Tatiana Proskouriakoff was born in Siberia to a chemist father and physician mother. She emigrated to the USA with her family as a young girl. In 1930, she graduated from Penn State University with a degree in architecture. It was the start of the Great Depression, and she had a difficult time finding a job. She enrolled in graduate studies at the University of Pennsylvania and went to work as a volunteer for Linton Satterthwaite, a Mesoamerican expert at the University Museum. In 1936, she joined an excavation at Piedras Negras, Mexico, where she discovered by reading the hieroglyphics that the ancient Maya had recorded their history. She went on to become a leading Mayanist scholar specializing in the written language. Among her published works was the landmark book An Album of Maya Architecture (1946), in which she created a vision of ancient Maya sites as they would have been the height of their grandeur.