Visual Time Machines

Group in Great Plaza: George Byron Gordon is seated wearing boots, Ismael Vallecido of Guatemala is left, George Shorkley stands to the right with arms folded, and Edmund Lincoln is in front of him. Photo by Felipe Deisderios, 1893. PM 2004.24.520
This group photo records one of the first official visits from local departmental government authorities to the expedition, Hugh W. Price (left), mayor (on horse, center) and Don Teodoro Destephan, (left), photo by Marshall Saville, 1892. PM 2004.24.14
This is the only photo in the collection of John Owens, field director in 1892–93, here on a mule leaving Copan for Guatemala. The men are carrying paper molds of the monuments. Photo by E. Lincoln. PM 2004.24.300
J.G. Owens's Grave: Owens became ill with a tropical fever and died February 17, 1893, in Copan. He was buried with much sorrow by the expedition team and locals at the foot of Stela D’s death monster altar in the Great Plaza, 1900. PM 2004.24.1918
We see the expedition house/lab being built using the traditional Maya building techniques, with vines lashing the poles together. In the background is Structure 16 before excavation. Altar Q is behind at the left, c. 1891. PM 2004.24.4
Probably taken from a terrace of Structure 11, this image shows the completed exhibition house/lab with George Byron Gordon and George Shorkley in front, photo by E. Lincoln, 1893. PM 2004.24.1746

The spectacular ancient Maya ruins of Copan, Honduras, have engaged Harvard researchers for more than a century. Starting with five pioneering Peabody Museum expeditions in the 1890s and continuing today, archaeologists crossed seas, rivers, and mountains to reach the ruins of this great fifth- to eighth-century Maya city.
The expedition’s 1890s photographs affixed to glass plates recorded a wealth of archaeological information. Recently digitized, these images reveal new information about Copan’s early excavations, providing clues about the original structure of the world-renowned Hieroglyphic Stairway. They also weave together a visual narrative about the early archaeologists’ interactions with the budding 1890s local town and community that became contemporary Copan Ruinas. Today, the newly digitized images have been used to facilitate interviews with long-term residents about the town’s history.

This exhibition of digital prints from the Peabody Museum’s collection of 19th-century historical glass plate photographs draws on the achievements of past and present expeditions and highlights the importance of photography in deciphering a field site. These images also trace the development of archaeological practices, and show how archaeologists and communities continue to shape each others’ lives.