Ian Graham, British Mayanist and Peabody Colleague dies at 93

Ian Graham in the field
Peabody number 2004.15.1.733.1 Ian Graham taking night photographs of the Hieroglyphic Stairway of Structure 5, at Yaxchilan, Chiapas, Mexico. ©President and Fellows of Harvard College

Ian James Alastair Graham (1923–2017), long-time Peabody scholar and resident of Cambridge, died peacefully on August 1st, 2017, in Suffolk England at the age of 93. Ian lived a marvelous, adventurous, and productive life and has been recognized as a maverick genius, the “last explorer,” and a fierce advocate as well as a guiding force in the protection and preservation of sites and monuments across the Maya region. In 1968, he initiated the Corpus of Maya Hieroglyphic Inscriptions project, which became a permanent program under the auspices of the Peabody Museum.

Ian’s many years here at the Peabody Museum saw him arrive early, take a late lunch and return in the afternoon for tea and a long session of drawing or darkroom work often going on to past 10 pm. He worked tirelessly and valiantly over 40 years exploring unknown terrain, visiting new sites and discovering new monuments each field season with trusted field assistant Anatolio López. As many will recall, these close encounters in the jungles enlivened many a lunch or dinner party conversation. His unfailing dedication to the Corpus program and the body of drawings and photographs, site maps and references he produced are positively staggering. Along with this body of information, the 20 fascicles of the Corpus of Maya Hieroglyphic Inscriptions published during his time at the Peabody Museum are invaluable resources for epigraphers and archaeologists throughout the world. Ian was a generous, charming, and selfless man, and by self-admission, occasionally a bit of a prankster. Many will remember that he loved music and often broke into song at Peabody events. Ian encouraged and challenged all around him to give their best, help those in need, and value quality.

In recognition of his tireless efforts to discover, preserve, record, and publish the hieroglyphic inscriptions of the ancient Maya, Ian was decorated with the Order of the British Empire, awarded a MacArthur Foundation “genius grant” in 1981, an honorary doctorate from Tulane University in 1998, and the Orden del Quetzal by the Guatemalan government in 2007. It was the award he treasured most and as he said in his acceptance speech, “I have always loved Guatemala. It was where all my work began… In my heart, I have always felt like a Petenero, and I have been most fortunate, in my life, to have worked with such honorable and intelligent people.” We, in turn, have been very fortunate to have Ian—a gentleman, a scholar, an adventurer, and a perfectionist— working in our midst. As the Guatemalan Chancellor so aptly put it, Ian’s life and work have not only benefited Guatemala, but have improved the world at large. We will not see the likes of him again.

Contributed by Barbara Fash, Director, Corpus of Maya Hieroglyphic Inscriptions


Ian will be buried with his parents near Chantry Farm, in the Campsey Ash churchyard.

Funeral service to be held at Campsey Ash, IP13 0PU, Suffolk, England at 11am on Thursday, August 10th, 2017. No flowers please, donations, if desired, to Alzheimer's Society UK. Enquiries to Tony Brown Funeral Services, Saxmundham, +441728 60310

Details regarding a local tribute event to follow.