Sylvanus Griswold Morley was a little known anthropologist and scholar of the early twentieth century. He was born in 1883 in Chester Pennsylvania. Starting off as en engineering student he went on to Harvard where he studied pre-Columbian early American archaeology, specifically that of the Mayans. From 1907 onward he spent a great deal of time in Central and South America doing research and conducting exploration and excavation of ancient ruins. He was also Office of Naval Intelligence (ONI) Agent No. 53 during the same time.

The ONI in 1914, some thirty years before the birth of the CIA, was the primary overseas intelligence arm of the United States. The United States, the “Great Neutral” for the first part of World War one, was very apprehensive of German influence and designs on the western hemisphere. It was known that German commercial interests in South America could lead to the establishment of new U-boat bases that could strangle the United States if it did come into the war. Morley spent the war years criss-crossing the coastal cities of Latin America, working as a spy while using his archeology as a cover. An educated and efficient task master he recruited a network of willing agents who kept tabs on German nationals living abroad, compiled thousands of pages of HUMINT on local conditions, politics, commercial and industrial interests.

Morley was seen as a very efficient operative during the war years and it was proven that the Germans had no such operational designs in Latin America due to his works. Post war criticism was sparked when Morley and three other scholars in his ring were exposed by fellow anthropologist Franz Boas in 1919, ending Morley’s spy career. Boas stated that :

“..A person, however, who uses science as a cover for political spying, who demeans himself to pose before a foreign government as an investigator and asks for assistance in his alleged researches in order to carry on, under this cloak, his political machinations, prostitutes science in an unpardonable way and forfeits the right to be classed as a scientist. ”

Morley continued his work as a scholar and is much better known for his Excavations at Chichen Itza, the discovery of the Temple of the Warriors, and his many books than for spying. He also wrote a series of articles on the Maya and his discoveries for National Geographic that was credited later by legions of archeologists and anthropologists as early inspiration.

The scientist turned spy has also often been mentioned as a one of the two possible sources for the Indiana Jones series.

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Sylvanus Griswold Morley was a little known anthropologist and scholar of the early twentieth century. He was born in 1883 in Chester Pennsylvania. Starting off as en engineering student he went on to Harvard where he studied pre-Columbian early American archaeology, specifically that of the Mayans. From 1907 onward...