When the territories of the Mayan civilization were conquered in Mesoamerica, the European priests burnt all the books and references they could find about the Mayan culture.
It was not until 1839 that American traveller John Lloyd Stephens rediscovered their civilization and made it popular with his best selling book.
His work — or was it his fascination? — seems to have originally made people think the Mayans were a very peaceful, cultured and civilized people.
Prehispanic archeology professor Paul Gendrop even said about them (translated from French by yours truly):
Who never heard, for instance, of an ancient Mayan empire, true golden age during which hard-working and eminently peaceful people, in the calmness of cities protected by dense forests, merely devoted themselves to contemplating stars?
So what led to this rather romantic (yet wrong, as seen in this question) idea of who the Mayan people actually were?
- Was it the remarkable artistic, cultural or archeological findings?
- Was it the myth and mysteries that a fallen civilization still had to unfold? (like e. g. Atlantis)
- Was it Stephen's book who romanticized the Mayan people and made this poetic vision widespread?
- Was it the era? After all, the XIXth century was marked by Romanticism and the idea may have been similar to the one explorers had of Ancient Egypt?
- Was it a mix of all of the above or something I might be missing?