At first glance, this large, handsomely-bound volume appears to be the sort of scholarly work which Mayanists might expect at this stage of research, a discussion of patterns emerging from accumulated excavation data. A “Contribution to Research on Planning Principles” would be welcomed by those engaged in analysis of Maya cities, and is certainly likely to be more meaningful now than it would have been before the excavation projects of the 1960s. Unfortunately, Hartung’s work takes no really useful step in the direction of understanding the workings of Maya city planners’ minds. In 106 pages and 508 footnotes, he first presents a general summary of Maya prehistory which is sound enough, and then launches into a disquisition on a familiar theme, the existence of meaningful orientations, alignments, and lines of sight in Maya centers. Coverage of this aspect of Maya planning might well be useful if it resolved some of the old problems, or provided clearcut insights into new avenues of research, but this volume unhappily does neither.
Few Mayanists would argue with the postulate that orientations, alignments, and vistas were important in Maya city planning; the argument, and the main difficulty with Hartung’s work, comes in translation of this postulate into a concrete form which not only exists today but also can be demonstrated to have existed in the eyes of the ancient Maya. Hartung’s discussion of the approach which supposedly permits this difficult step, in which (as elsewhere in the text, and in the illustrations) much extraneous material is introduced, remains unconvincing. The same can be said of the specific treatment of four sites, Piedras Negras, Yaxchilan, Uxmal, and Chichén Itzá, which forms the principal part of the volume.
Apart from the philosophical problems posed by the study, and the omission of data from many other sites for which plans are available, the greatest practical difficulty is Hartung’s unquestioning acceptance of the “rectified” plans of earlier workers as bases for his analysis. Such plans may permit recognition of what could have been significant lines of sight within a center, but can only lend spurious precision to any calculations based on orientations of buildings or their components. That there were planning principles, probably both religious and secular, underlying the construction of ancient Maya centers is beyond question. Hartung’s work holds forth the promise of shedding light on such principles, but unfortunately the lantern proves to be a very dim one indeed.