In eighteenth-century Yucatán a Maya scribe made a copy of a document called u kahlay cab tu kinil, a phrase that Timothy Knowlton translates as “the world history of the era” (p. 1). The scribe’s copy ran to about ten folios and is today preserved in the larger colonial-era manuscript known to us as The Book of Chilam Balam of Chumayel. This “world history” must once have been recorded in hieroglyphic script. But as a result of the destructive hostility of Spanish church officials toward such script, it was written down in alphabetic Yucatec Maya in the early colonial period (Knowlton persuasively argues that it was first done in the late seventeenth century). The subject of the document is the creation of the world, the origins of humanity, the gods, the calendar, and the rituals that must mark the passing of...

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