The World of the Ancient Maya

The World of the Ancient Maya

The World of the Ancient Maya

The World of the Ancient Maya


Since it was first published in 1981, The World of the Ancient Maya has established itself as an extraordinarily accomplished -- comprehensive, elegantly written, and concise -- introduction to the rich Maya culture. In this edition, John S. Henderson has thoroughly revised the text and added a wealth of new photographs and drawings.

Henderson explores the entire Maya cultural tradition, from the earliest traces of settlement through the period of the Spanish conquest in the sixteenth century. The ancient Mayas were the only fully literate precolumbian people in the Americas, and Henderson incorporates deciphered Maya texts in his reconstruction of ancient Maya societies. Superb scientists, the Mayas developed a very sophisticated mathematics and an intricate and accurate calendar system. Theirs was one of the few complex societies to emerge in and to adapt successfully to a tropical forest environment. Their architecture, sculpture, and painting were sophisticated and compellingly beautiful.

Henderson's wide-ranging and judiciously balanced account treats diverse aspects of the Maya world, including religion and philosophy, the environments of the various Maya peoples, and their links with neighbors and relatives in the area. Throughout, he considers the interaction among Maya societies and stresses the importance of the cultural variations from region to region, as well as the common Maya heritage.


The second edition of The World of the Ancient Maya has been reorganized as well as revised. Archaeologists and ethnohistorians have produced vast quantities of new data about the Maya in the 1980s and 1990s. Epigraphers have put forward an avalanche of new interpretations of glyphs and readings of texts that provide a rich source of information for reconstructing the politics of Classic Maya cities. The pace of development in the study of Maya texts and symbols is so rapid that it is difficult for epigraphers to present their new readings with all of the appropriate supporting arguments; it is even more difficult for them to retract or reassess all of the older (but still quite recent) interpretations that are superseded by each new reading. It is more difficult still for Mayanists with other specializations to keep up. No book can present all or most of the latest textual interpretations; this one does not pretend to.

In some ways the new information has brought about a shift in our basic perspectives on the Maya cultural tradition. To take a single example: investigations in the northern lowlands--especially the syntheses of the last centuries of the prehispanic period produced by Anthony Andrews and his colleagues--have laid the foundation for a new appreciation of the history of Chichén Itzá, its relationships with Uxmal, Cobá, and other northern cities, and the continuities and changes from the Classic Maya world to the successor states of the Postclassic period.

As in the first edition, the Introduction situates the ancient Maya and my approach to them in the context of larger themes in archaeological thought. Chapter I provides an overview of the Spanish invasion of the Maya world and traces the development of modern Maya studies. Chapter 2 introduces the environments and peoples of the Maya world and . . .

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