Carnegie Institution of Washington Photographs of Mayan Excavations (Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology, Harvard University)
Artstor is collaborating with the Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology, Harvard University to distribute approximately 44,000 digital images from the renowned photographic archives of the Carnegie Institution of Washington (CIW), which document archaeological excavations throughout Central America. Through this partnership, the Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology, Harvard University will also be contributing 154,000 images of Pre–Columbian, African, Native North American, and Oceanic objects from its permanent collections to the Artstor Digital Library.
The Carnegie Institution of Washington was founded in 1902 by Andrew Carnegie as an organization for scientific discovery. In 1913, the Mayanist Sylvanus Morley (1883–1948) presented a plan for archaeological research at Chichen Itza to the Carnegie Institution. Not only was his proposal accepted, but Morley was also appointed the first director of a newly created Maya Research Program. Through this program, the Carnegie Institution would sponsor archaeological excavations of Mayan sites in Mexico and Central America from 1913 to 1957. Carnegie researchers embarked on annual expeditions to the Yucatan peninsula, from the lowlands of Peten to the highlands of Guatemala, conducting archaeological reconnaissance, excavation, and restoration at sites such as Uaxactun, Copán, Pedras Negras, Yaxchilan, Coba, Quiriguá, Tayasal, Kaminaljuyu, and Chichen Itza. In 1929, under the leadership of a new director, Alfred Kidder (1885–1963), the project began to take on a broader interdisciplinary approach, incorporating historical, linguistic, medical, ecological, sociological, and ethnographic studies of ancient, colonial, and modern Maya peoples. Thus, in addition to the ongoing archaeological fieldwork, the Carnegie Institution also supported a wide range of scholarly investigations of Mayan civilization, whether anthropologists studying contemporary Maya people, or linguists deciphering the hieroglyphic inscriptions uncovered at ancient sites. At Kidder's suggestion, the Carnegie Institution even funded aerial reconnaissance missions piloted by Charles Lindbergh (1902–1974), in order to photograph known Mayan sites, identify new ruins, and record topographical data. Over the decades, this multi–pronged research program produced hundreds of annual reports, research monographs, and scholarly articles, many of which remain foundational sources in their respective fields. The program came to an end in 1958, when the Carnegie Institution closed its Division of Historical Research to devote more funds scientific and nuclear research, in the wake of the Soviet Union's successful Sputnik launch in 1957.
After its closure, the Maya Research Program's extensive archive was acquired by the Peabody Museum at Harvard. Several notable Carnegie–affiliated scholars also transferred to the Peabody Museum to serve as curators, including Harry E. D. Pollock, Ledyard Smith, and Tatiana Proskouriakoff. The Peabody Museum digitized a large number of the Carnegie Institution negatives through grants from the Harvard University Library Digital Initiative. Artstor supported the digitization of the remaining negatives and the entire corpus of approximately 44,000 images has been made available in the Digital Library. These photographs, mostly produced from 1929–1957, are currently housed in the Photographic Archives at the Peabody Museum. Significant portions of the collection comprise images from the excavated sites at Chichen Itza and Copán. Many of the buildings, monuments, and artifacts recorded in these photographs no longer exist, or are so physically damaged or inaccessible as to be unavailable to most researchers. According to William L. Fash, Jr., the William and Muriel Seabury Howells Director of the Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology at Harvard University and the Charles P. Bowditch Professor of Central American and Mexican Archaeology and Ethnology in the Harvard Anthropology Department: "The research done by the Carnegie Institution of Washington in its investigations of ancient Maya civilization is regarded as a 'golden age' in Maya archaeology, so it is a great step forward that Artstor will make the Carnegie photographic archives available online. Major long–term large–scale research projects of a bygone era can now be visited by scholars, students, and laymen, including images never before published or even known about prior to this venture. This will be an invaluable resource for generations to come."