Two hundred sixty manuscripts, 20 June 1928-1942, of Robert Wauchope (1909-1979) detail his post-baccalaureate education and early career as an archaeologist. These letters and postcards augment three essays written by Robert Wauchope as a student at the University of South Carolina, which are in the South Caroliniana Library’s holdings.
A majority of the correspondence is from Robert while active in one of three capacities: as a “master” at Camp Marienfeld in Chesham, New Hampshire, a doctoral candidate at Harvard, or a field researcher in Central America. They were directed to his family who resided most of the year in Columbia, S.C. Four additional letters addressed to Robert from Uncle Shorty of Camp Marienfeld, J.A. Chase ,Jr., Dr. A.V. Kidder, and Aunt Emma, respectively, are enclosed with his regular family correspondence. The collection also contains four family letters regarding Robert.
Robert Wauchope is recognized for the contributions he made to the body of archaeological scholarship on the southeastern United States and Yucatan Peninsula and, in particular, his research on Mayan dwellings and Zacualpa tomb artifacts. The resulting publications, the product of two expeditions to Central America, were applauded by his associates. On 23 October 1932 Robert wrote that his life-long mentor and friend Dr. A.V. Kidder “was pleased with [the House Mounds of Uaxactun report] and the work I’ve done on the Contributions Series article.” After its publication, Frans Blom, Head of the Department of Middle America Research at Tulane, wrote Robert in 1934, “I read the report with the keenest interest and believe that you have started a very worthwhile research.” Furthermore, Robert was lauded for the clarity and accessibility of his writing, valuable skills which prompted him to note in October 1932, “Well, so far I’ve written and typed 4 long papers for Dr. Tozzer....He [Tozzer] wants me to incorporate the one on [Mayan] Chultuns into my Carnegie article, but if this can’t be done he may get it published in the American Anthropologist!” These skills were a boon, particularly during the later part of his career when he authored two books, Lost Tribes and Sunken Continents: Myth and Method in the Study of American Indians, both of which effectively translated this specialized discipline for a wider lay audience.
Robert’s writing talent was likely inherited from his father, Dr. George Armstrong Wauchope (1862-1943), a professor of English at the University of South Carolina. It is also possible that his academic interest was encouraged by the senior Wauchope as Robert graduated magna cum laude with a Bachelor of Arts in English in 1931. Even so, his early interest in archaeology was equally supported by Dr. Wauchope.
After his first term at the University of South Carolina, Robert was welcomed, at the request of his father, by Dr. A.V. Kidder as a field assistant on a digging expedition at Forked Lightening Ruin, New Mexico. In a letter dated 31 July 1927, Mrs. Madelaine Kidder reported, “[Robert] is such a willing and interested helper in the work; I don’t know what we would do without him....The camp helpers as well as our numerous guests are enthusiastic about him.”
His experience in New Mexico proved significant for the lifelong relationship he would form with the Kidder family. Indeed, at the encouragement of Dr. Kidder, Robert entered Harvard University in 1931 as a doctoral candidate in archaeology. The enthusiastic young man wrote on 29 September 1931, “Honestly, I don’t believe I’ve been quite so completely happy and satisfied in my whole life!! I just seem to be living in a sort of rosy dream that I’m afraid I’ll wake up from!” He continued, “Everything at Harvard is so beautiful, and the whole atmosphere is scholarly and dignified.” Upon attending his first classes, Robert penned, “Am terribly busy! But am having grand time! All my classes are grand....”
In October 1931 Robert was offered the opportunity to go to Yucatan. He wrote his family, “I was walking down the steps of the museum today...and happened to meet Dr. Tozzer as he came out of his office. He walked down with me and out of a clear sky he said, ‘Wauchope, how would you like to go down to the Yucatan this winter?’....Then he went on to say that I had a chance to go to the Yucatan after mid-years for the Carneigie Institute with a salary of $100.00 a month!”
The spring of 1932 found Robert in Uaxactun, surveying and excavating Mayan house mounds. His letters home, like that of 13 March 1932, detailed his responsibilities: “...worked on A-XV (the mound I was measuring) and made some more drawings to be sent in with this week’s Carnegie report. My material handed in consisted of a cross-section map and a ground plan of A-XV, a drawing to scale and a cross-section of the mask on Pyramid E-VII Sub (see that picture in the Year Book), and scale-drawings of the hieroglyphs on the dated monument that Ledyard uncovered in A-V.” Robert’s enthusiasm and interest in his work is evident in his 21 March 1932 letter. “On Tuesday I started my own excavating!...Oh boy!...the first house mound has turned out to be so complicated and puzzling that Ledyard told me today, after examining the first week of excavation, that it was highly interesting and worth spending all the time on that I wanted. So I am going to excavate it completely....” He continued, “Oh, I am having the time of my life!” Wauchope summarized the season’s work on 24 May 1932. “All in all, I think this year is considered the best so far at Uaxactun. Some unusual and even dramatic things have been found, among them 2 new dated monuments, both with very early ‘Initial Series’ dates. (The ones I drew.) Also fragments of a codex, of which there are only 3 in world; and several gold beads of a necklace.” By the end of the season, Robert had excavated five house mounds. His findings were published in a report, House Mounds of Uaxactun, the first ever look at non-elite Mayan Indians.
Returning in 1934, again with Carnegie Institute, Robert traveled the Guatemalan highlands, Yucatan, Campeche, and Quintana Roo studying modern Mayan housing. This expedition resulted in a 1938 report, “Modern Maya Houses: A Study of Their Archaeological Significance.” In late 1935 he again commenced field work, this time in Guatemala. By 1942 he completed his report, “Excavations at Zacualpa, Guatemala,” which was submitted to fulfill the requirements for his Ph.D. conferred in 1943. The report was later published in 1948.
Robert’s experiences in Central America paved the way for a productive professional career. On 19 November 1931 he wrote, “...speaking of opportunities for work, [Dr. Tozzer] said how lucky I was to be ‘in’ with Carnegie already.... How 6 or 8 students here were graduating with nothing in prospect yet.” Robert accepted his first academic position as assistant professor of archaeology at the University of Georgia and director of a state archaeological survey through the Works Progress Administration in 1938.
Two years later he moved to Chapel Hill, North Carolina, to teach anthropology and direct the Laboratory of Anthropology and Archaeology at the University of North Carolina. While there he met Elizabeth Brown, and the couple married on 15 August 1941. They moved to New Orleans the following year, and in July 1942 Robert began a thirty-three year tenure directing the Middle American Research Institute (M.A.R.I.) at Tulane University. During this time he worked to establish the Department of Anthropology and taught through 1977. After his death on 26 January 1979, Robert’s research materials and field notes were donated to M.A.R.I. at Tulane.
The majority of this collection covers the activities of an enthusiastic young archaeologist. Additional topics of interest include social news and events in Columbia, S.C., including Depression-era bank closures, happenings at the University of South Carolina, and the activities of Dr. Wauchope and Mrs. Elizabeth Bostedo Wauchope.