Charles Lindbergh’s Little-Known Passion

Everyone knows about the famous aviator’s trans-Atlantic flight, but far fewer people are aware of Lindbergh's contributions to archaeology.

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Canyon de Chelly’s White House Ruin is seen at the edge of the river. The Lindberghs’ pictures may have played a role in Canyon de Chelly being declared a national monument in 1931. Lindbergh Collection, MIAC/Lab MIAC cat# 70.1 / 197
Canyon de Chelly’s White House Ruin is seen at the edge of the river. The Lindberghs’ pictures may have played a role in Canyon de Chelly being declared a national monument in 1931. Lindbergh Collection, MIAC/Lab MIAC cat# 70.1 / 197.

SUMMER 2017: By Tamara Jager Stewart.

In 1927 an obscure U.S. Air Mail pilot named Charles A. Lindbergh completed the first solo trans-Atlantic flight from New York to Paris, thereby achieving word-wide fame. Virtually everyone knows about Lucky Lindy’s historic flight in the Spirit of St. Louis. But few people know that Lindbergh was also a pioneer in the field of aerial archaeology. Vocational historian and writer Erik Berg has extensively researched Lindbergh’s life and aerial archaeological surveys, bringing to light his efforts to help locate and document ancient sites and landscapes.

“Lindbergh always had broad and varied interests and his fame from the 1927 Atlantic flight opened a lot of doors for him to indulge those interests,” said Berg. “His interest in archaeology stems from spotting Maya ruins in the jungle while flying over the Yucatán in the winter of 1928-29, scouting possible air routes for Pan-American Airways.”

Shortly after spying the stone ruins from his plane, Lindbergh visited the Smithsonian Institution to find out more about them. He was sent to John Merriam, the director of the nearby Carnegie Institution of Washington (now the Carnegie Institution of Science), who described their ongoing archaeological investigations in the Maya region of southern Mexico, and at Ancestral Puebloan cliff dwellings and settlements in Canyon de Chelly in Arizona, and Chaco Canyon and the Pecos Valley in New Mexico. Lindbergh quickly volunteered to photograph these areas when flying nearby.

“Lindbergh was always looking for new uses for aviation, and since he was already flying through both these regions as part of his airline work, he volunteered his time and plane,” explained Berg. “For Lindbergh, it was both a way to indulge in a new interest, archaeology, and further the cause of aviation as a tool for science.”

Excerpt.

Read More in our SUMMER 2017 Issue of American Archaeology, Vol. 20 No. 4. Browse Content of this Issue: SUMMER 2017 . Browse Articles Excerpts from our last issue, SPRING 2017.

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