Cities of the Maya in seven epochs, 1250 B.C. to A.D. 1903

by Steve Glassman

Other authorsArmando Anaya
Paper Book, 2011



Call number

F1435.5 .G53 2011


Jefferson, N.C. : McFarland, c2011.


Telling the story of the Maya peoples from their earliest beginnings to the start of the 20th century, this book divides the 3,000 year time span into seven distinct sections. Each provides a detailed vignette of the events, explorers, and people of a particular Maya era, starting with the tropical lowlands' Olmec civilization. Among the topics covered are the shamanistic rites by which Mesoamerican monarchs based their power to rule; the Preclassic megacity of El Mirador and its near neighbor Nakbe; the Maya creation myth of the Hero Twins and its role in organizing Maya society; and the powe

User reviews

LibraryThing member kurvanas
This book is an excellent and quite welcome overview of Maya history. As the title denotes, it is focused on individual city-states and spans seven epochs. It chronicles events and actors of these cities, such as the back-and-forth conquests between Tikal and Calakmul. This book is a culmination of
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modern research ad breakthroughs that I have been waiting for most of my life. It pieces together all the disparate details that have been hard-won over the decades by archaeologists, linguists, anthropologists, etc., and presents a broad portrait of Maya civilization. It still acknowledges the gaps in knowledge and mysteries so tantalizing about researching the Maya. But, a great historic summary with the most up-to-date findings. Many thanks to the authors. So good I could have read a thousand more pages.
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LibraryThing member JGolomb
Author Steve Glassman states that his goal was to write a book on the Maya that a non-expert could get their minds around. He didn't want to deliver something that a Cancun tourist would find blindingly boring with inordinate amounts of details on pottery shards and the like. The title of the book
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doesn't sound promising, but Glassman, with co-author and Maya expert Armando Anaya, mostly delivered on their promise.

Each chapter focuses on a different era of Maya existence and uses one or more specific cities as touch points to put flesh on the bone of this ancient Mesoamerican society. Glassman delves into a number of topics while providing his epochal overviews of exploration, anthropology, archaeology and history. The synthesis of those disciplines gives the reader insight into the issues revolving around the study of the Mayan people.

Apparently the world of Mayan academia is tensely split over what peoples spawned the race that would build enormous monuments that awe tourists 2,000+ years after they were built. Some evidence points to the Olmecs as the Mayan progenitor. The Olmec are most famously known for the enormous stone heads, but within academic circles, those heads are of very little importance as compared to some of the finer sculptures they produced out of jade and their religion which points squarely to the foundation upon which Mayan socities were based.

Corn, of course, was a key driver of the success and heartiness of the Mayan civilization. Glassman spends numerous pages (perhaps too many) investigating the whys and and particulars of maize.

The most interesting components of Glassman's book are his descriptions of the explorations that led to the discovery of the great Mayan civilizations. He discusses many of the colorful characters of the late 19th century and early 20th who schlepped ponderously around the jungles of Guatemala and heat of the Yucatan like Mathew Stirling, John Lloyd Stephens and his artist-companion Frederick Catherwood. Charles Lindbergh flew reconnaissance seeking undiscovered sites and Hernan Cortes, in the 16th century, performed his unique brand of violent and bloody Mayan discovery (and conquest) after conquering the Aztecs.

The writing is, at times, dry and kind of awkward, but Glassman delivers a pretty readable and concise history of a very deep, complex and long-lived society. If planning a visit to any of the great Mayan monuments in Mesoamerica, and you have a bent to learn more before you go, this book would be a solid choice.

I received this book as part of LibraryThing's Early reviewer program.
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LibraryThing member HildebrandFamily
Glassman and Anaya have produced a well-written, informative book. I love how accessible it is, where even if you have never formally had an training in anthropology or history you can read and even enjoy this book!!

The book is amazingly well-structured. It tells a story rather than lectures and
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flows through seven era, making each seem alive. This was one of the best non-fiction books I have ever read!!
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LibraryThing member SJWolfe
As an amateur Mayanist I found this book highly disappointing and difficult to follow. The style of writing was very erratic, ranging from familiar and friendly to pedantic and boring. There was some structure but it needed a lot more to make it flow better. The idea was good--present Mayan
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civilization as an easily understandable series of chapters. Unfortunately it failed to give enough information to hold my interest.
The MLA stylesheet of citations was annoying and distracting.
The illustrations and their descriptions were crude and not at all helpful. Darts and arrows pointing to specific details rather than vague captions would have helped immeasurably. I am used to looking at and understanding Mayan art but there were some illustrations which made no sense to me or where I could not spot the details noted in the text. There were also numerous spots where illustrations would have made things in the text more clear.
I have to say I would not recommend this book to anyone who is really interested in Mayan civilization. It was as promised, an overall view but it was such a gloss it was almost useless. And the "cutesy" little stories were just that--and took away from the overall context of the book.
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LibraryThing member Dystopos
A much-needed primer on the broad span of Maya cultural history.

Glassman & Anaya frame the book as a "what we know and when and how we learned it" account of archeological expeditions and analytical breakthroughs. They write in laymen's terms and the text is quite accessible, if rather uneven and
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sometimes clumsy in style.

Their approach, and the clear organization of the book into seven vignettes of Maya history, is very helpful. The book is a valuable guide to readers who can't commit to dredging through reams of highly-technical literature.

As an introduction and guidebook, however, this volume fails in its pcitorial illustrations. The photographs are scant and sometimes glaringly off-topic; the drawings are inelegant; and the maps are crude.
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LibraryThing member Larxol
From about the time of the Trojan War, through the waxing and waning of Greek and Roman classic culture, up to just about the time that the Renaissance, printing, and empire builders spread Western learning across the world, a vast and complex civilization grew across Central America. It built some
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of the largest cities in the world, with monumental architecture and ingenious infrastructure, supporting widespread commerce. It developed written language. Astronomy and mathematics led to the most accurate calendar in the world. Despite the catastrophic destruction of knowledge perpetrated by the Conquistadors and their priests, the archeological record and a few surviving documents provide a wealth of data about the Olmec, the Maya, and their contemporaries. The data can be spotty and conflicting, but the shadowy history of this great civilization is emerging.

Unfortunately, Steve Glassman and Armando Anaya are not up to the task of telling that story in Cities of the Maya in Seven Epochs. First, the reader has to get past the frequent typos, and a few thinkos as well. There is no evidence of any copy-editing. There are passages that read like a BabelFish translation. More serious is the problem of the organization of the material. The ostensible scheme is to focus on seven successive time periods, looking at the dominant cities and culture in each. The main problem is that the authors haven't decided whether they are telling the story of the Maya or the story of the explorers, archeologists, and scientists who are uncovering and deciphering it. Since discovery doesn't happen in the order of the underlying history, there are competing timelines here, resulting in a lot of back-and-forth. While there are a lot of facts and a lot of detail, at times it seems an almost stream-of-consciousness narrative.

There is an extensive and useful list of references and an adequate index. However, despite all the facts and detail included, the book's usefulness as a reference itself is limited by the absence of any footnoting, although some sources are identified within the text. There are also rather more conjectural passages than would be common in an academic treatment and they are not always clearly delineated from the factual record.

Overall, perhaps, the book tries to do too many things to do any one thing very well.
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LibraryThing member vpfluke
I hesitated before actually picking up this book and reading it. I feared that I might get bored reading about an area I know little about. But that was not the case. As I read through the "seven epochs" this book covers, I found that I really wanted to continue and find out more the Maya and their
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history and culture. The Maya people inhabited, and still inhabit the Yucatan peninsula, located in southern Mexico, but also comprising Belize, and much of Guatemala. This may have been the most advanced civilization in the Western Hemisphere, with vast step pyramids, and the use of a detailed calendar. We can trace much of their history through their writing.

The Mayan hit their peak around 700 CE, when parts of their peninsula began to suffer a long term drought, so many of the Mayan sites became overgrown. When the Spanish conquistadors came in the 1500's, it was not possible for them to see the greatness of the Mayas. And the big use of human sacrifice also made it hard for them to appreciate Mesoamerica peoples.

The seven epochs start with the Olmec period, significant, if not properly Mayan. The epoch of the Mirador basin (after 1000 BCE) deals with religion and architecture. The third epoch is the story of the city of Tikal(250-550 CE), whose ruins were not discovered until the 1840's. This was a grand city with temples surrounding an "Acropolis." The fourth epoch charts the rise of Calakmul, a competing "superpower". The fifth epoch takes the reader through their greatness, but brings in the rivals outside the Mayan direct territory of Copan to the southeast and Teotihuacan near Mexico City. The sixth epoch is the one of decay (800-1100). The final epoch brings in the conquering Europeans. The struggle by the Mayans to have some kind of independend lasted actually to 1903, when the Mexico secured its full dominance in th region.

The authors do pay attention to domestic life in the cities, food and housing, beyond that of the great architecture and shamanistic type religion, which are usually discussed.

I would have liked to see a map showing how the Mayan speaking territory compares with the current political boundaries of the three countries covered. This book sits half-way between being an academic treatise and a popularising book, so it might not satifsy everyone.
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LibraryThing member drj
I have been an avid reader of books about archaeology since the tender age of five when my father introduced me to Budge's books on Ancient Egypt. Later, as a college history major, I took a course on Aztec history as an elective, to add a little spice to the otherwise boring curriculum of European
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and American history. Currently at age 62, I contribute to history as a demonstrator and re-enacter of 19th Century American History. So it was with anticipation that I received a copy of "Cities of the Maya" to review.

My first impression of the book was that it would be a good read. As it turns out, one of the authors is a professor of Humanities, and has written books of fiction as well as taught English and creative writing. The other is a real life archaeologist, a native of the country which is home to the Maya. This book was so engaging that I hated to put it down. In one chapter, Glassman has put flesh and blood to the stone carvings on a stela which was created to impress people with the power and glory of the current warrior king, Great Jaguar Paw. We get to know the thoughts in the mind of this great king as he faces the biggest challenge of his life, and the setting in which he places his trust -- the ceremony of the ball court. I will leave you to read the book to see what happens to him and his city.

For a more academic look at the book, it begins with a fine introduction outlining the lives of the many explorers and archaeologists who faced dangerous and harsh conditions to locate and uncover the past. Then the narrative continues through the many eras of Mayan history, starting with the preceeding civilization of the Olmecs which gave rise to the cultural milieu for the Maya to create their long lasting empire which still exists in the present as a background for the countries of Mexico, Guatemala, and Belize.

The text is accompanied by maps, illustrating the interrelationship between Mayan city-states, and by some black and white photos of significant buildings, stelae, and carvings which are examples of history and culture. These exhibits enhance the narrative by showing the faces of some of the rulers and the very imposing structures which were built to support the system of the divine king who ruled with the permission of the Mayan gods and acted as an intermediary between the people and the cosmos.

Mayan religion, which has been shown to be particulary blood-thirsty, worked for over two thousand years. Unlike the Aztecs who were late comers to the neighborhood, the Mayan ruling class made the personal sacrifice of their own blood in a ritual that was part of other ceremonies, such as the sacred ball game. These practices, and why they were so important, are discussed in the text.

Once a great mystery, the downfall of this elaborate religious state, has now been explained. Many different factors combined to cause the Mayan state to collapse in on itself. They include climate change, the failure of the divine king centered political system, and the conquest by the Spanish conquistadores. Two of the great gifts given to the world by this culture are it's elaborate art and architecture, and the most detailed and accurate calendar system that continue to fascinate us all today.

I hated for this book to come to a close, but like all epic novels, the story does come to an end. Unlike a novel, this book would make an excellent text book for a Mesoamerican History class. The annotated bibliography at the back of the book gives the reader a chance to continue his reading about the Maya and further immerse himself in the many gifts this civilization has brought to the world.
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LibraryThing member bandedtulip
In the preface to Cities of the Maya in Seven Epochs, the authors Steve Glassman and Armando Anaya promise the general reader, who is largely unfamiliar with the intricacies of the Maya culture, a book that will explain the exploration and history of that culture in an easily understandable manner.
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Judging their work as a whole I can say that they achieved that goal. Considering that the subject of the Maya culture is so multifaceted that the study of it has kept armies of field archeologists, epigraphers, other specialists and historians busy for many decades, resulting in a multitude of publications, some of which have sparked great public interest, it is really a momentous undertaking to give such a comprehensive overview.
Steve Glassman, who describes himself as a professor of writing at Embry-Riddle University, is the author of fourteen books, among them On the Trail of the Maya Explorer: Tracing the Epic Journey of John LLoyd Stephens, one of the early explorers of the Maya area.
Armando Anaya , presently professor at University of Campeche, is an experienced archaeologist, co-author of many papers with noted Maya scholars, who has conducted research at places like La Venta, Bonampak, El Cayo and is now co-director of an archeological project on the Mexican side of the Usumacinta river. He has recently given a paper about his interesting new hypothesis about Jaina Island off the Campeche coast, which is famous for its hundreds of exquisite figurines recovered from burial sites.
Cities of the Maya in Seven Epochs begins with a chapter on the Olmec, the early finds and the first explorers of the area and proceeds to an overview of the culture with the facts scientist have uncovered so far. This recipe is followed throughout the other chapters.
In each particular area under discussion the history of the exploration includes many interesting facts about the explorers themselves,their experiences, foibles and personal histories, giving the reader a bounty of information, which otherwise to assemble, he/she would have had to read a mountain of Maya books before.
The authors' chatty tone enlivens the story, which flows easily and is full of human interest.
Schematic maps pointing out Maya sites or colonial cities are interspersed frequently in the text, making clear the area under discussion.
By making comparisons of Maya architecture and other matters with our present-day culture, by giving short timeline mentions analogous to Western history, the authors bring an otherwise often alien seeming culture closer to our understanding.
Although much subject matter needed to be discussed, considering how much archaeologists have uncovered and puzzled out in the last fifty years, the book manages to cover many areas in amazing detail without being dry.
All in all, to me, a lay Maya aficionado, the book is a well-worth read, which held my interest, even though much of it was already known to me. Yet it provided also a lot of historical information, which I had not yet come across. As an example I want to mention for instance that plaster in Maya architecture being an important fact, it was in this book that I finally learned about lime kilns and how it was actually made, including rituals and superstitions among today's Maya when burning lime, which hearken back to the mythology of their classic forebears. Another item is that Charles Lindbergh, who happened to overfly a particular area of Yucatan on his return flight from a publicity tour for Pan American Airways, discovered a Maya site and instigated the first aerial survey of Maya sites and thus started the beginnings of remote sensing, which has become one of the most useful tools in Maya archaeology. These are only two examples of many such fun historical facts hidden in this volume.
Finally I have just a few minor quibbles in what is largely a positive evaluation of this book. In an attempt perhaps to make an aspect of the Maya creation myth more fitting to the western palate, the decapitated hero father's skull drops a tear into the maiden's palm and thus impregnates her, rather than as the Maya holy book, the Popol Vuh describes that the skull spat into the maiden's palm. In another instance the ritual Maya ballgame is compared to soccer and basketball, when one of the few things known for certain about that game is that the ball was propelled with the hip or thigh and could neither be kicked nor touched with the hands other than perhaps at the very outset of the game. Many depictions of the characteristic ballplayer stance as he slides forward on his knee in order to deflect the ball with his hip, are known from Maya art especially on pottery.
Another thing that puzzled me was the interpretation of the Copan dynasty founders's name as First Quetzal Motmot, when I have only seen it translated as First Quetzal Macaw. A small portion of the text with its misspelled names seems to also have escaped the editor's red pen, but this I hope, can be remedied in future editions. Sorry, I am picky!
If the reader has been sufficiently intrigued by this book to learn more about the ancient Maya an extensive reference section at the end will serve as a source for further interesting reading.
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Original publication date


Physical description

ix, 238 p.; 26 cm


0786448482 / 9780786448487



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