Tatiana Proskouriakoff (1909-1985) was a Russian-American archaeologist. Originally trained as an architect, she fell in love with Mesoamerica and became a significant contributor to the study Maya history and archaeology.
Proskouriakoff’s ascent into archaeology began when she was recruited as an illustrator for an expedition to the Mayan ruins of Piedas Negras. Over the next few years Proskouriakoff produced a series of reconstructive drawings depicting ancient Mayan cities. Further expeditions and in-the-field drawings allowed her to study the diversity of the architectural styles in Honduras, Mexico, and Guatemala.
Tatiana Proskouriakoff is most famous, however, for her ground-breaking work in deciphering Mayan hieroglyphs. At this time only dates had been deciphered in Mayan hieroglyphs, but their significance and context were unknown. Using several steles from Piedras Negras, She showed that the inscriptions described historical and biographical items from the lives of the Mayan people and their rulers. She identified the glyph that represented birth. This led to the recognition of birth and death glyphs, the name glyphs of the rulers, parentage information, the capture of enemies, and other aspects of Mayan lives.
Modern scholars credit Proskouriakoff’s tireless, pioneering research in Mayan culture with deciphering age-old Mayan hieroglyphic writing. By the end of her life, she had become one of the premier scholars of Mayan civilization, receiving some of the field’s highest awards, including The Order of the Quetzal, Guatemala’s highest honor.