Max Uhle: biography of this German archaeologist

Archeology is the science that deals with the study of ancient civilizations through different methods and objects, such as works of art, utensils, monuments, various documents …

Like any science, archeology is full of relevant figures who have stood out for one contribution or another; is the case of Max Uhle, German archaeologist who worked extensively on the lands of South America, Especially in Peru, and who is considered the father of Peruvian scientific archeology.

For many, Max Uhle is considered the father of Peruvian scientific archeology. Uhle was best known for studying the pre-Columbian cultures of Peru. On the other hand, one of the cultures that Uhle studied in depth was that of Tiahuanaco, at the end of the 19th century.

Thus, Max Uhle’s work had a particular impact in South American countries such as Peru, Chile, Ecuador and Bolivia. These works cover the period from the end of the 19th century to the beginning of the 20th century.

On the other hand, Max Uhle became known to have initiated scientific archeology in Peru (and for this reason, he is considered to be the founder or father of this field). Uhle also reassessed the importance of the pre-Inca past and disseminated his knowledge in this regard, as until then such civilizations were considered unimportant in archeology.

In this article we will see 1 biography of Max Uhle through his biography and his most relevant contributions to this area of ​​knowledge.

    Biography of Max Uhle

    Max Uhle (1856-1944), full name Friedrich Maximilian Uhle Lorenz, was a prominent German archaeologist born in Saxony (Kingdom of Saxony, Germany) on March 25, 1856. He was the son of Friedrich Ernst Uhle and Anna, Lorenz ensemble. Uhle, after completing his compulsory education, entered the University of Leipzig (Germany) in 1875.

    He did his military service and later entered the University of Göttingen, where he remained for a year, eventually returning to Leipzig. He studied philosophy there and obtained his doctorate, more precisely in 1880. His thesis was on the subject of ancient Chinese grammar.

    After completing his thesis, Max Uhle he started working at the Ethnology Museum of Saxony, Where he attended the director of the same. There it worked for seven years, from 1881 to 1888. Later it worked the same, this time in the Museum of Ethnology in Berlin. At the time, the museum was transformed into a center for American studies.

    As relevant data of his career, we also add that Uhle was, at the VIIth International Congress of Americanists held in Berlin, in 1888, as his own assistant secretary.

    Finally, he died in Upper Silesia (Poland) on May 11, 1944, at the age of 88.


    As part of his career in archeology, the excavations carried out in Pachacámac stand out, Located in the Lurín Valley (south of Lima). Here he first used the stratigraphic method in America, which we will talk about later.

    After the excavations were completed, Max Uhle traveled to Philadelphia to analyze the results. Following these excavations, Max Uhle published the book Pachacámac (1903). This work was highly regarded at the time and is still used today as a study text for South American archeology.

    Three years after this publication, in 1906, Uhle was appointed director of the archaeological section of the Historical Museum of Lima. Six years later, in 1912, he moved to Chile, where director of the Museum of Ethnology and Anthropology of Santiago has been appointed.

    Once settled in Chile, Uhle focused on excavations in northern Chile, particularly in Arica, Pisagua, Calama and Tacna. Years later, in 1917, Max Uhle scientifically described the Chinchorro mummies; this fact was important because he was the first to accomplish this task.

    It should be noted that the culture of Chinchorro was formed by a group of fishermen who inhabited the coast of the Atacama Desert between 7020 and 1500 BC This time, the results of their discoveries and research were published in their works: The Aborigines of Arica (1917) and Archeology of Arica and Tacna (1919).

      Relevant contributions

      We find various contributions of Max Uhle in the field of archeology, which can be classified in these categories.

      1. Stratigraphic method

      Max Uhle also stood out as an archaeologist for having been the first to apply an archaeological method in 1896., More specifically, of stratigraphy, which is the study of the superposition of layers or strata of the earth.

      Well, Uhle applied the stratigraphic method to the excavations of Pachacámac, an archaeological site located in the district of Lurín (Peru), near the Pacific Ocean.

      On the technical level, the stratigraphic method, in particular, makes it possible to evaluate the age of the remains in relation to the others, according to their position in the strata analyzed.

      Evolution of Peruvian culture

      In addition to being the first to use this method, Max Uhle perfecting the stratigraphic dating method, This allowed him to set up a sequence that would describe the evolution of Peruvian cultures. This development was divided into five stages:

      • The primitive fishermen (Ancín, I knew, Pachacamac and Arica)
      • Coastal cultures of Central American origin (Proto-Chimú, Proto-Nazca and Proto-Lima)
      • The beginning of the megalithic period in Peru or Tiahuanaco
      • Epigonal styles originate from Tiahuanaco
      • The Inca period, with two sub-periods: legendary and historical

      2. Iconography of Tiahuanaco

      Another contribution of Uhle to archeology, was an observation which made and which is at the origin of the theory of the Tiahuanacota empire; this observation consisted in noting that the iconography of Tiahuanaco (archaeological city) had extended from the area of ​​Lake Titicaca, to part of the current Peruvian territory.

      3. Ugly

      Another contribution of Max Uhle to the field of archeology is that of learn about the Moche culture, which came to be called Proto-Chimú. The Moche culture is an original archaeological culture of Old Peru, which developed, in the valley of the Moche river, between the II and V centuries.

      4. Immigration theory

      At the theoretical level, Uhle developed the immigrationist theory of the origin of Andean culture. This theory established that the Andean culture emerged through contributions from Mesoamerica (i.e. Mexico and Central America).

      5. Peruvian cultures

      We’ve seen some of Uhle’s contributions to Peruvian cultures, but let’s take a closer look. For Uhle, the oldest Peruvian populations were made up of primitive fishermen (First stage in the evolution of these cultures, already mentioned). The leap from these cultures to high cultures (called (Proto-Nazca and Proto-Chimú) occurred thanks to the influence of the cultures of Central America.

      Bibliographical references:

      • Basadre Grohmann, J. (2005). History of the Republic of Peru (1822 – 1933), Volume 16. Published by the publishing company the Commerce SA Lim.
      • Denise Pozzi-Escot B. (2010). Ancient Peru III (500-1400). The mid-horizon and regional states. History of Peru collection, edited by the publishing house El Comerç SA Lima.
      • Kauffmann Doig, F. (2002). History and art of ancient Peru. Volume 3. Lima, PEISA Editions.
      • Ruiza, M., Fernández, T. and Tamaro, I. (2004). Biography of Max Uhle. In Biographies and Lives. The online biographical encyclopedia. Barcelona, ​​Spain).

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