Tat’yana Avenirovna Proskuriakova (Татья́на Авени́ровна Проскуряко́ва) was a Russian-American Mayanist scholar and archaeologist who contributed to the deciphering of Maya hieroglyphs. Proskouriakoff was born in Tomsk, Siberia, a daughter of aristocrats. Her family traveled to the United States in late 1915, when her father was sent to supervise the manufacture and sale of weapons to Russia. Proskouriakoff attended Pennsylvania State University and graduated in 1930 with a bachelor of science degree in architecture.
Proskouriakoff struggled to find a job in architecture during the Great Depression. Attaining access to the Penn Museum, she volunteered to draw for one of the curators there. Her work impressed the archaeologist Linton Satterthwaite, who then invited Proskouriakoff to join his 1936 expedition to Piedras Negras in northwestern Guatemala. Over the next few years Proskouriakoff produced a series of reconstructive drawings depicting ancient Mayan cities. Further expeditions and in-the-field drawings allowed her to study the diversity of the architectural styles in Honduras, Mexico, and Guatemala. Her famous sketches were first published as An Album of Maya Architecture in 1946. Proskouriakoff’s second book, A Study of Classic Maya Sculpture (1950), offered a formal analysis of the motifs of Mayan art. She developed the method of style dating stelae (freestanding carved stone monuments) that permitted the placement in time of all monuments with or without decipherable dates. She charted changes in art styles during a 600-year span.
Proskouriakoff went on to become the honorary curator of Mayan art at the Peabody Museum of Harvard University. In 1962 she was awarded the fifth Alfred V. Kidder Medal for her discovery that the Classic Maya recorded their own dynastic histories. The Alfred V. Kidder Medal, which Proskouriakoff designed in 1950, is awarded for eminence in the field. In 1974, she prepared a catalog of 1000 jade products from the sacred cenote Chichen Itza, kept in the Peabody Museum. Proskouriakoff worked for over 20 years on the consolidated history of the Maya, which was published posthumously in 1994. She was a full member of the American Anthropological Association. In 1971, she was named Woman of the Year in the Pennsylvania State University nomination. She was awarded the Alfred V. Kidder Medal and Order of the Quetzal from the Guatemalan government in 1984.
She died in 1985 from illness in Cambridge, Massachusetts, perhaps Alzheimers Disease, which she struggled with. In 1998, part of Proskouriakoff's ashes were buried in the "J-23" building on the Acropolis in Piedras Negras, which she depicted in her archaeological reconstructions.