Biography of John Lloyd Stephens (1805-1852)

Explorer and American archaeologist born in Shrewsbury (New Jersey) on 28 November 1805 and died in New York on October 12, 1852. Its discovery and subsequent research work about the multitude of Mayan ruins of Mexico and Central America in the mid-19th century, between 1839 and 1842, marked the beginning of what may be properly called Mesoamerican archaeology.

Dedicated at first to the exercise of the legal profession, his adventure as an archaeologist began when doctors advised her to travel for health reasons. Thus, in 1834 he/she began a journey that took him to Eastern Europe and the Middle East, places that you particularly impressed by the multitude of archaeological sites that had the opportunity to visit. This trip produced two books which eventually became very popular: incidents of travel to Egypt, Arabia and the Holy Land (2 vols.), published in 1837, and incidents of the journey to Greece, Turkey, Russia and Poland (2 vols.), by 1838, both with drawings by the Illustrator, and English archaeologist Frederick Catherwood.

Reports of the existence of ancient ruins in Central America and the Yucatan peninsula caused curiosity and, after obtaining a commitment from the US agency responsible for matters for Central America, whipped then by the political unrest and the civil war, and partly due to the influence of President Martin van Buren, departed for Honduras in 1839 accompanied by Catherwood.

Progress toward the ruins of Copan, in Honduras, was threatened first by local struggles and, later, by the dangers and the extreme hardship that had to suffer on their journey through the dense Central American jungle. On the verge of abandoning its purpose on numerous occasions, his perseverance was finally rewarded amply. They found the first stele carved and, after this, multitude of discoveries occurred (stelae, terraces, stairs, walls...) which pointed to the existence there of an ancient city of considerable splendour.

Stephens bought the place for $50 and went to work in the cleaning of the jungle terrain that beat the ruins. It was the beginning of a series of expeditions and discoveries by Mesoamerica, including Uxmal and Palenque in Mexico, which contributed the largest volume of data existing hitherto about the Mayan culture. Events and discoveries of the first expedition were reflected in the book incidents of travel in Central America, Chiapas and Yucatan, published in two volumes in 1841, along with the drawings of Catherwood. These two publications resulted in an unused both popular and academic interest that was reason to undertake many studies about the mayas, forgotten almost from the time of the Spanish conquistadors.

After a second expedition, Stephens and Catherwood published incidents of the Yucatan trip, again two volumes which saw the light in 1843 and containing data about forty-four sites of the ancient Maya. Stephens spent the last years of his life to lead the first American company of steam liners and to develop a railway across the isthmus of Panama.