Mapping the Mayans

Despite all the excellent modern film, video and photographs of spectacular ancient Maya ruins, some of the most atmospheric visual depictions of ancient Maya buildings are drawings and paintings that were made by British artist Frederick Catherwood in the mid-19th Century.

Catherwood’s  drawings, which illustrated writer John Lloyd Stephens’ books such as ‘Incidents of Travel in Central America’ and ‘Incidents of Travel in Yucatan’, were instrumental in introducing the Western world to the then virtually unknown ancient Maya culture.

The meticulous details of the buildings depicted in Catherwood’s beautiful images have also been very helpful to modern archaeologists, in many cases depicting details and colours on the buildings that have eroded and disappeared in the 150 years or so since he made his drawings.

Many historical artists were very fanciful in their depictions of ancient buildings, but Catherwood was famously accurate, using a so-called ‘Camera Lucida’ to capture the exact details of the buildings and guide his drawings.