Sylvanus MORLEY

Family tree of Sylvanus MORLEY

Paleontologist, Archaeologist

AmericanBorn Sylvanus Griswold MORLEY

American archaeologist, epigrapher, and Mayanist scholar

Born on June 07, 1883 in Chester, Pennsylvania, USA , United States

Died on September 02, 1948 in Santa Fe, New Mexico, USA

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Sylvanus G. Morley was born in Chester, Pennsylvania, the eldest of six children. His father, Colonel Benjamin F. Morley, was at the time vice-president and professor of chemistry, mathematics and tactics at Pennsylvania Military College (PMC). His mother Sarah also had a connection with the college, where her father Felix de Lannoy had been a professor of Modern Languages. Felix (Sylvanus' maternal grandfather) was an immigrant to the United States from newly independent Belgium, where his father had been a judge in the Belgian Supreme Court.

His family moved to Colorado when Sylvanus was ten years old, and his secondary education was completed at Buena Vista and Colorado Springs. It was during his later schooling in Colorado that Morley first developed an interest in archaeology, and in particular Egyptology. However his father—a man trained in the hard sciences and who had graduated at the top of his class in civil engineering at PMC—was initially unsupportive of his ambitions. Seeing little scope for employment opportunities in archaeology, the Colonel encouraged his son to study engineering instead. Sylvanus duly enrolled in a civil engineering degree at PMC, graduating in 1904.


Nonetheless immediately upon graduating from PMC Sylvanus got his wish, and was able to attend Harvard University in pursuit of an undergraduate degree in archaeology. The focus of his studies at Harvard shifted from Ancient Egypt to the pre-Columbian Maya, at the encouragement of Peabody Museum director F. W. Putnam and the young Alfred Tozzer, a recently appointed professor at Harvard's Anthropology department. Morley's interest in the Maya may have stirred even earlier than this, according to his student contemporary at Harvard and later colleague Alfred V. Kidder. The 1895 novel Heart of the World by H. Rider Haggard, based on tales of the "lost cities" of Central America, was a particular favorite of the young Morley.

Morley graduated with an A.B. in American Research from Harvard in 1907. His first field trip to Mexico and Yucatán was in January of the same year, when he visited and explored several Maya sites, including Acanceh, Xtocche, Labna, Kabah, Uxmal, Zayil, Kiuic, and Mayapan. He spent several weeks at Chichen Itza as a guest of Edward Thompson, where he assisted with the dredging of the Cenote Sagrado. On his return trip to the US he carried with him artifacts taken from the cenote, to be deposited at Harvard's Peabody Museum.

In the summer of 1907, Morley went to work for the School of American Archaeology (SAA) in Santa Fe, New Mexico, where for two months he undertook fieldwork in the American Southwest. Here he studied the sites and architecture of the ancient Pueblo peoples (Anasazi). His contemporaries in this work included the noted artist Georgia O'Keeffe. Morley made some significant contributions to the definition of a particular "Santa Fe" style of pre-Columbian architecture.

After the assignment Morley went to work permanently for the SAA, and over the next several years alternated his fieldwork assignments between the Southwest, and Mexico and Central America. Morley completed a Master of Arts degree at Harvard, awarded in 1908.

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Geographical origins

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