Copan: The History of an Ancient Maya Kingdom

Article excerpt

ANDREWS, E. WYLLYS & WILLIAM L. FASH (eds). Copan: the history of an ancient Maya kingdom. xvi, 492 pp., maps, figs, tables, illus., bibliogr. Oxford, Santa Fe: James Currey; School American Research Press, 2005. [pounds sterling]19.95 (paper)

This volume presents the culmination of seven years of intensive multidisciplinary research into the archaeology and history of ancient Copan. Perhaps no other Maya site has been investigated as intensively and approached from as many theoretical perspectives. Andrews and Fash have assembled an impressive group of scholars from the fields of archaeology, epigraphy, iconography, and physical anthropology whose contributions, read together, present a nuanced, multifaceted view of life in classic era Copan, albeit from primarily an elite perspective.

The heart of the book is situated strongly in the archaeology of Copan's monumental core (chapters by W. Fash, Sharer et al., and Agurcia Fasquelle and B. Fash) and the nearby royal residential compound (Andrews and Bill). These authors have been longtime proponents of a 'conjunctive approach' in which archaeological data are balanced with historical insights gleaned from epigraphy. The sheer quantity of excavations has yielded copious data on the evolution of the Copan polity.

The architectural evolution within the Acropolis documented by Sharer and colleagues (chap. 5) demonstrates the rapid transition from simple pre-dynastic cobble-faced substructures to the seat of royal power. The dramatic transformation within the Acropolis is complemented by W. Fash's (chap. 3) summary of data from around the Copan Valley and mirrored in changes at the elite residential compound Group 9N-8. When combined with epigraphic studies by Schele and Looper (chap. 9) and Stuart (chap. 10), little doubt remains that events culminating in the establishment of Copan's dynasty in AD 426 with K'inich Yax K'uk' Mo' as its founder for ever transformed the polity. Indeed the significance of this essentially foreign influence for understanding both local historical structures and more broadly the nature of ancient Maya elite society is still ongoing.

Webster (chap. 2) and B. Fash (chap. 4) alternatively explore the managerial roles of elites in the Late Classic polity. Whereas Webster emphasizes the role of elites in resolving ecological stresses tied to population pressures, Fash weaves a compelling case for elite water management from Copan's rich iconographic corpus and ethnographic analogy. In terms of elite health, Storey (chap. 8) demonstrates that even high-status elites were not exempt from dietary stress in the Late Classic. However, others (p. …