1799-1854), an architect and artist, and together they visited 44 ancient Maya sites. Catherwood’s detailed drawings (and later the lithographs and engravings that were produced from them) are very accurate, but also show the slightly romanticised image of exploration.
Maudslay brought a lot of equipment on his travels; not only personal items, but the many boxes of glass plates and chemicals for his photography and sacks of plaster of Paris for the mould-making, for example. In more accessible areas these items were carried on 'mule-trains', but especially in mountainous terrain, the work of porters was invaluable.
“It was the unexpected magnificence of the monuments which that day came into view that led me to devote so many years to securing copies of them, which, preserved in the museums of Europe and America, are likely to survive the originals.”
(Maudslay 1899, p. 149, talking about his 1882 visit to Quiriguá)
Today, we are using structured light scanners to create 3D images of the casts made by Maudslay as a next step in the history of the captured image. The preservation of the inscription on the casts is often better than the one on the original monuments today, so giving further access to researchers through modern technology is advancing the ongoing decipherment of ancient Maya writing.
All images © Trustees of the British Museum
Text and image selection: Claudia Zehrt, project Curator British Museum Google Maya Project
Thanks to: Kate Jarvis, Amy Drago, Christos Gerontinis, Jonathan Mortemore, Jago Cooper, and other BM Google Maya Project collaborators