Le Plongeon, Auguste


August 19, 2022

Auguste Le Plongeon (English and French Augustus Le Plongeon; May 5, 1826, Jersey - December 13, 1908, Brooklyn, New York) was an American adventurer, photographer, traveler, amateur archaeologist, one of the pioneers in the study of pre-Columbian civilizations of America. In 1856 he was elected a member of the California Academy of Sciences, in 1878-1882 he was a full member of the American Society of Antiquaries, from which he left after a conflict with the leadership. About the biography of Le Plongeon before his resettlement in California in 1849, nothing is known for certain. The first years he worked as a land surveyor and earned money on real estate transactions, in the mid-1850s he became interested in photography, which he began to engage in professionally, at the same time he received a medical education. In the 1860s he moved to Peru, where he practiced as a doctor, since 1868 he called himself a doctor of medicine. In South America, he first became interested in archeology, accompanying Ephraim Squier as a photographer. In 1873-1884, together with his English wife, he made several long trips to Mexico and British Honduras. He spent the last decades of his life in Brooklyn, trying to propagate his theories. Known for his pseudoscientific studies of the Mayan civilization, proclaiming it the ancestor of ancient Egyptian and world culture in general. This was largely dictated by his convictions: the freemason Le Plongeon tried to prove the deep antiquity of his teaching, looking for its roots in various exotic cultures of the distant past. He also claimed that the ancient Maya used electricity and the telegraph. However, photographs of the ruins of ancient America, taken by Le Plongeon, to a certain extent retain their scientific value, because they record many monuments that were lost or damaged later. Le Plongeon was not taken seriously by professional Mayanists, and Michael Koh called his publications "odious", they did not contribute to the decipherment of Mayan writing and understanding of the culture of this people. Le Plongeon's work was promoted by his wife Alice, née Dixon (1851-1910). In modern historiography, the anthropologist Laurence Gustave Desmond has been consistently engaged in research on the photographic archive and the scientific heritage of A. Le Plongeon.


"The Missing Years" (18