This work was first issued in 1946 in the publication series of the Carnegie Institution of Washington. The new edition is designed to reach a large general audience, and properly so, for the text is both authoritative and simple, the illustrations are superb exercises in pictorial reconstruction, and the whole is a work of singular beauty.
The book’s purpose is to make visual restorations of Maya architecture. In each instance a small drawing shows the existing ruin, with solid lines to indicate what may be actually seen and with broken lines to indicate what may be reasonably deduced from the site itself. Opposite these drawings the full imaginative restorations are presented, with walls, substructures, and roofs intact, with human figures in appropriate poses, and with all parts in their places. The result is a series of thirty-six plates giving the reader an extraordinary illusion that he is viewing pictures of real Maya scenes.
Accompanying the illustrations are brief textual descriptions and analyses, providing the essential information needed for understanding the various scenes. In easy, unassuming language, sites are identified, styles analyzed, building materials described, and additional relevant topics discussed. A prefatory section, equally unassuming, is informative concerning Maya civilization and Maya architecture in general and provides some bibliography.
Only a relatively small number of Maya sites may be treated in this way, for in most instances the evidence of the extant ruins is insufficient to justify reconstructions in exact detail. The criteria for selection are quite demanding. Enough must be known to permit measurements and projections of sections and plans, necessary preliminaries to reliable perspective drawings. Enough of the building or complex of buildings must remain to yield a plausible restoration of surface features, designs, and decorations. At the very least, enough must be available to allow analogies with other buildings. The emphasis is necessarily on late styles, stone buildings, and thoroughly studied sites.
The book is probably most useful for readers in need of immediate impressions of what Maya buildings were before the Spaniards came. The Proskouriakoff drawings are unexpectedly impressive. Though imaginary in some details, they are founded on an acute perception of the relations between construction and deterioration. The need met by this book is the need of the tourist or museum goer who cannot from his own knowledge bridge the gap between the fragment and the whole, or between the remnant and the original. This is an important need and it is here admirably served.