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Incidents of Travel in Central America…
John L. Stephens (1805-1852)
New York: Harper, 1841
First edition
F1432 S83

In 1839 John Lloyd Stephens, known for his books on his travels to the Levant, was sent by President Martin Van Buren to Central America on a diplomatic mission. Stephens had interest in Mesoamerica after reading the writings of explorer Alexander van Humboldt. Stephens was accompanied by Frederick Catherwood, an English artist with archaeological experience.

Incidents is illustrated with lithographs of drawings by Catherwood which set the standard for archaeological illustration – accurate and complete depictions of what he and Stephens saw. Stephens’ descriptions were just as accurate. After studying the ruins, he became convinced that, contrary to popular opinion, the ruins were not the work of the Lost Tribes of Israel nor ancient Greeks, but that of the ancestors of the people who continued to populate the area. The work inspired generations of scholars to explore and preserve Mesoamerican ruins.

Reviews of the book were positive. Within three months of publication five thousand copies had sold; by October, 12,000; by December 20,000 in its eleventh printing.