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|Native name||Татья́на Авени́ровна Проскуряко́ва (Tat’yana Avenirovna Proskuriakova)|
January 23, 1909|
Tomsk, Tomsk Governorate, Russian Empire
|Died||August 30, 1985
Cambridge, Massachusetts, United States
|Residence||Lansdowne, Pennsylvania, United States|
|Alma mater||Pennsylvania State University|
|Known for||Seminal contributions to Mayanist archaeology|
|Fields||Mayanist archaeology and linguistics|
|Institutions||Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology
Carnegie Institution of Washington
University of Pennsylvania Museum
Tat’yana Avenirovna Proskuriakova (Russian: Татья́на Авени́ровна Проскуряко́ва) (January 23 [O.S. January 10] 1909 – August 30, 1985) was a Russian-American Mayanist scholar and archaeologist who contributed significantly to the deciphering of Maya hieroglyphs, the writing system of the pre-Columbian Maya civilization of Mesoamerica.
She was born in Tomsk, in the Tomsk Governorate of the Russian Empire, to a chemist and his physician wife. The family travelled to the United States in 1915, her father being asked by Tsar Nicholas II to oversee the production of munitions for World War I. The Russian Revolution forced the family to remain permanently. She was to visit Russia only once after that, to meet the Mayanist Yuri Knorozov.
She was devoted to a career in interpreting art, architecture, and hieroglyphics. She could read proficiently at age 3. She had a talent for drawing and received lessons in art and watercolor.
The family lived for a while in Ohio, and moved to the Philadelphia area before settling down in Lansdowne, Pennsylvania. Proskouriakoff graduated valedictorian of her class and was the editor of the school yearbook.
In 1926, Tatiana enrolled at the Pennsylvania State College School of Architecture and graduated the only female in her class in 1930. Initially educated as an architect, she later went on to work for Linton Satterthwaite and for the University of Pennsylvania Museum at the Maya site of Piedras Negras in 1936–37. The Piedras Negras site lies between Mexico and Guatemala in the Usumacinta region. Specializing in architecture, Tatiana's first assignment at Piedras Negras was to illustrate the architectural ruins of the site. These initial travels would be the start of her life's work, as she found a passion for studying the ancient Maya. Upon her return to Philadelphia, she made a reconstruction drawing of the Piedras Negras acropolis which caught the attention of Silvanus Morley. Morley realized the young architect’s remarkable ability to visualize a ruined structure as it once stood, and render it with artistic precision, this would later lead to Tatiana's collaboration with Morely.
While enrolled in graduate studies at the University of Pennsylvania, Proskouriakoff prepared archeological illustrations as a volunteer at the University Museum. Through her work with the Museum’s Assistant Curator of the American Section, Linton Satterthwaite, Proskouriakoff received an invitation in 1936 to join the Museum’s excavation work at the Maya site of Piedras Negras.
Although Proskouriakoff never received a degree in the field of Maya studies, her dedication and ability for it led to her receiving positions at the Carnegie Institution in Washington D.C., then later at Harvard University. Her position at Carnegie was procured when Sylvanus Morley saw the panoramic reconstruction on a visit to the Museum; he was impressed, and prevailed upon her to make more for the Carnegie Institution of Washington. Unable to get the institution to hire her, he raised funds to enable Proskouriakoff to travel to Copán and Yucatán, which she did in 1939. Returning after she completed the drawings, she was given the post of a research associate at the Institution in the early 1940s.
She soon became involved in Maya hieroglyphs and made significant contributions to the understanding of Mayan written language. For example, her 1942 scholarly analysis of the hieroglyphics at the Takalik Abaj ruins in Guatemala establish that the site was in part Maya, settling a debate at that time. Her greatest contribution was considered the breakthrough for Maya hieroglyphic decipherment in the late 1950s and early 1960s. Utilizing the theories of Yuri Knorozov, she discovered that the writing on the monumental stela and other buildings was actually historical, dealing with the birth, accession, and death dates for the Maya rulers. Analyzing the pattern of dates and hieroglyphs, she was able to demonstrate a sequence of seven rulers who ruled over a span of two hundred years. Knowing the context of the inscriptions, Maya epigraphers were then able to decipher the hieroglyphs.
She became honorary curator, Maya art, of the Peabody Museum in 1958. Tatiana Proskouriakoff died in Cambridge, Massachusetts, on August 30, 1985. She was 76 years old. On Easter Sunday 1998, after waiting more than a decade for political tensions to ease along the Usumacinta River, friend and colleague David Stuart carried Tatiana’s ashes to Piedras Negras, where they were interred at the summit of the Acropolis, the group of structures in Tania’s first and perhaps most famous reconstruction drawing, the same one that launched her career.
Proskouriakoff's publications include:
Tatiana Proskouriakoff, whose deciphering of Mayan glyphs helped lay the foundations of modern Mayan historical studies, died Aug. 30 in Cambridge, Mass., the Peabody Museum of Harvard University said yesterday. She was 76 years old and was long associated with the museum. She was also widely known for her ...
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