Since the publication of Daniel Brinton’s A Primer of Maya Hieroglyphics (1895), several introductions to Maya writing have appeared. Most have tended to favor a particular branch of study, such as calendrics with Sylvanus Morley’s being an especially acclaimed example (despite its pendantic, laborious style and its profound intellectual debt to Charles Bowditch’s far superior work). The last attempt was Eric Thompson’s in 1950, frequently reprinted with “up-dating” prefaces, and the time is ripe for the appearance of David Kelley’s work, a study which has been eagerly anticipated by his colleagues.

Kelley sets himself to the very commendable task of treating the whole of Maya writing, from calendrics and astronomy to newer interests in dynastic history. Although his great interest has been the phonetic interpretation of Maya writing, he has ranged the full scholarly spectrum, and readers will find much of interest and many new ideas in all of his chapters. Some readers will be disappointed in the absence of attention to a few special areas, as Uniformity, but they will find much new in the discussion of astronomy and basic glyph etymology, particularly in the study of glyphs derived from animals and plants, artifacts, and body-parts. The general thrust of the book, however, is concerned with the phonetic reading of glyphs, as merits its basic importance and the author’s long concern with the subject.

Presumably no scholar today believes that there is not a considerable phonetic aspect to the script; perhaps it is fair to say that disagreement largely revolves around the kinds and degrees of phoneticism. I doubt that anyone believes that many glyphs of a morphemic reference were not employed in other contexts where only their phonetic value was used without reference to the original semantic value. It is perhaps where glyphs are considered to exist on the phonemic level only that possibly disagreements would be encountered. Kelley views Maya writing as a mixed system, which surely is correct, but he also believes that the writing contained a definable syllabary (Plate 62 illustrates “The Maya syllabary: a tabular summary of known CV readings). If he means that Maya scribes recognized a set series of signs constituting a syllabic rendering of their language, then I, for one, would express profound doubt. However, if he means that modern epigraphers can isolate a series of glyphs used at times as syllabic signs, then I believe he would surely be on safer ground, since this appears to be the case with so many ancient writing systems of the Old World whose nature is now better understood by modern students.

The book is lavishly illustrated, greatly adding to its value; glyph sources, however, are seldom given in the illustrations but this may not bother other readers as much as it does me. A topical index is supplemented by a glyph index based upon the Thompson catalogue numbers and greatly increases the ease with which the book may be used. A glossary is also a welcome addition although some will quibble over certain definitions of traditional terms, and one notes a few absentminded slips, such as the definition of a “secondary series” in terms of a “supplementary series.” In general the author’s thoughtfulness for the reader is evident throughout.

In his preface the author notes that he has not been able to bring the book fully up to date in terms of the latest research (his first full draft was completed in 1967). Anyone who attempts to keep abreast of Maya writing research along with other professional interests will appreciate this difficult problem which Kelley seeks to alleviate by reference to many recent contributions in his introduction. The reader will have to exercise a bit of caution here, however. Although considerable space is given to Eric Thompson’s interpretations of the “benich” affix, his latest view that it should be read as “ah” is not cited. Similarly, Barthel’s views on the subject are provided in the discussion of emblem prefixes but the reader will have to recall the introduction to know of Floyd Lounsbury’s “ah po” reading. And although considerable space is given to the phonetic significance of affix reduplication, contrary to the Herman Beyer-Eric Thompson thesis of “decorative symmetry,” Kelley does not note that Thompson finally conceded that reduplicated affixes sometimes reflect phoneticism. I suppose the author would be entitled to observe, “that’s what I’ve been saying all the time.”

Students and specialists alike will be grateful to David Kelley for this valuable contribution for many years to come.