Students who desire a brief, authoritative survey of modern knowledge concerning Mexican archaeology will find it in this volume by Michael Coe. The subject is one that changes rapidly, with fresh discoveries and revisions of hypotheses, and there is a continuous need for new general works. In Mexican archaeology the gulf between expert and layman is unusually wide, partly because of the subject’s own accelerated growth, partly because the uninformed reader is not in a position to distinguish good popularization from bad. Michael Coe may be categorically identified as a good popularizer. The presentation is controlled and sober. There is no appeal to the more bizarre forms of human interest. There is no romanticism. Fact and speculation are carefully distinguished. The material is up to date. The style is easy and assured.
The book begins with the environment and languages of Mexico and proceeds at once to ancient man. The subject is developed chronologically through the four periods, Archaic, Formative, Classic, and Post-Classic. The Maya are not included, “Mexico” here being the area from Tehuantepec to the northern frontier between settled and nomadic peoples. The chapters dealing with Early Hunters and Archaic and Formative cultures are successful surveys of complex subjects rarely treated in a comprehensive way in English. In the Classic period we have a clear explanation of the position of Teotihuacan in Mexican archaeology, quite different from the position once assigned it by Vaillant and others. A final chapter relates to the Aztec empire at the end of this long sequence. Chronologies are tabulated. Maps are clear and uncluttered. There are numerous drawings and good photographs of scenes, sites, and artifacts. The bibliography is brief and selective.
This useful book would be still more useful, in my opinion, if the text were longer and more detailed and if scholarly citations were systematically keyed to the discussion. The seventy-five plates are carefully identified, but there are no comparable identifications of the textual statements through written sources.