Edward Herbert Thompson

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For other people named Edward Thompson, see Edward Thompson (disambiguation).
Edward Herbert Thompson
Born September 28, 1857
Worcester, Massachusetts
Died May 11, 1935(1935-05-11) (aged 77)
Plainfield, New Jersey
Nationality United States
Fields archaeology
Known for Maya civilization
Influences John Lloyd Stephens

Edward Herbert Thompson (September 28, 1857 – May 11, 1935) was an American-born archaeologist and diplomat.


Edward H. Thompson was born in Worcester, Massachusetts. Initially inspired by the books of John Lloyd Stephens, Thompson devoted much of his career to study of the Maya civilization. In 1879, Popular Science Monthly published "Atlantis Not a Myth", an article by Thompson in which he argued that the ancient Mayan monuments, which he had never seen except in books, were proof of the lost continent of Atlantis[1][2]--an opinion which his later researches would change. The article attracted the attention of Stephen Salisbury III, son of an American landowner and a benefactor of the American Antiquarian Society, who persuaded Thompson to move to Yucatán to explore the ruins on his behalf. Thompson was later elected a member of the AAS in 1887.[3] Senator George Frisbie Hoar of Massachusetts agreed to help subsidize Thompson's efforts by recommending him for the post of United States consul to Yucatán.

Chichen Itza, El Castillo, 2009.

Thompson arrived in Mérida, Yucatán, in 1885 and thereafter spent most of his life in Yucatán.[1] Although he spoke only English upon his arrival, he quickly learned Spanish and also became fluent in the Yucatec Maya language.

Thompson did early extensive examinations at Labná, picking that site because little work had previously been done there and because its distance from any modern settlement had left it relatively undisturbed in modern times. He also discovered a number of smaller sites in the Puuc region.

He made a series of plaster casts of Maya sculptures and architecture, particularly from Uxmal and Labná, which were exhibited at the World Columbian Exposition in Chicago, Illinois in 1893.

With the help of Alison Armour, Thompson in 1894 purchased the plantation that included the site of Chichen Itza. He rebuilt the hacienda, which had been destroyed in the Caste War of Yucatán. For 30 years he explored the site, on behalf of the Field Columbian Museum, the American Antiquarian Society, the Peabody Museum at Harvard University and others. His discoveries included the earliest dated carving upon a lintel in the Temple of the Initial Series and the excavation of several graves in the Ossario (High Priest’s Temple).

Thompson is most famous for dredging the Cenote Sagrado (Sacred Cenote) from 1904 to 1910, where he recovered artifacts of gold, copper and carved jade, as well as the first-ever examples of what were believed to be pre-Columbian Maya cloth and wooden weapons. Thompson shipped the bulk of the artifacts to the Peabody Museum.[1] In 1926, the Mexican government seized Thompson's plantation, charging he had removed the artifacts illegally. The Mexican Supreme Court in 1944 ruled in Thompson's favor. Thompson, however, had died in Plainfield, New Jersey in 1935, so the Hacienda Chichen reverted to his heirs.


  1. ^ a b c Burgess, Robert F. (1999). "Into the Well of Death". The Cave Divers. Locust Valley, New York: Aqua Quest Publications. pp. 50–57. ISBN 1-881652-11-4. LCCN 96-39661. 
  2. ^ Edward H. Thompson, "Atlantis Not a Myth", Alpena Weekly Argus, February 04, 1880
  3. ^ American Antiquarian Society Members Directory
  • Thompson, Edward H. (1931), People of the Serpent
  • Coggins, Clemency, Editor (1984), Cenote of Sacrifice: Maya Treasures from the Sacred Well of Chichen Itza

30 photographs of Uxmal, Kabah, Sayil, and Labná from the 1888-91 Thompson/Peabody Museum expedition. http://academic.reed.edu/uxmal/galleries/thumbnails/drawings/Drawings-Thompson.htm