Charles P. Bowditch


Pioneers in Maya Archaeology


thumb CPBowditch 001Charles P. Bowditch: (1842-1921)

Submitted by Keith Merwin

When we think of the names of pioneers in Maya Archaeology we think of names like Alfred P. Maudslay, Tobert Maler, Edward H. Thompson, Sylvanus G. Morley and Alfred Tozzer. What all of these people have in common is the financial support of Charles Pickering Bowditch.

Charles Pickering Bowditch was born in Boston, Mass. on September 30, 1842. The Bowditch family was well known in Boston and around Harvard University. His grandfather, Nathaniel Bowditch has been described as the father of modern maritime navigation. He was a self taught mathematician whose work in mathematics and astronomy led to an honorary Masters from Harvard and his election as President of the American Academy of Arts & Sciences from 1829 to 1838. A post Charles P. Bowditch would hold from 1917 to 1919. Charles Bowditch graduated with a A.B. from Harvard in 1863 and then served as an officer in the Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry and the 5th Massachusetts Volunteer Cavalry during the Civil War. Returning to Harvard after the war he completed his A.M. in 1866 and then married Cornelia Livingston Rockwell. In his business life he was a director of the Boston & Providence Railroad Corporation and president of several companies including Pepperell Manufacturing Company and Massachusetts Hospital Life Insurance Company.

Bowditch traveled to southern Mexico and the Yucatan in 1888 on pleasure and there developed an interest in Mayan studies. Starting that same year he became a benefactor of the Peabody Museum and continued to support the Peabody's programs until his death. In 1891 he funded the Museum's first expedition to Central America and continued to fund these and most of the Museum's publications concerning them for the remainder of his life. He did not just provide the money for the Central American Expedition Fund, he personally planned each expedition. Also in 1891 he became a member of the Museum's Committee for Central American Researchers. Bowditch was elected a trustee of the Museum for 1894 and 1895, and served on departmental committees from 1889 till 1899. Bowditch joined the Department of Anthropology faculty in 1894. In 1902, Bowditch became a founding member of the American Anthropological Association.

In his Obituary of Bowditch Alfred Tozzer wrote “There is hardly a man now working in the Central American field today who was not directly beholden at some time in his career to Mr. Bowditch for encouragement and aid.” His support began with Edward H. Thompson's work in the Yucatan from 1888-1891. The first actual expedition dispatched by the Museum occurred in 1891 with the funding of an expedition to Copan. Bowditch had helped the Peabody Museum secure a ten year concession with Honduras to explore there. Charles Bowditch became friends with Alfred Maudslay when he joined the Copan work. The Peabody and Bowditch financed Teobert Maler's work from 1899 through 1905. The work at Chichen Itza on the dredging the cenote by Edward Thompson occurred from 1904 to 1910. Alfred Tozzer's involvement began in 1901 when he became the first recipient of the Travelling Fellowship in American Archeology of the Archeological Institute of America. The Travelling Fellowship had been primary funded by Bowditch.

Mr. Bowditch's personal work included work on hieroglyphic writing and the maya calendar. His “Notes on the Report of Teobert Maler in Memoirs of the Peabody Museum Vol 2. No. 1” was published in 1901 and is stilled sometimes referenced. In 1910, he published The Numeration, Calendar Systems and Astronomical Knowledge of the Mayas. Many translations of Maya studies were paid for by Mr Bowditch. Maler's work had to be translated from German to English for publication. Other German writers whose works he had translated include Eduard Seler, Ernst Forstemann and Paul Schellhas. Bowditch acquired a large library of maya documents. He had copies made of the Codex Nuttall, Codex Laud and the Sahagun manuscript. Mr Bowditch had purchased photographic copies of William Gates collection of manuscripts and books. This collection alone contained over fifty thousand pages. Most of his collection was presented to the Library at the Peabody Museum.

Mr. Bowditch's personality was described by Tozzer as “very strong.” Based on others comments many felt this was kind. What Mr. Bowditch has left is a contribution to the early foundation of Mesoamerican Archaeology. He is memorialized at Harvard University by the “Charles P. Bowditch Professor of Central American and Mexican Archaeology and History at Harvard University.” A title currently held by Dr William Fash.

Sources: Who's who in finance, banking and insurance. 1911; Charles Pickering Bowditch by Alfred M. Tozzer, American Anthropologist v.23, no. 3; July – Sept 1921; Alfred Maudslay and the Maya, A Biography by Ian Graham; Alfred Percival Maudslay by Alfred M. Tozzer, American Anthropologist v.33, no. 3; July – Sept 1931;

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Copyright 2012 Charles P. Bowditch. The Institute of Maya Studies is a 501(c)(3) not-for-profit organization. Your charitable contributions are tax-deductible to the extent permitted by law.
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