Scope and Content of Collection
Title: Augustus and Alice Dixon Le Plongeon papers
Date (inclusive): circa 1840-1937 (bulk 1860-1910)
Le Plongeon, Augustus, 1826-1908
39.4 linear feet
The Getty Research Institute
1200 Getty Center Drive, Suite 1100
Los Angeles, California, 90049-1688
The collection documents the archaeological excavations, fieldwork, research, and writings of the nineteenth-century photographers,
antiquarians, and amateur archaeologists Augustus and Alice Dixon Le Plongeon, the first persons to systematically excavate
and photograph the Maya sites of Chichén Itzá and Uxmal (1873-1886). The couple's pioneering work in documenting Maya sites
and inscriptions with photography, which in many cases recorded the appearance of sites and objects that have subsequently
been damaged or lost, was overshadowed in their own lifetimes by their theories of Maya cultural diffusion, and in particular
by their insistence that the Maya founded ancient Egypt. The Le Plongeon's work, and evidence of their wide-ranging interests,
is found in manuscripts, diaries, correspondence, and photographs. The collection also contains papers belonging to Maude
and Henry Field Blackwell, who inherited the literary estate of the Le Plongeons.
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Language: Collection material is in English, Spanish, and French.
Augustus Henry Julian Le Plongeon was born on Jersey, Channel Islands on May 4, 1826. After graduating from the Ecole Polytechnique
in Paris he embarked on a series of adventures in the Americas, beginning with an attempt to sail to Chile with a friend in
the late 1840s. Wrecked off the coast, they made their way to Valparaiso, Chile, where Le Plongeon took a position at a local
college. When gold rush fever reached Chile, he joined the exodus to northern California. By 1850 Le Plongeon was working
as a surveyor and city planner in Marysville, California. To finance further travels he sold the land that he had received
in payment for his services, going first to England, where he reportedly badgered Henry Fox Talbot into teaching him his new
method for making photographic negatives on paper. From England Le Plongeon went to St. Thomas, Virgin Islands to experiment
with Talbot's techniques in tropical climates, and then traveled to Mexico, Australia, China, and the Pacific Islands. He
returned to California at the end of 1851, established a photography studio in San Francisco, and also entered the medical
profession, perhaps by apprenticing himself to a local doctor. By the 1860s Le Plongeon had appended the title Doctor in front
of his name.
In 1862 Dr. Le Plongeon moved to Lima, Peru, where he opened a photography studio and also practiced medicine, specializing
in hydroelectric treatments. He traveled extensively throughout Peru studying and photographing Incan ruins, as well as the
causes of earthquakes. His reading of Abbé Brassuer de Bourboug's work on ancient Central American and Mexican cultures led
him to consider the notion that civilization had its beginnings in the New World, and, after reading John Lloyd Stephens'
and Frederick Catherwood's accounts of Central America and Yucatan, to form the notion that perhaps the Maya had disseminated
civilization. During this time he also carried out a public debate with a Jesuit priest in the Lima newspapers, and consequently
published two anti-Jesuit books,
La religion de Jesus comparada con las ensenanzas de la Iglesia (1867), and
Los Jesuitas y el Peru (1869).
After eight years in Peru, Le Plongeon returned briefly to California where he presented a series of lectures on ancient Peruvian
civilization and on seismology to the California Academy of Sciences (he had become a member of the academy in 1856). From
California he traveled to New York to lecture, also hoping to sell paintings by Bartolomé Esteban Murillo and Juan del Castillo
that he had acquired in Peru, and then to London to study Spanish manuscripts held by the British Museum. One day by chance
he met Alice Dixon (b. 1851), the young daughter of the architectural photographer Henry Dixon, who was out running an errand
for her father. According to Alice she went home after their meeting and said to her mother, "Mother, while I was out to-day
I met him who I know that I shall have to marry by and bye." By the end of January, 1873 the couple was in New York preparing
for their explorations of Maya Yucatan.
While in New York Augustus published his
Manual de Fotografia (1873), which he had written in Peru. He also attempted, without success, to reclaim the glass negatives that he had sent
to New York in 1863 via Ephraim G. Squier, with whom he had collaborated in Peru, and who had published them as his own work.
In July the couple set sail for the Yucatan peninsula, where they were to spend most of the next twelve years searching for
the evidence to prove Augustus' theory that Maya travelers had diffused their culture had throughout Southeast Asia and the
Middle East, and that it thus predated Egyptian culture.
The Le Plongeons excavated and extensively recorded the ruins at Chichén Itzá and Uxmal, and photographed sites at Izamal,
Isla Mujeres, Cozumel, Cancun, and Ake. Their photographic work was very thorough and inclusive. They took aerial site views,
documented individual structures from all angles, and made close-ups of entire facades of structures such as the Governor's
Palace at Uxmal, and also recorded individual architectural details, glyphs, bas reliefs and other sculptures, as well as
the artifacts that they unearthed. They made wet collodion glass plate negatives, most often using a stereoscopic camera.
Alice was particulary instrumental in the photography work having been thoroughly trained in her father's studio. At Chichén
Itzá the Le Plongeons also discovered a superb Chac Mool figure while excavating the Platform of the Eagles and Jaguars, and
made extensive tracings of the murals in the Upper Temple of the Jaguars.
During their time in Yucatan the Le Plongeons sent dispatches about their work to organizations such as the American Antiquarian
Society, regularly published accounts of their work in Mexican and American newspapers and journals, and Augustus published
Vestiges of the Mayas (1881). Augustus also became embroiled in debates with scholars such as Daniel Brinton, Samuel Haven, and Philipp Valenti
over theories of cultural diffusion. He believed that his discoveries of carved reliefs at Uxmal resembling Masonic symbols
proved the link between Yucatan and Egypt. As Augustus was ever one to back down from an argument, his beliefs soon estranged
him from his fellow Mesoamericanists, who, in discounting his theories, also overlooked the meticulous work he and Alice had
accomplished in the field.
The Le Plongeons returned to the New York in 1885, and settled in Brooklyn where they continued to write and lecture on the
Maya and Egypt. Augustus' published books include
Sacred Mysteries among the Mayas and Quiches, 11,500 Years Ago (1886),
Queen Moo and the Egyptian Sphinx (1896), and
The Origin of the Egyptians (1913-1914). Alice became a prolific writer of articles on a wide range of topics that were published in scientific, popular,
and theosophical journals. In addition to writing about archaeology, she also wrote on contemporary Maya and Yucatecan culture,
and other ethnographic and natural history subjects. Her books include
Here and There in Yucatan (1886), and
Queen Moo's Talisman (1902), an epic poem. She also delivered many popular lantern slide lectures on a wide range of subjects including the ancient
and modern Maya, Christopher Columbus and the discovery of the Americas, and the architecture of old London.
Estranged from the academic archaeological community, the Le Plongeons increasingly concentrated their activities in theosophist
and spiritualist circles. At some point they met Henry Field Blackwell, an electrical engineer and inventor, and his wife
Maude, perhaps through a Masonic connection, as both men were Freemasons. The two couples became close friends, and Maude
in particular championed the Le Plongeons' work. Augustus died in 1908 at the age of eighty-three, and only two years later
Alice died at age fifty-nine. The Blackwells inherited the research and writings of the Le Plongeons, promising to make every
attempt to continue publishing and promulgating their work. In 1913-1914 Maude Blackwell was successful in seeing Augustus'
The Origin of the Egyptians and
The Pyramid of Xochicalco published in
The Word, a theosophical journal, but subsequently fell on hard times following her husband's death. Alone in Los Angeles, where the
couple had moved in the late 1920s, Maude struggled to survive through the Great Depression. Although her connections to theosophist
circles increased, Maude's efforts during the 1930s to interest archaeologists such as Frans Blom and Sylvanus Morley in the
work of the Le Plongeons, came to naught. Nevertheless, throughout the twentieth century the Le Plongeons and their theories
continued to be mentioned in scholarly, theosophical, and popular literature, and in recent years the value of their fieldwork
and photography has been reassessed.
Open for use by qualified researchers.
Augustus and Alice Dixon Le Plongeon papers, circa 1840-1937, bulk 1860-1910, The Getty Research Institute, Los Angeles, Accession
Acquired in 2004.
Beth Ann Guynn processed and described the Augustus and Alice Dixon Le Plongeon papers in 2004-2006. Jamie Allen processed
and described Series III.E, glass lantern slides, during the summer of 2005. Lawrence G. Desmond, an independent Le Plongeon
scholar, provided invaluable advice and knowledge during the processing and cataloging of the collection.
The following related collections are part of the Getty Research Library, Special Collections and Visual Resources:
Views of Maya ruins in the Yucatan. Special Collections accession number 96.R.137.
Desmond, Lawrence G.,
The nineteenth century photographs of Alice Dixon Le Plongeon and Augustus Le Plongeon: a catalog of collections from American
Museum of Natural History, Donald Dixon Album, Getty Research Institute, Peabody Museum at Harvard University, Philosophical
. Special Collections reference call number NH32.L597 D46 2005.
The following institutions hold significant collections of Le Plongeon materials:
Negatives, photographs, and lantern slides. Photographic Archive, Division of Anthropology, American Museum of Natural History,
Letters from Alice Dixon Le Plongeon to Phoebe Apperson Hearst. George and Phoebe Apperson Hearst papers, BANC MSS 72/204
c, The Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley.
Photographs. Photographic Archives, Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology, Harvard University, Cambridge, MA.
Negatives, photographs, mural tracings, field notes, correspondence, and the manuscript of Augustus Le Plongeon's
The Origin of the Egyptians. The Philosophical Research Society, Los Angeles.
Additionally, copies of Le Plongeon prints, lantern slides, negatives, and mural tracings found in some of the collections
listed above are held at The Center for Maya Research, Barnardsville, NC.
Scope and Content of Collection
The collection documents the archaeological excavations, fieldwork, research, and writings of Augustus and Alice Dixon Le
Plongeon, the first persons to systematically excavate and photograph the Maya sites of Chichén Itzá and Uxmal. The couple's
pioneering work in documenting Maya sites and inscriptions with photography, which in many cases recorded the appearance of
sites and objects that have subsequently been damaged or lost, was overshadowed in their own lifetime by their theories of
Mayan cultural diffusion, and in particular by their insistence that the Maya founded ancient Egypt. The Le Plongeons' archaeological
work and evidence of their wide-ranging interests is recorded in unpublished manuscripts, diaries, correspondence, drawings,
plans, and photographs. The collection also contains the papers of Maude and Henry Field Blackwell, who inherited the literary
estate of the Le Plongeons.
The papers of Augustus Le Plongeon span from his time in Peru until his death, and evidence his wide-ranging interests. Early
materials include sketckbooks and drawings, photographs, notebooks, manuscripts, and correspondence. Topics covered include
hydroelectric therapy, earthquakes, comparative religion, and Inca culture. A scrapbook and a portfolio of writings document
Le Plongeon's sustained debate on the Jesuits and their religious practices in Peru. Unpublished manuscripts include Le Plongeon's
lectures on ancient Peru, delivered before the California Academy of Sciences, his collodion emulsion recipes and notes on
photography, an untitled manuscript on the Inca and another on the Yucatan peninsula, as well as writings on ancient religions
and Maya architecture. Published manuscripts include
Queen Moo and the Egyptian Sphynx, with reviews and publication correspondence, and his
Pyramid of Xochicalco, which was published posthumously.
The papers of Alice Dixon Le Plongeon coincide with her married life, and consist of correspondence, her field diary, research
notes and manuscripts, and published articles. Her correspondence includes 12 letters from their benefactor Phoebe Hearst.
Research notes, unpublished writings, and published articles attest to the wide range of subjects on which Alice wrote and
lectured after the couple's return from Mexico, and include not only Mexican archaeological and ethnographical topics, but
also subjects such as Hawaii, old London, natural history, and women's rights. Unpublished manuscripts include the typescript
for a book entitled
Yucatan: Its Ancient Palaces and Modern Cities.
Photographs by the Le Plongeons include a few of Augustus' photographs from St. Thomas and Peru, and the extensive photographic
documentation made by the couple during their travels in Yucatan and Central America, which records ancient architecture,
sculpture, city views, and ethnographic observations. Maya sites photographed include Chichén Itzá, Uxmal, Ake, and Mayapan.
Several photographs document the Le Plongeons' discovery of the Chacmool sculpture in the Platform of the Eagles and the Jaguars
at Chichén Itzá. There are views of Izamal, Merida, and Progresso, and scenes from daily Yucatecan life, including photographs
related to the region's long-running civil war. Although there are some early salt prints made by Augustus, most of the photographs
are either albumen or collodian stereographic prints, either in stereo or half prints; some later prints are gelatin silver.
Wet collodion glass plate negatives, both single and stereographic, include the Le Plongeons' original plates made in the
field, as well as copy work negatives to be used for publications and lecture slides. Glass lantern slides, that the Le Plongeons
used for lectures, include both copies of their original photographs and copy work from illustrations. Subjects include Peru,
Mexico, Pompeii, old London (from photographs by Henry Dixon), the South Pacific (including Captian Cook), and the life and
voyages of Christopher Columbus.
Drawings and plans include tracings made by the Le Plongeons of the murals in the Upper Temple of the Jaguars at Chichén Itzá,
and hand-drawn maps, site plans, and building plans for Chichén Itzá, Uxmal, and Xochicalco. The tracings, in sanguine outline,
represent the earliest comprehensive record of the murals depicting scenes from ancient Maya history, religious, and daily
The papers of Henry and Maude Blackwell contain personal and family documents, and include Henry Blackwell's drawings, patents,
blueprints, and notebooks for his various inventions. Maude Blackwell's papers focus on her efforts to champion the work of
the Le Plongeons, and include letters from archaeologists Frans Blom and Sylvanus Morley.
Organized in five series:
Series I. Augustus Le Plongeon papers, 1846-1914;
Series II. Alice Dixon Le Plongeon papers, 1873-1910;
Series III. Photographs, 1851-1933;
Series IV. Drawings, maps, and plans, 1860-1931;
Series V. Papers of Henry Field Blackwell and Maude Alice Blackwell, 1763-1940.
Subjects - Names
Blackwell, Henry Field, d.1927
Blackwell, Maude Alice, 1873-1957
Blom, Frans Ferdinand, 1893-1963
Cook, James, 1728-1779
Dixon, Henry, 1820-1893
Hearst, Phoebe Apperson, 1842-1919
Le Plongeon, Alice D. (Alice Dixon), 1851-1910
Morley, Sylvanus Griswold, 1883-1948
Subjects - Corporate Bodies
Subjects - Topics
Maya mural painting and decoration
Mayas in polular culture
Photography--Handbooks, manuals, etc.
Subjects - Places
Chichén Itzá Site (Mexico)
London (England)--Description and travel
Oceanea--Description and travel
Pompeii (Extinct city)--Description and travel
Uxmal Site (Mexico)--Antiquities
Yucatán (Mexico : State)–History
Yucatán Peninsula--Description and travel
Subjects - Titles
Manual de fotografia–1873
Queen Móo and the Egyptian sphinx–1896
The pyramid of Xochicalco–1914
Genres and Forms of Material
Albumen prints--Mexico--19th century
Albumen prints--Peru--19th century
Blueprints--United States–19th century
Blueprints--United States–20th century
Cabinet photographs--19th century
Collodion prints-Mexico–19th century
Gelatin silver prints--Mexico--19th century
Half sterographs--Mexico--19th century
Lantern slides--Mexico--19th century
Lantern slides--Peru--19th century
Wet collodion negatives--Mexico--19th century