The Ancient Maya

Sylvanus G. Morley
AT LAST we have a good-sized, well-illustrated, and general book on the Maya. This is said with almost a sigh of relief, for in both teaching and museum work one is continually called upon to recommend reading to the surprisingly large number of persons interested in learning about Maya archaeology, and there has been no single book suitable as an introduction and general summary of this complex field. Sylvanus Morley has given us a weighty and scholarly work of 500 fact-laden pages, but it is readable as well. The text is magnificently supplemented with 95 full-page plates, and numerous maps, tables, and text figures.
For the last forty years Dr. Morley has been continuously at work either excavating and exploring among the ruined Maya cities or thinking and writing about them. He was in charge of the Carnegie Institution’s extensive excavations at Chicken Itzá in Yucatán, and, while on one of his many trips into the jungles of the Petán in northern Guatemala, he discovered the now famous site of Uaxactun, among other, things notable for having the earliest recorded date known on a stone monument. His special interest has been in the Maya hieroglyphic inscriptions, and his two most important scientific publications deal primarily with these rock-cut records. The first is The Inscriptions at Copan, and the second his great five-volume Inscriptions of Petán.
The present book is a condensation of the enormous mass of material presented in these and all of Dr. Morley’s other scientific publications, plus a summation of all other published material on the Maya. The picture is continuous, for Dr. Morley is no less interested in the humble Maya of today than he is in the great masterpieces of the ancient cities. Whenever possible, presentday customs and conditions are projected backwards in an attempt to interpret the past.
The Ancient Maya will be widely read and accepted as a source of information by students in all fields of human history and culture. Viewed in this light. I regret that the existence of many controversial issues concerning the reconstruction of Maya history has been largely ignored in this book. For example, while Dr. Motley believes that the cities of the Puuc area arose after the close of the Old Empire, he does not even mention the conflicting and equally well substantiated view maintained by a number of his colleagues, that they were eon temporary with the later portion of the Old Empire period. When theories and personal convictions are presented as facts in this way, the general reader has no choice but to accept them as facts. In short, Maya history is in no measure so completely known or so well defined as is implied in this book.
Another tendency to which I must object is that of considering the Maya civilization as something which developed by itself, in isolation, without assistance from the other great centers of cultural progress in Mexico and in South America. Actually it is becoming more and more apparent that the developments in any one area can be properly understood only by viewing them in relation to the growth of the American Indian cultures as a whole, but any indication of this is lacking in The Ancient Maya.
Nevertheless, it is our good fortune that Dr. Morley, who is the greatest champion the Maya have ever had, has seen fit to summarize so well and so beautifully the results of his many years of patient research.