Wednesday, February 12, 2020

Photographing the Ruins

Last Friday I returned to Mexico City's National Museum of Anthropology to see another special exhibit.  This one dealt with photographing the archaeological sites of Mexico.  Some of the pictures dated back to the mid 1800s when photography was in its infancy and before the ruins had been restored by archaeologists.  I find it interesting to look at these old pictures, especially those of the sites which I have visited. 

One of the pioneers of photographing Mexico's ruins was a Frenchman by the name of Desire Charnay.  Charney was an archaeologist who traveled widely throughout the world, and who made several expeditions to Mexico.  His photographs provide a valuable visual record of the sites he visited.  However he was also guilty of hiding artifacts from Mexican officials and shipping them back to France.

The Palace of the Governor at the Mayan ruins of Uxmal as photographed by Charnay in 1859.

The Hall of Columns at the Mixtec ruins of Mitla, Oaxaca, photographed by Charnay in 1860.

Another early archaeologist / photographer was the German, Teoberto Maler.  Maler came to Mexico as a soldier with Emperor Maximilian and rose to the rank of captain.  After the victory of the Mexican Republic, Maler remained in Mexico rather than returning to Europe.  He eventually became a Mexican citizen.  He devoted himself to exploring and photographing the Mayan ruins, being the first to document many of them.  Unlike Charnay, Maler was ahead of his time in believing that archaeological artifacts should remain in their home country and not be shipped abroad.

The Arch at the Mayan ruins of Labná, photographed by Maler in 1886.

I have visited the ruins of Teotihuacán outside of Mexico City many times, so I was especially interested in these pictures by unknown photographers which show a very different archaeological site from the one we know today.

 The Avenue of the Dead and the Pyramid of the Moon in the background, 1895

In 1890, the Pyramid of the Moon looked like an oddly symmetrical hill covered in vegetation.

 Here is the Pyramid of the Sun sometime between 1910 and 1920 when restoration work was underway.

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