The Genealogy Page of Jorge Heredia and Heleen Sittig

John Eric Sidney Thompson


1 Jan 1898 - 9 Sep 1975

  • OCCUPATION: Archeologist and Anthropologist, Maya Civilization Specialist
  • BIRTH: 1 Jan 1898, London, England
  • DEATH: 9 Sep 1975, Cambridge, England
Father: George William Thompson
Mother: Mary Cullen

Family 1 : Florence L. Keens
  • MARRIAGE: 1930
  1. +Donald Enrique Thompson
                                                      _John Thompson ______+
                                                     | (1784 - 1851) m 1820
                            _Ignacio Henry Thompson _|
                           | (1826 - 1897) m 1857    |
                           |                         |_Martha Brocksopp ___+
                           |                           (1797 - 1831) m 1820
 _George William Thompson _|
| (1865 - 1947) m 1892     |
|                          |                          _William Cowan ______
|                          |                         | (1802 - 1864) m 1824
|                          |_Margaret Cowan _________|
|                            (1830 - 1905) m 1857    |
|                                                    |_Janet Henderson ____
|                                                      (1805 - 1871) m 1824
|--John Eric Sidney Thompson 
|  (1898 - 1975)
|                                                     _____________________
|                                                    |                     
|                           _________________________|
|                          |                         |
|                          |                         |_____________________
|                          |                                               
|_Mary Cullen _____________|
  (1863 - ....) m 1892     |
                           |                          _____________________
                           |                         |                     

John Eric Sidney Thompson

Born on New Years Eve of 1898 in London, England to Mary Thompson and George W. Thompson (F.R.C.S.), John Eric Sidney Thompson is considered to be one of the true pioneers to ever make major contributions to Maya studies in the field of epigraphy, ethnohistory and field archaeology. Due to the significance of his contribution, Her Majesty the Queen of England honored him with the degree of Knighthood at his 76th birthday, making him the first New World archaeologist to ever receive such distinction.

Because both of Thompson's parents were highly educated and well esteemed in their fields, John was introduced to the thrill of knowledge from the very early age. He was sent to school at Winchester College in 1912. When World War I broke out he joined the army under the assumed name of Neil Winslow, giving false information about his age. In 1918, his army career as 2nd Lt. in the Coldstream Guards ended due to an injury. By 1925-26, he enrolled in Cambridge University as a member of the then non-collegiate Fitzwilliam House (now Fitzwilliam College) to read for the certificate in anthropology under A. C. Haddon. Later in 1926, he made his first visit to Yucatan and began his first field work experience at Chichen Itza under Morley on the task of reconstructing the external friezes of the Temple of the Warriors.

Later, he was in charge of Central and South American Archaeology and Ethnology, at the Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago. In 1926-35, he pursued his career as Honorary Professor at the Museo Nacional de Mexico. There he met his future wife Florence L. Keens whom he married in 1930. By early 1930 his fascination with Maya history matured so much that he spent half a century of his working life focussing on Mayan's history.

In 1941, he took the responsibility of Honorary Curator, and was in charge of Middle American archaeology at the Field Museum in Chicago. In 1945 he was nominated as the President of 32nd International Congress of Americanists and was awarded the Viking Fund Medal (1955) for Anthropology.

In 1958, he officially retired and returned to England, where he settled with his wife at their house named "Harvard." After his retirement he was honored by several institutions including the

* University of Yucatan who conferred on him an LL.D. (Doctor of Law) in 1959.
* The University of Pennsylvania conferred an L.H.D. (Doctor of Literature) in 1962.
* Spain conferred on him the Order of Isabel La Catolica in 1964.
* Mexico conferred on him the Order of the Aztec Eagle in 1965.
* Mexico again honored him with the Sahagun Prize in 1971.
* Tulane University conferred on him another LL.D. in 1972.
* The University of Cambridge Litt.D. (Doctors of literature and letter) in 1972.
* His old College at Cambridge, Fitzwilliam, made him an Honorary Fellow in 1973.

The following is list of Thompson's publications on Maya hieroglyphics and civilization.

* Ethnology of the Mayas of Southern and Central, British Honduras, 1930
* Archaeological Investigations in the Southern Cayo Districts, British Honduras, 1933
* Mexico Before Cortez, 1933
* Excavations at San Jose, British Honduras, 1939
* Maya Hieroglyphic Writing; Introduction, 1950
* The rise and Fall of Maya Civilization, 1954
* Thomas Gage's Travels in the New World, 1958
* Maya Hieroglyphic Writing, 1960
* A Catalog of Mayas Hieroglyphic, 1962
* Maya Archaeologist, 1963
* Maya History and Religion, 1970

With these works, the public soon recognized his immense contributions to the field of Maya archaeology, epigraphy, and ethnohistory. In 1975, Her Majesty the Queen conferred on Eric Thompson a Knighthood of the Order of the British Empire after his 76th birthday. Only after a few weeks from his last visit to land of Maya, he fell ill the same summer after his return from Peru and died on September 9th of 1975 at Cambridge, England.


St. Martin's, "Who's Who". 126th Annual Edition, 1974 1975
Norman, Hammond, "Social Process in Maya Prehistory," 1976
Arthur Pradeep Rai

Source: EMuseum, Minnesota State University, Mankato

Sir John Eric Sidney Thompson (31 December 1898 9 September 1975) was an English archeologist and Mayanist epigrapher, regarded as the pre-eminent mid-20th century scholar of the pre-Columbian Maya civilization. He was generally known as J. Eric S. Thompson in print and Eric Thompson to his colleagues.

Thompson was born in London and studied anthropology at the University of Cambridge.

In 1925 he began working under Dr. Sylvanus Morley of the Carnegie Institution on the archeological project at Chichen Itza. He took his new bride honeymooning through the jungle by mule to make one of the first explorations of the Maya site of Coba.

Thompson was, as he himself noted, of the last generation of "generalist" archeologists in the field, engaging in activities from finding and mapping new sites, excavation, study of Maya ceramics, art and iconography, Maya hieroglyphics, some ethnology on the side, and writing books for both technical and lay audiences.

Thompson conducted a number of excavations at sites in British Honduras (present-day Belize). He was one of the first in the field to investigate and excavate smaller sites in areas away from the elite ceremonial centers, to learn more about the lives of common Maya people.

Expanding on the earlier work of John T. Goodman and Juan H. Martinez-Hernandez, (largely neglected by other scholars at the time), Thompson developed the correlation between the Maya calendar and the Gregorian calendar that became generally accepted.

Thompson did considerable work with the decipherment of Maya hieroglyphics, especially those related to the calendar and astronomy, as well as identifying some new nouns. He developed a numerical cataloguing system for the glyphs (the T-number system), which, with some expansions, is still used by Mayanists today. He initially supported Morley's contention that history was not to be found in the inscriptions, but changed his position in light of the work of Tatiana Proskouriakoff in the 1960s.

His attempted decipherments were based on ideographic rather than linguistic principles. In his later years he resisted the notion that the glyphs have a strong phonetic component, as put forward by the Russian linguist Yuri Knorosov. After his death, for a time some younger Maya epigraphers blamed Thompson for holding back what became a very fruitful approach to the glyphs with his forceful and articulate disagreements. Michael D. Coe, one of the most prominent proponents of the phonetic approach while Thompson was still alive, has said that the degree of this hostility was unwarranted. In any case, the value and correctness of the phonetic approach was not so obvious in the 1960s and early 1970s as it would become in retrospect with the later progress in Maya decipherment.

Thompson had an erudite but inviting writing style, often displaying a dry wit. He wrote an autobiography covering his early career in the field, Maya Archeologist.

Thompson was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II in 1975. He died shortly thereafter the same year in Cambridge, Cambridgeshire.

Source: Wikipedia