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Review Essays of Academic, Professional & Technical Books in the Humanities & Sciences



Popol Vuh: The Sacred Book of the Maya: The Great Classic of Central American Spirituality, Translated from the Original Maya Text edited, translated by Allen J. Christenson (University of Okalahoma Press) Popol Vuh, the Quiché Mayan book of creation, is not only the most important text in the native languages of the Americas, it is also an extraordinary document of the human imagination. It begins with the deeds of Mayan gods in the darkness of a primeval sea and ends with the radiant splendor of the Mayan lords who founded the Quiché kingdom in the Guatemalan highlands. Originally written in Mayan hieroglyphs, it was transcribed into the Roman alphabet in the sixteenth century. The poetic edition of Dennis Tedlock's unabridged, widely praised translation includes new notes and commentary, newly translated passages, newly deciphered hieroglyphs, and over forty new illustrations. Popol Vuh: The Definitive Edition Of The Mayan Book Of The Dawn Of Life by Dennis Tedlock (Touchstone) still has the poetic panash if not the up–to-the-minute variants based on recent scholarship   The Popol Vuh is the most important example of Maya literature to have survived the Spanish conquest. It is also one of the world's`great creation accounts, comparable to the beauty and power of Genesis.

Allen J. Christenson new comprehensive translation of the great classic of Maya spirituality from the original K'iche"-Maya text is uniquely faithful to the original language and remarkably accessible to English readers. Most previous translations have relied on Spanish versions rather than the original K'iche'-Maya text. Based on ten years of research by a leading scholar`of Maya literature, this translation features extensive notes and retains the poetic style of the original text.

Illustrated with more than eighty drawings, photographs, and maps, Allen J. Christenson's authoritative version brings out the richness and elegance of this sublime work of literature, comparable to`such epic masterpieces as the Ramayana and Mahabharata of India or the Iliad and Odyssey of Greece.

Allen J. Christenson is Associate Professor of Humanities, Classics, and Comparative Literature at Brigham Young University, Provo, Utah. He is the author of Art and Society in a Highland Maya Community: The Altarpiece of Santiago Atitlan. 

Excerpt:  The Popol Vuh is not only the most important highland Maya text in terms of its historical and mythological content, it is also a sublime work of literature, composed in rich and elegant poetry. In this respect it can be compared with other great epic poems of the ancient world such as the Ramayana and Mahabharata of India, or the Iliad and Odyssey of Greece.

Quiche poetry is not based on rhyme or metrical rhythms, but rather the arrangement of concepts into innovative and even ornate parallel struc­tures. Seldom are the authors content with expressing a single idea without embellishing it with synonymous concepts, metaphors, or descriptive epi­thets. The Quiche poet is much like the composer of classical music who begins with a simple melody and then weaves, into it both complementary and contrasting harmonies to give it interest and depth. Thus endless vari­ations on a given theme are possible.

Books such as the Popol Vuh were not simply records of dry history, but universal declarations of the purpose of the world and man's place in it. The written words were thus intended to conjure up an image in the mind, to give new life and breath to the gods and heroes each time the story was read. The beauty of the work depends not only on the story itself, but on how the story is told. As Munro Edmonson points out, Mayan texts are meant to be "read and pondered rather than skimmed over" (Edmonson 1982, xiii).

Yet the beauty of Quiche poetry may sound awkward and repetitive when translated into European languages. Some translators in the past have ignored or failed to recognize the poetic nature of the Popol Vuh, particularly its use of parallelism, and have tried to improve its seeminglypurposeless redundancy by eliminating words, phrases, and even whole sections of text which they deemed unnecessary. While this unquestionably helps to make the story flow more smoothly, in keeping with our modern taste for linear plot structure, it detracts from the character of Quiche high literature. Welch points out that "in many ancient contexts, repetition and even redundancy appear to represent the rule rather than the exception" (Welch 1981, 12).

The first modern scholar to recognize parallelism in Maya literature was Sir J. Eric Thompson, who noticed that Precolumbian hieroglyphic texts seemed to contain redundant glyphs. Because the ancient Yucatec Maya books of Chilam Balam have similar redundancies, he concluded that these parallel glyphs were intended as a "flowing harmony," and were "interpolated to improve the cadence of a passage" (Thompson 195o, 61-62).

Miguel Leon-Portilla was the first translator to arrange portions of Quiche and Yucatec Maya documents into poetic verse (Leon-Portilla 1969, 51-55, 75, 92-93). His recognition of the literary nature of Maya texts was a significant advance over previous translations which virtually ignored the presence of poetry. Nevertheless, his criteria for separating individual poetic lines, or cola, was somewhat haphazard, and he failed to recognize the presence of most forms of parallelism in the text.

In his translation of the Popol Vuh, Munro Edmonson arranges the entire text into parallel couplets. He asserts that "the Popol Vuh is primarily a work of literature, and it cannot be properly read apart from the literary form in which it is expressed" (Edmonson 1971, xi). While he has been criticized for failing to identify other types of poetry in his work (D. Tedlock 1983, 23o), it is still the only translation of the full text of the Popol Vuh which has emphasized the poetic nature of the text. It is also true that by far the most common arrangement in the Popol Vuh is the parallel couplet. Edmonson himself recognized that his arrangement of the text was not the last word on the literary structure of the Popol Vuh: "I am certain that my reading does not exhaust either the poetry or the sense that is expressed, and that the Popol Vuh contains more of both beauty and meaning than I have found in it" (Edmonson 1971, xiii).

For the purposes of the second volume of this monograph, I have arranged the literal translation of the Popol Vuh according to its poetic structure. Lines which are parallel in form or concept have been indented an equal number of spaces from the left margin of the page. 

Janaab' Pakal of Palenque: Reconstructing the Life And Death of a Maya Ruler edited by Vera Tiesler, Andrea Cucina (University of Arizona Press) Excavations of Maya burial vaults at Palenque, Mexico, half a century ago revealed what was then the most extraordinary tomb finding of the pre-Columbian world; its discovery has been crucial to an understanding of the dynastic history and ideology of the ancient Maya. Over the years, new analytical tools introduced uncertainties regarding earlier interpretations of the findings, and a reanalysis of the remains of the ruler Janaab’ Pakal using contemporary methodologies has led to new interpretations of former accounts of his life and death. This volume communicates the broad scope of applied interdisciplinary research conducted on the Pakal remains to provide answers to old disputes over the accuracy of both skeletal and epigraphic studies, along with new questions in the field of Maya dynastic research. Contributions by scholars in epigraphy, anthropology, and bioarchaeology bring to light new evidence regarding the ruler’s age, clarify his medical history and the identification of the remains found with him, reevaluate his role in life, and offer modern insights into ritual and sacrificial practices associated with Pakal. The book leads readers through the history of Pakal’s discovery, skeletal analysis, and interpretation of Maya biographies, and also devotes considerable attention to the tomb of the "Red Queen" discovered at the site. Findings from the new transitional analysis aging method, histomorphometric analysis, and taphonomic imagery are presented to shed new light on the perplexing question of Pakal’s age at death. Royal Maya life and death histories from the written record are also analyzed from a regional perspective to provide a broad panorama of the twisted power politics of rulers’ families and the entangled genealogies of the Maya Classic period. A benchmark in biological anthropology, this volume reconsiders assumptions concerning the practices and lives of Maya rulers, posing the prospect that researchers too often find what they expect to find. In presenting an updated study of a well-known personage, it also offers innovative approaches to the biocultural and interdisciplinary re-creation of Maya dynastic history.

Excerpt: When John Lloyd Stephens explored Palenque in 1840, searching for imaginary secrets hidden within the ruins of the Temple of the Inscrip­tions (the name refers to the abundant hieroglyphs carved on its walls), he expressed his admiration in his travel notebook: "Here were the remains of a cultivated, polished and peculiar people, who had passed through all the stages incident to the rise and fall of nations; reached their golden age, and perished entirely unknown" ( [1841] 1969:356).

His amazement derived from the recognition of a civilization that had been able to develop a hermetically gorgeous writing as well as unheard of architectural fortunes. Stephens's admiration was to have two unsuspect­ed consequences. First, he gave rise to the romantic American fantasies of an Egypt-like culture that once had flourished and then was devoured by the forest. Second, his narrative represented the first step toward the encounter between science and an enigmatic Maya civilization.

The ancient city of Palenque, which had been completely unknown to Stephens, soon incited incessant public attention and scientific curios­ity. A second milestone in explorations was set little more than a century after Stephens's exploration. The year 1952 witnessed the discovery of the luxurious tomb of a Maya ruler, hidden in the very core of the Temple of the Inscriptions. Today almost everyone knows how archaeologist Alberto Ruz Lhuillier made the discovery of the monolith harboring the remains of K'inich Janaab' Pakal. His astonishment mirrored Howard Carter's feelings when he discovered the tomb of Tutankhamen 3o years earlier in the Valley of the Kings in Egypt. Ruz wrote: "Out of the dark shadows emerged a fairy-tale sight, a fantastic and transcendental view of another world. It looked like a magic cave sculptured out of ice, the walls shim­mering and bright like crystals of snow. . . . It gave the impression of an abandoned chapel. Bas-relief stucco figures were walking along the walls. Then my eyes looked at the floor, which was taken up almost completely by a huge, perfectly preserved carved stone" (1953:95-96).

Since Ruz's discovery, the history of Palenque and its inhabitants has been rewritten with ever more subtle detail. At the same time, this recon­structed history has laid an enormous responsibility on the shoulders of its explorers to translate and spread the voices of the ancient Maya. The new explorers must re-create the lives of a divergent people, of their governors' dynasties and reigns, of their military strategies, of their artists' accom­plishments, of their priests' rituals and scientific achievement, and of the language spoken by their protector gods. In this quest, the ancient Maya Weltanschaung poses a crucial challenge because it entangles mythical ar­chaeotypes with historical facts, all woven into the calendric inscriptions, as all-embracing witnesses of the Mesoamerican civilization. The ancient worldviews were expressed both in everyday life and in the celebrations of the sacred, funerary, or festive. The carved and chiseled expressions of these fundamental events bear the clues to identity and belonging, the knowledge of the past, the perception of the moment, and at the same time a clear desire to transcend. Thanks to advances in anthropology, it is possible now to evaluate and reinterpret this material evidence of the past and to clarify secular academic controversies on the developments and achievements of individuals and ancient societies, of which Pakal and Palenque are no exception.

In this volume, ample new insights provide a more complex and pre­cise image of the biography of Palenque and its king. Addressed to the aca­demic community and interested amateurs, this book brings together the contributions of a group of experts of different institutions and disciplin­ary backgrounds—including distinguished epigraphers, anthropologists, archaeologists, and historians. Their investigations offer an integrated view of Pakal's life and death in ancient Maya society. His physical ap­pearance is brought to life jointly from the iconographic and bony in­formation, and the reconstruction of his lifestyle is founded on scientific proposals gleaned mainly from biocultural frames of reference.

Pakal, Palenque, and the pre-Hispanic Maya still guard secrets that puzzle us with the same mystery as other enigmas of the past. We should ask ourselves, as did Italo Calvino (1998) so eloquently when he was faced with the supremacy of pre-Hispanic civilization: Can we be sure thatthe gods still speak the same language of the forest from their decaying temples? Maybe they are no longer those who conversed in ancient times and who repeated the terrible, though not desperate accounts of the end­less circle of destruction and resurrection. Maybe gods speak to us today, aware that what has gone never comes back.

It is in this sense that one central question arises within this thorough interdisciplinary examination of Pakal's personal attributes and biogra­phy: Will the novel insights on the individual level be the window to a much more complex and astounding collective vital history? This book provides the new framework and reference for a major adventure in Maya scholarship: the joint re-creation of the life and death histories of those people who inhabited the ancient Maya world.

Pakal's long life and tenure were unusual but not unique. In any human population, certain individuals will reach maximum life spans of 90 years (Hammond and Molleson 1994:76). Although Pakal reached an age of 8o, no portraits show him as an old man. The lack of naturalism in this regard is a common feature of Classic Maya royal portraiture in general. Kings are always shown as young, potent juveniles, emulating the beauty and unblemished face of the young Maize God (Miller 1999:161-63; see also Tiesler, chapter 2, in this volume for references on Pakal's mandible). Even at Palenque, where artists created human images that show particular in­dividual features in the rendering of the faces, leaving no doubt that the artists could have displayed old kings if they had wished to do so, there is not a single image of a monarch with features of advanced age. Images of age and serenity are common in Maya art, but they are restricted to the depiction of gods and supernaturals, such as the old God N and Itzamnaaj, the first priest and master of scribes. Maya artists could have used the same iconographic devices to render images of their lords, but portrayals of Maya nobility never indicate aging, only vibrant youth.

At the same time, whenever it was deemed possible, kings emphasized their old age by using K'atun age statements. Their divine counterparts, God L and Itzamnaaj, who sit on the thrones in the underworld or in ce­lestial palaces, are always rendered old, leaving no doubt that occupants of thrones were conceptually linked with old age (Taube 1992:88). The desire to be old and young at the same time is not a contradiction, but illustrates the dual nature of Maya kings. The combination of opposites seems to be a feature they share with many other cultures of divine kingship. Maya kings were gods and men at the same time; they had absolute power, yet knew that they had to die; they were eternally young and physically old, wise and brave, excellent ballplayers and at the same time well-fed lords carried around in palanquins. Absorbing and manifesting contradictions elevated Maya lords from the rest of the population and stressed their special connection to the divine world. In this regard, Maya rulers were considered stranger kings in the Polynesian sense, as described by Sahlins (1958:73-103). That they had a lifestyle that was different and more re­fined than everybody else's, that they used a different language, that they traced back their origin to distant places and divine ancestors, and that they enjoyed—on the average—a significantly longer life than the com­mon people outside the palaces contributed to the idea that they enjoyed a special relationship to the divine world.

A comparison of Maya royal biographies with that of other dynas­ties in preindustrial societies shows the essential similarities. Pakal's long life stands out in the same way as the long life of some famous Egyp­tian pharaohs, such as Pepi II (with a reign of 94 years) and Ramesses II (with a reign of 67 years) (Clayton 1994). A comparative approach to Maya dynastic history not only emphasizes similar concerns and solu­tions in regard to dynastic succession, but also helps to develop a more sophisticated approach to the broader issue of the inscriptions' veracity and their propagandistic nature. As historians, Maya epigraphers now un­derstand inscriptions as texts and not as faithful accounts of the past. But dismissing the written texts as pure propaganda often impels a cynical understanding of the written record as the product of a small number of nobles who used deceit and exaggeration as a means to manipulate the dull "masses." Indeed, the results of the recent restudy of Pakal's bones support the veracity of the information provided in these texts (see also chapters 4 and 5 in this volume). Maya inscriptions do not employ deceit; otherwise, we would expect to see more contradictions in the record. We know that where the written record can be tested archaeologically, it has proved robust. It is significant, for example, that no two sides claimed vic­tory in the same battle. Defeats are sometimes recorded by the losers (Dos Pilas by Tikal and Calakmul, Caracol by Naranjo, Palenque by Calakmul, and so on), but they are usually embedded in larger narratives of ultimate victory. Historians and anthropologists can generally trust the informa­tion provided. However, a great deal of information is omitted—competing claims to power, a lost battle, and murky ancestry. Inconvenient events are passed over in silence. What kings wanted to let us know emphasizes their current needs and claims. Yet dark spots in the history very often can be discovered through the comparison of different texts and through the study of departures from the common patterns in royal biographies.

The decades that have passed since the discovery of the tomb of Janaab' Pakal have witnessed major advances in our knowledge of the ancient Maya. Significant developments in epigraphic decipherment and a rap­idly growing corpus of new archaeological and bioanthropological data have restructured the playing field upon which debates about the ancient Maya are enacted. Whether or not Pakal would have wished for such at­tention, he has become a central figure in debates over the interpretation of Maya epigraphy and history. The identity of the skeletal remains in the sarcophagus in Palenque is not at issue, but Pakal's age at death continues to be a subject of debate among Maya specialists.

The chapters in this volume grew out of a multidisciplinary research project directed by Vera Tiesler and a symposium organized by Vera Ties­ler and Andrea Cucina for the Sixty-eighth Annual Meeting of the Society of American Archaeology in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, in April 2003. They provide new and important data on Janaab' Pakal's life and death, draw­ing upon a reexamination of his skeletal remains in situ, new laboratory analyses of associated skeletal material, and comparative data from other archaeological and bioanthropological studies and from recent advances in Maya epigraphy. Although a consensus on Pakal's age at death has not been reached, the research and analyses presented here demonstrate the value of interdisciplinary approaches to reconstructing the lives of ancient Maya rulers.

Multiple questions have emerged from both the previous and recent stud­ies of materials in Pakal's tomb, such as the presence of possible congen­ital defects in his skeleton and the interpretation of additional skeletal remains found within it, but the key point of contention remains his age at death. Contributors to this volume take different approaches to this question, drawing on decades of fieldwork, laboratory analysis, and epi­graphic research, as well as employing new analytical methods to revisit the question. Before reviewing these contributions individually, I briefly address some general issues and underlying problems inherent in any at­tempt to resolve the debate. 

Even disregarding the fragmentary condition of his remains, Pakal presents special challenges precisely because of the general age range that he falls into, whether one accepts the low (40-50 years) or the high esti­mate (80 years) of his age at death. Skeletal specialists are well aware of the great difficulty involved in estimating skeletal age in adults, particularly in those beyond 50 years. Few techniques attempt to enter this territory because of the great variability and idiosyncratic nature of age changes beyond the 50-year threshold. Some paleodemographers have developed mathematical approaches to simulate mortality profiles extending into older age classes. Although these models may be useful for predicting gen‑eral tendencies, they are on less firm ground when applied to a single in­dividual who may show atypical or inconsistent age indicators. Attempts to age Pakal by comparing his skeletal age indicators to those of other elite burials at Palenque face the same problem of imprecision. Despite these major challenges, contributors to this volume attempt to resolve this and other issues surrounding the life and death of Pakal by employing some novel approaches.

The condition of Pakal's skeletal remains constitutes one of the principal problems in estimating his age at death, and one for which little can be done other than recognizing the limitations inherent in the analysis of fragmentary and poorly preserved skeletal material. Poor skeletal pres­ervation is characteristic of the Maya area, as most contributors to this volume note, and Pakal's remains are no exception to the rule. Vera Ties­ler's recent examination of the skeleton indicates that it is only about 75 percent complete and poorly preserved. Taphonomic changes were noted at both the macroscopic and microscopic level, making both age determi­nation and other analyses problematic, and DNA extraction not possible. Despite these limitations, however, some observations were possible on degenerative changes in the vertebral column and joint surfaces of the appendicular skeleton. Also, Pakal's pubic symphyses and portions of his auricular surfaces were sufficiently preserved to allow for morphological observations. Preservation of a rib also was sufficient to attempt age as­sessment using histological methods. 

In chapter 2, Vera Tiesler reports on new findings made during a reexami­nation of Pakal's skeleton in 1999, including important new information on cranial modification, childhood health (no evidence of anemia, healed periostitis, or enamel hypoplasias), and mortuary treatment of Pakal's body. Her examination of the king's remains provides evidence that might be used to support either a younger or older age. A younger age might be argued based on a lack of pronounced osteoarthritis on the major and minor joints of the appendicular skeleton or based on an absence of vis­ible entheseopathies. The lack of pronounced occlusal wear on the teeth can also be used to argue for a younger age, although Tiesler notes that the remains of Maya elite typically show only moderate tooth wear, pre­sumably due to a soft, protein-rich diet. Caution must be used, therefore, in estimating Pakal's age at death based on dental attrition. Evidence for an older age comes primarily from the finding of generalized osteopenia, mainly in the axial skeleton. Barring some metabolic disease, osteopenia generally should not be expected in a male younger than 7o years of age. Tiesler notes also that Pakal has a "remarkably low mandible," which she suggests is an indication of degenerative changes associated with age.

Chapters 3 and 4 present the results of new osteological aging tech­niques that were applied to Pakal's remains in an attempt to reevaluate the conclusions of Dávalos and Romano's original study. Both analyses pro­duce results suggesting a more advanced age at death for Pakal. Jane Bui­kstra, George Milner, and Jesper Boldsen employ a newly developed ag­ing method known as Transition Analysis, which combines observations on standard skeletal indicators such as the pubic symphysis and auricular surface with mathematical modeling of mortality profiles in an attempt to improve on current skeletal aging methods—particularly for older adults. Stout and Streeter use histological examination of one of Pakal's ribs to estimate age at death.

Transition Analysis is a new technique that has yet to be tested inde­pendently by other researchers and thus is potentially more controversial than Stout and Streeter's histological aging method, which is well estab­lished in the literature and has been advocated as a method capable of ex­tending age estimates beyond the traditional 50-year threshold. It should be noted, however, that not all agree that histological methods provide more accurate ages than macroscopic observations.

Given the poor preservation of Pakal's skeleton, only the morphology of the pubic symphyses could be fully scored for the Transition Analysis, although some observations were possible on auricular surface morphol­ogy and cranial suture closure. Results of Buikstra, Milner, and Boldsen's analyses are consistent, however, in suggesting an advanced age for Pakal, approximating the 8o-year life span recorded in the inscriptions.

Results of Stout and Streeter's histological analysis, although not entirely consistent, are in general agreement with Buikstra, Milner, and Boldsen's results. Their age-estimation method produced an estimate for Pakal of only 52 years, but they note other features such as very small oste­on size and substantial loss of cortical bone as being consistent with senile osteoporosis, which in males is normally a postseventies phenomenon. Their overall conclusion is that an age of 80-90 years is not unreasonable, taking all data into account.

In chapter 5, Lourdes Márquez, Patricia Hernández, and Carlos Ser­rano take a comparative approach to Pakal's age, employing a detailed paleodemographic and paleopathological study of the known skeletal sample from Palenque. To put Pakal in context, they reconstruct age pro­files and demographic parameters for the sample, including life expectan­cy at birth and in adulthood, and frequencies of individuals in different age classes. Their paleopathological analysis indicates that all individuals, whether elite or commoner, were subject to a range of diseases and de­bilitating conditions that could affect both longevity and quality of life. They conclude that their demographic profile of the mortuary sample at Palenque is that of a young population, with very few adults living beyond 4o years. In fact, their analysis identified only one individual judged to beolder than 5o years of age (an adult male from Tomb 1 of Group IV, with an estimated age of 55-59) at Palenque. Comparing the skeletal and dental observations made on this individual with those of Pakal and with mod­ern comparative data on skeletal age published by Overfield (1995), they conclude that the 40-50 year age estimate originally made by Dávalos and Romano (1973) was more likely than an age of 80.

Márquez, Hernández, and Serrano's chapter is important in situating Pakal in the larger demographic context of Palenque to the degree that it can be reconstructed from the available skeletal data. Their results sug­gest that very few individuals at Palenque reached old age and that the one individual judged to be the oldest shows skeletal and dental changes substantially more advanced than what is seen in Pakal's remains. Unfor­tunately, any conclusions about Pakal's age face the same small-sample problem that complicates other studies in this volume: How closely does Pakal's skeletal age correspond with his chronological age?

In chapter 6, Arturo Romano provides additional observations on Pakal's skeleton, critically evaluating claims that Pakal had congenital de­fects such as clubfoot and polydactyly. These claims were based on por­traits of Pakal at Palenque that appeared to some observers to show these defects. Romano convincingly argues that a careful examination of Pakal's foot bones shows no evidence of either condition. He suggests alterna­tive interpretations for the depiction of foot position and polydactyly in Classic Maya sculpture, citing Nikolai Grube's (1996) observations on foot position in ancient Maya dance.

In chapter 7, Douglas Price and colleagues examine the question of the possible geographic origin of Pakal and the "Red Queen"—as well as of several sacrificial victims in the Red Queen's tomb—utilizing stron­tium isotope analysis of bone and teeth. Strontium analysis has been successfully applied to skeletal material from a variety of sites in central Mexico and the Maya area to examine questions of geographic origin and migration (Wright 1999b; Price, Manzanilla, and Middleton 2000; Bui­kstra et al. 2004). The analysis presented in chapter 7 produced  ratios of both tooth enamel and bone consistent with strontium values extrapolated from local (Palenque-area) rock types, and the lack of dif­ference in enamel and bone values support the hypothesis that Pakal, the Red Queen, and two sacrificial victims buried with her were natives of the Palenque area although they are not sure about their local on-site origin, especially in the case of the Red Queen. Given the small size of this sample, however, analyses of additional Palenque burials and of faunal remains from the site would be useful for confirming these results.

In chapter 8, Andrea Cucina and Vera Tiesler present the results of recent laboratory studies of other human skeletal remains from the tomb of Pakal and from the nearby tomb of the high-status female known as the "Red Queen." Using multiple lines of evidence, including data on burial position, patterns of articulation, and evidence of sharp-force trauma, they effectively argue that these other remains are of sacrificial victims placed in these tombs as companions or retainers to the principal interment. They use the location of cut marks on vertebrae and ribs to document peri­mortem and possible postmortem trauma on several of these skeletons. Position and articulation are offered as supportive evidence to argue that these interments were not secondary or sequential, but that they appear to represent single sacrificial events. The careful analysis of these remains provides important new data on retainer sacrifices in elite Maya tombs.

In chapter 9, Patricia Hernández and Lourdes Márquez take a com­parative approach to the controversy over Pakal's age at death, comparing biological age as estimated from skeletal analysis with ages recorded in monuments for Maya rulers at Yaxchilán. They find multiple cases where epigraphic data provide ages at death that are substantially higher than those estimated from examination of the skeletal remains. For example, Bird Jaguar IV's age at death is estimated from skeletal data at 30-35 years, whereas monumental inscriptions suggest an age in excess of 59 years. Likewise, a 30-year gap is claimed between skeletal and epigraphic age for Shield Jaguar.

In interpreting their findings, Hernández and Márquez highlight the challenges involved in aging poorly preserved skeletons, in particular indi­viduals older than 5o years of age, and they question aging techniques that attempt to push much beyond this range. In the case of Pakal, the authors appear to accept Dávalos and Romano's original age estimate and support the position of scholars such as Joyce Marcus (1992) who argue that Maya dynastic histories inscribed on monuments should be read with caution (but see Nikolai Grube's chapter and my concluding comments).

In chapter 10, Nikolai Grube makes a strong argument in support of the veracity of Pakal's life history as recorded in stone. He demonstrates that Pakal's long life, although unusual, was not unique among Maya rul­ers. Grube assembles a large body of data from inscriptions marking rul­ers' birth, accession to the throne, and death and examines issues such as length of reign, age at accession, primogeniture, and biases in the re­cord with respect to short reigns for which no monuments were erected. Within his sample, a small group of rulers stands out for their unusually long reigns—Pakal being the foremost. Grube argues forcefully for the legitimacy of Pakal's long reign, noting that "any modification of the dates would involve an implausible and impossible rearrangement of the entire epigraphic basis of Palenque's history." In discussing the credibility of a Maya ruler living to 80, he notes examples of similarly long rulerships and life spans documented in other preindustrial societies such as ancient Egypt.

The purpose of the papers collected in this volume and of the field proj­ect that stimulated it was to conduct new research on the life of Janaab' Pakal. Reaching a consensus on his age at death was not its primary objec­tive, and a careful reading of these chapters reveals continuing differences of opinion. Such is to be expected given the diverse data sets and ana­lytical techniques employed, and given the complexities involved in both epigraphic interpretation and the determination of skeletal age in ancient and poorly preserved remains. The editors of this volume are to be com­mended for bringing together a group of scholars of such distinction, and Vera Tiesler in particular is to be praised for her vision and dedication in organizing the reexamination and conservation of Pakal's remains. Not only has this study produced important new information on Pakal's tomb and its contents, but it has also stimulated scholars to reevaluate previ­ous research and to test new analytical methods. It shifts the debate over Pakal's age away from the simple "epigraphy versus biological anthropol­ogy" argument to a more nuanced discussion drawing on multiple lines of evidence.

In this volume, Nikolai Grube's chapter provides the primary defense for the veracity of Pakal's inscripted biography, but his chapter goes far beyond this in contextualizing Pakal within the larger world of Maya rul­ers and dynastic history. From the biological anthropology perspective, the new studies of Pakal's skeleton reach similar conclusions using different observations and techniques, although not all skeletal observations are consistent, and some analytical methods are new and relatively untested at the time of this writing. Some contributors to this volume continue to support Dávalos and Romano's original age assessment of Pakal, but the weight of new evidence suggests overall that there is indeed a correspon­dence between Pakal's biographic and biological age.

There may not be consensus on all issues, but this volume constitutes a new and important contribution to our understanding of the life and times of Maya ruler Janaab' Pakal. 

Palenque: Recent Investigations at the Classic Maya Center by Damien Marken (AltaMira Press) The Inscriptions from Temple XIX at Palenque by David Stuart (Pre-Columbian Art Research Institute) This groundbreaking study is invaluable not just for its decipherment of Mayan glyphs, but for the many congent observations on Maya mythology, royal ritual, biography, and the history of Palenque, a great kingdom of the Classic Mayans.

The Memory of Bones: Body, Being, and Experience among the Classic Maya (Joe R. and Teresa Lozano Long Series in Latin American and Latino Art and Culture) by Stephen Houston (University of Texas Press) All of human experience flows from bodies that feel, express emotion, and think about what such experiences mean. But is it possible for us, embodied as we are in a particular time and place, to know how people of long ago thought about the body and its experiences? In this groundbreaking book, three leading experts on the Classic Maya (ca. AD 250 to 850) marshal a vast array of evidence from Maya iconography and hieroglyphic writing, as well as archaeological findings, to argue that the Classic Maya developed a coherent approach to the human body that we can recover and understand today.

The authors open with a cartography of the Maya body, its parts and their meanings, as depicted in imagery and texts. They go on to explore such issues as how the body was replicated in portraiture; how it experienced the world through ingestion, the senses, and the emotions; how the body experienced war and sacrifice and the pain and sexuality that were intimately bound up in these domains; how words, often heaven-sent, could be embodied; and how bodies could be blurred through spirit possession.

From these investigations, the authors convincingly demonstrate that the Maya conceptualized the body in varying roles, as a metaphor of time, as a gendered, sexualized being, in distinct stages of life, as an instrument of honor and dishonor, as a vehicle for communication and consumption, as an exemplification of beauty and ugliness, and as a dancer and song-maker. Their findings open a new avenue for empathetically understanding the ancient Maya as living human beings who experienced the world as we do, through the body.

The New Catalog of Maya Heiroglyphs, Volume 1: The Classic Period Inscriptions  by Martha J. Macri & Marianne George Houle with drawings by Matthew G. Looper (The Civilization of the American Indian Series, V. 247: University of Oklahoma Press) For hundreds of years, Maya artists and scholars used hieroglyphs to record their history and culture. In the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, archaeologists, photographers, and artists recorded the Maya carvings that remained, often by transporting box cameras and plaster casts through the jungle on muleback. The New Catalog of Maya Heiroglyphs: The Classic Period Inscriptions is a guide to all the known hieroglyphic symbols of the Classic Maya script. In this work Martha J. Macri, Professor of Native American Studies and Anthropology at the University of California , Davis , and Matthew G. Looper, Assistant Professor of Art and Art History at California State University , Chico , and Research Associate at the San Diego Museum of Man, have produced a valuable research tool based on the latest Mesoamerican scholarship.

An essential resource for all students of Maya texts, the The New Catalog of Maya Heiroglyphs: The Classic Period Inscriptions is also accessible to nonspecialists with an interest in Mesoamerican cultures. Macri and Looper present the combined knowledge of the most reliable scholars in Maya epigraphy. They provide currently accepted syllabic and logographic values, a history of references to published discussions of each sign, and related lexical entries from dictionaries of Maya languages, all of which were compiled through the Maya Hieroglyphic Database Project.

This first volume of the The New Catalog of Maya Heiroglyphs: The Classic Period Inscriptions focuses on texts from the Classic Period (approximately 150-900 C.E.), which have been found on carved stone monuments, stucco wall panels, wooden lintels, carved and painted pottery, murals, and small objects of jadeite, shell, bone, and wood. These include A - Animals; B - Birds; H - Body Parts; M – Hands; P – Persons; S - Supernaturals, Skulls; X - Square, Symmetrical; Y - Square, Asymmetrical; Z - Irregular Shape; 0 - 00 plus Numeral; 1 - One Segment; 2 - Two Segments; and 3 - Three Segments.

The second volume, not yet complete at the time of this writing, will describe the hieroglyphs of the three surviving Maya codices that date from later periods.


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