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Ancient Maya Civilization (1981)

by Norman Hammond

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2052132,902 (3.56)2
Maya archaeology has undergone a revolution in the past few years: a century of exploration, excavation, and study of temples and monuments has now been amplified by a wealth of new data on the economy, settlements, and social organization of ancient Maya civilization. Norman Hammond presents a synthesis of current knowledge for the lay reader as well as the student of native American cultures. He describes the discovery of the ancient Maya centers deep in the forests of Central America, outlines the rise and fall of Classic Maya civilization, and examines aspects of Maya culture ranging from the recent discoveries of intensive agriculture in swamps to the architecture, art, religion and thought of this unique tropical forest society.… (more)
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This is a good introduction to the Maya, as part of a three volume set on the ancient empires of Latin America. Provides a good overview of what is known of this interesting civilisation, beginning with the re-discovery of their remaining monuments in the 19th Century. Chapters then progress through the different known periods of Mayan history, their subsistence economy, structure of society, politics and kingship, trade, architecture and art, religion, and way of thinking.
What stands out of note from this civilisation is their advanced numeracy and astronomy compared to temporally and spatially adjacent empires, including their base 20 number system, complex interlinking calendar systems, and accuracy of their lunar, solar, and planetary systems. Their art and architecture was also accomplished and distinctive, and there are a few good illustrations in this book. However many further illustrations could have been included as buildings or artworks are often described in the text without a picture being available (which is where google comes in handy). I was particularly left wanting to know more about how their writing system worked, with their hieroglyphic system simultaneously resembling various aspects of modern graffiti, emojis, and illuminated manuscripts, with its endless variety of embedded round-edged shapes with faces, parts of animals, and intricate flourishes, all mashed together into complex and characterful square clusters. Our knowledge of their history and religion is limited primarily to what has been translated from their stone monuments (and what can be inferred from current ethnography), as most of their remaining written literature was burnt by the Spanish invaders in the 16th and 17th Centuries. At which point their civilisation had already been in decline for over half a millennium, having abandoned many of their most impressive ritual urban centers to the jungle.
Fairly readable and interesting throughout, with a good section on further reading with a bibliography sorted according to topic at the back. Looking forward to reading the other two volumes in this set. ( )
  P_S_Patrick | Apr 27, 2021 |
Solid going! The author, in his self-deprecatory introduction, says that it was intended for a non-academic audience, and describes it as "a short book". Well, I suppose it is, compared to some; but to make up for that , it has thirty pages of the 256 devoted to descriptive further reading lists selected to back up the Introduction and successive chapters. Each of these, from the first, devoted to the discovery of the Maya to the last, on the Maya mind, is careful to present a balanced view of the opinions of the scholars who have contributed to the understanding of the subject. The two sections of photographic illustrations are well reproduced, though scarcely enough to convey the range of Mayan art and architecture. The maps included in the text have obviously been reduced to fit the size of the page, which results in overcrowding of features and captions. However, the text of this Folio Society edition is well printed on good paper with wide margins and the book is attractively bound. ( )
  gibbon | Sep 6, 2008 |
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Maya archaeology has undergone a revolution in the past few years: a century of exploration, excavation, and study of temples and monuments has now been amplified by a wealth of new data on the economy, settlements, and social organization of ancient Maya civilization. Norman Hammond presents a synthesis of current knowledge for the lay reader as well as the student of native American cultures. He describes the discovery of the ancient Maya centers deep in the forests of Central America, outlines the rise and fall of Classic Maya civilization, and examines aspects of Maya culture ranging from the recent discoveries of intensive agriculture in swamps to the architecture, art, religion and thought of this unique tropical forest society.

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