2011 John Frederick Lewis Award

Autumn General Meeting
Victoria R. Bricker and Harvey M. Bricker

The American Philosophical Society awarded the 2011 John Frederick Lewis Award to Victoria and Harvey Bricker for their book Astronomy in the Maya Codices. The award was presented by Glen Bowersock, chair of the Lewis Award Committee and Professor Emeritus of Ancient History, Institute for Advanced Study.

Harvey and Victoria Bricker are Emeritus Professors of Anthropology at Tulane University and Courtesy Professors of Anthropology and Research Associates of the Florida Museum of Natural History at the University of Florida.  Harvey M. Bricker is an archaeologist who received Ph.D. in anthropology from Harvard University.  His early research was in French Palaeolithic archaeology. He was associated for many years with the excavation and analysis of a prehistoric rock shelter at Les Eyzies, in the Périgord region of southwestern France, and he directed the excavations of a late Neanderthal site in the French foothills of the Pyrénées.  Since the early 1980s he has collaborated with Victoria Bricker in a program of research on Maya archaeoastronomy.  In 1987 he was named “Chevalier dans l’Ordre des Palmes Académiques” by the government of France “pour services rendus à la culture française.”  Victoria R. Bricker is a cultural anthropologist who received her Ph.D. in anthropology from Harvard University. Her fieldwork in Mexico includes several years with the Tzotzil-Maya Indians of highland Chiapas, investigating their ritual humor and researching Colonial and Postcolonial revitalization movements in Chiapas, Yucatan, and highland Guatemala. Since 1971 she has carried out research on the Maya language of Yucatan, including ethnobotanical research for a Maya-English dictionary.  In 1978 she began to study the language of Maya hiero-glyphs, later focusing on astronomy in the Precolumbian Maya codices. She was elected to membership in the American Philosophical Society in 2002.

Much of what we know of the Maya comes from the codices, which remain housed in archives in various parts of the world. Only in recent decades have the Maya hieroglyphs been deciphered, opening the door to new discoveries about this indigenous American civilization.  Astronomy in the Maya Codices offers the most comprehensive treatment of Maya astronomy to date, integrating new insights and information from the fields of astronomy, archaeology, ethnography, and iconography. Making full use of the now understood correlation between the Maya and Western calendars, the authors have pulled together three decades of their own scholarly research, placing the contents of the codices in historic time with unprecedented specificity.  At the same time, they offer a history of the research by other scholars as this field of study has grown over the past century and a half.  With hundreds of illustrations from the codices throughout the book, this volume is designed to serve as a freestanding resource, offering context for references to Venus, Mercury, and Mars; solar and lunar eclipses; and certain stars, constellations, and the Milky Way.  This far-reaching study of the codices confirms that, independent of the Old World traditions that gave rise to modern Western astronomy, the Precolumbian Maya achieved a sophisticated knowledge of astronomy based on observations recorded over centuries and passed down through generations.

In 1935 the Society established the John Frederick Lewis Award with funds donated by his widow.  The award recognizes the best book or monograph published by the Society in a given year.  The selection committee consisted of Glen W. Bowersock (chair), Professor Emeritus of Ancient History, Institute for Advanced Study; Helen F. North, Centennial Professor of Classics Emerita, Swarthmore College; and Noel M. Swerdlow, Professor Emeritus of Astronomy and Astrophysics and of History, University of Chicago.