Pioneering Adventures

Usage Conditions Apply
The Smithsonian Institution Archives welcomes personal and educational use of its collections unless otherwise noted. For commercial uses, please contact

Narrow Your Results


Filter Your Results

Smithsonian Secretaries Information

Close Browse records and papers of the Smithsonian Secretaries, from 1846 until today. Pre-set filters help narrow searches by individuals who have held that office.

Expeditions Information

Close Browse records and papers documenting scientific and collecting expeditions either affiliated with the Smithsonian, or with which Smithsonian researchers participated. Pre-set filters help narrow searches by geographic regions predominantly represented in expedition records.

Professional Societies Information

Close Browse records of professional societies closely associated with the Smithsonian, that focus on areas of scientific research and museum studies. Pre-set filters help narrow searches by major topics and disciplines.


  • This popular article discusses the journeys and experiences of John Lloyd Stephens and Frederick Catherwood in Central America and Mexico during the period of 1839 through 1842. Their trip to Honduras in 1839 led to discovery of the Copan archaeological site, and through additional explorations, these two men were the first foreigners to take accurate measure of the Maya. The author briefly visits the backgrounds of the men and describes their journeys as influenced by travel difficulties encountered and unstable political circumstances of the times. The treks were well documented by Stephens, who was trained as a lawyer and worked as a U.S. diplomat; he was also an adventurous and resourceful man who wanted to ascertain if jungle ruins mentioned by early European travelers actually existed.
  • He kept journals to document details and impressions of their travels, while Catherwood made maps of the areas visited, including the first accurate map of Yucatan, and created drawings of landscapes seen and Mayan archaeological ruins discovered, such as Chichen Itza. Their travels were completed in 1842, and until his 1852 death, Stephens pursued other interests, particularly on efforts to build a railroad across Panama. Most of his Mayan artifacts were destroyed in a mid-1842 fire, but the few objects that survived were eventually donated to the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of Natural History.


  • Stephens, John Lloyd 1805-1852
  • Catherwood, Frederick
  • National Museum of Natural History (U.S.)


Smithsonian Institution History Bibliography


Article contains 7 drawings.

Contained within

Americas Vol. 38, No. 1 (Journal)

Contact information

Institutional History Division, Smithsonian Institution Archives, 600 Maryland Avenue, S.W., Washington, D.C. 20024-2520,


January-February 1986


  • Scientific expeditions
  • Archaeology
  • Mayas
  • Indians of Central America
  • Biography


  • Central America
  • Mexico

Physical description

pgs. 34-39

Full Record

View Full Record