John Lloyd Stephens

John Lloyd Stephens ( born November 28, 1805 in Shrewsbury, Monmouth County, New Jersey, † October 13, 1852 in New York City ) was an American explorer, amateur archaeologist, writer, lawyer and diplomat. He put through his discoveries laid the foundation of modern Mayan research and has participated in the planning of a transport connection from the Atlantic to the Pacific through the Central American isthmus.


The travel Obsessive

His fascination for traveling and discovering developed the young lawyer, as he traveled in 1834 Italy, Greece and the Middle East. From Paris she traveled through Germany, Austria, Poland and Russia. He then traveled to Egypt, Petra and visited the "Holy Land ". These trips he later described in his first two books, not least thanks to an enthusiastic review by Edgar Allan Poe, a large success were.

Fascinated by the ancient Egyptian culture and of Petra, Stephens decided to become an archaeologist. He devoured formally the reports of early explorers like Alexander von Humboldt or Juan Galindo Mesoamerican ruin cities. The book " Picturesque and archaeological tour in the province of Yucatan " by painter and explorer Johann Friedrich Graf von Waldeck Stephens brought to the conviction in the jungle of Central America would be even more undiscovered witness the pre-Columbian cultures are.

The archaeologist and explorer

For Stephen it was a stroke of luck that President Martin Van Buren sent him in 1839 as U.S. Ambassador to the Central American confederation to Guatemala City. He used much of his time for extended voyages of discovery which he made together with the architect Frederick Catherwood, who had made ​​a name with drawings of ancient ruins. Stephens had met him in 1836 in London and hired him as a draftsman. On her first trip through Central America (1839-1840), they discovered numerous hidden in the tropical forest major cities of the classical and the late Maya culture:

  • Copan
  • Quiriguá
  • Iximché
  • Q'umarkaj
  • Palenque
  • Uxmal

With the help of locals they laid completely free from the jungle overgrown ruins that were buried nearly a thousand years under the lush tropical vegetation.

Stephens described and mapped the discoveries neatly while Catherwood from the temples, pyramids, ball courts and richly decorated with reliefs stelae fascinating and remarkably detailed drawings made ​​, which he later watercolors; they were printed as lithographs. Catherwood's delicate drawings and Stephens ' lively, sometimes very amusing report on the discoveries, people's daily lives and adventures of these true odyssey through mountains, jungles and revolutions 1841 to a world bestseller. In addition, the work " Incidents of Travel in Central America, Chiapas and Yucatan " is a vividly written insight into the observed by Stephens close civil war in which the Central American confederation just during Stephens service in Central America fell apart.

Another expedition to the Mayan ruins led Stephens and Catherwood 1841 Yucatán, where they rediscovered Tulum, among others. About this trip Stephens wrote another book.

The connector of two seas

During his Central American trip, Stephens worked intensively in 1840 with the possibility of the Atlantic and Pacific with a canal through Nicaragua to connect. He explored the estuary of the Río San Juan on the border with Costa Rica, created Bauskizzen and wrote for the U.S. government a detailed documentation of the potential of the Nicaragua Canal, which was never built.

After completing his Yucatán Travel Stephens Director of the Ocean Steam Navigation Company, and Vice- Director of the Panama Railway Company was. In this capacity, he played a central role in planning and financing a railway line through Panama - the first commercially exploitable connection between the Atlantic and the Pacific in the Isthmus of Panama.

Before the work could be completed, he died in 1852 during a home leave in New York from malaria.


Stephens wrote several fascinating and easy -to-read books about his expeditions:

  • Stephens, John Lloyd: Incidents of Travel in Egypt, Arabia Petraea, and the Holy Land, 1837
  • Stephens, John Lloyd: Incidents of Travel in Greece, Turkey, Russia and Poland, 1838

In German:

  • Stephens, John Lloyd: The discovery of the ancient Maya sites. edited by Ernst Bartsch, 1993