This volume comes from a symposium at Dumbarton Oaks in 1989, held to synthesize the wealth of archaeological and epigraphic data amassed on this pivotal century in the lowland Maya region. In the editors’ words, the symposium and published proceedings are intended to “provide a new baseline for the kinds of comparative analysis that are essential for an understanding of such key issues as the extent and significance of regional variability within the Maya world, the nature of the developmental processes that produced Maya civilization, and the nature of the processes that began to transform it at the end of the eighth century” (p. 4).
Besides the editors’ introduction and summary, the volume consists of 12 chapters organized into 3 sections: overview and background, societal organization, and special topics and themes. The setting for the synthesis is established by Don S. Rice’s chapter on the physical environment and natural resources of the region, which also reviews lowland Maya demography, subsistence technology, and habitat disturbance.
Part 2 consists of four chapters. Patricia A. McAnany addresses economics, integrating models emphasizing “political economies” with perspectives on elite households and “domestic economy.” Robert J. Sharer summarizes Maya social organization, focusing on stratification and on marriage, family, descent, and residence practices. Classic Maya political organization is treated by Joyce Marcus from historical, methodological, and epigraphic perspectives. Maya religious systems, including beliefs about time, history, and cosmology, are discussed by Gary H. Gossen and Richard M. Leventhal, who amplify their survey with reference to religious practice among the modern highland Maya.
Part 3 covers six topics representing particular foci of archaeological and art historical research. These include the distribution of settlements over the lowland landscape (Gair Tourtellot); the economic and political implications of pottery production (Joseph W. Ball); the economics of stone (obsidian and chert) tool industries (Daniel R. Potter); and architectural and astronomical programs evident in the large Mundo Perdido complex at the site of Tikal (Juan Pedro Laporte). Two chapters focus on the inscriptions (David Stuart) and imagery (Mary Ellen Miller) of Late Classic Maya stelae (carved stone monuments) and how they illuminate the royal dynasties and political events on the eve of the Classic civilization’s “collapse.” Both these contributions call attention to the role of warfare, a subject addressed in even more depth in the last chapter, in which David Webster surveys the history of archaeologists’ thinking about Maya warfare. He turns a critical eye toward current reconstructions emphasizing the role of ideological charters and elite interactions.
While it is nearly impossible to summarize adequately the Classic period lowland Maya civilization in a single book, this volume is a valuable and readable compendium for anyone interested in recent research into pre-Columbian civilizations.