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The Maya and Teotihuacan - Reinterpreting Early Classic Interaction

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The Maya and Teotihuacan - Reinterpreting Early Classic Interaction
Edited by Geoffrey E. Braswell.
(University of Texas Press, Austin: 2003. Pg. xvi, 423. Line Drawings, Maps.)
ISBN: 0-292-70914-5.

Reviewed by Rochelle Caviness - June 23, 2003

For decades scholars have argued over the origins of the Mayan Civilization. Is it a unique, indigenous civilization? Or was it seeded by the Teotihuacan empire in Central Mexico? For years the dominant theory was that the Mayan region had been colonized by Teotihuacanos. However many Mayanists have always advocated that the Mayan Civilization is a unique culture that developed autonomously.

In The Maya and Teotihuacan - Reinterpreting Early Classic Interaction, Geoffrey E. Braswell has gathered together some of the finest essays and articles on this debate. These essays serve to provide the reader with an in-depth analysis of the two competing theories, and they provide an overview of the current evidence available that is shedding new light upon this old question. This evidence also expands our knowledge regarding the full extent of the economic, social, and political interactions that occurred between the early classic Maya and the Teotihuacan empire, and the consequences of these interactions.

As outlined in the introduction, this book is divided into two interconnected sections. The first part of the books follows a geographical progression, starting in the Maya highlands and then heading southwards. The second section of the books deals with, "Sites and regions where evidence for interregional interactions are strongest are considered first, and sites where the effects of that interaction are less evident are discussed last." (Pg 19-20.) By organizing the essays in such a manner, Braswell has accentuated the contrasting affects of Teotihuacan - Maya interactions, and the available evidence of such interactions at various sites.

This book contains thirteen essays that present each author's ideas regarding the origins of the Mayans and the extent of their interaction with the Teotihuacan. Each author fully supports their conclusions by presenting the collaborating evidence from the available archaeological sources, including relevant iconography, osteology, and epigraphy data.

This collection not only offers insights into the Mayan and Teotihuacan interactions, in general, but also how these interactions differed from one site to another. For example, the Mayan centers at Kaminaljuyu, Copan, Tikal, Altun Ha, Oxkintok, Balberta, and Montana are discussed in detail on an individual level, as well as comparing how their interactions with the Teotihuacan differed. These essays also serve to offer explanations on why there were differences the degree of interactions between the various centers and the Teotihuacan, and how these interactions changed over time. The authors also show how these interactions enabled the Early Classic Maya to influence the Teotihuacan. Besides the centers mentioned above, several minor centers such as Uaxactum, Monte Alban, and Pachuca are also touch upon.

The Maya and Teotihuacan - Reinterpreting Early Classic Interaction is an ideal reference guide to Early Classic Mayan culture. It provides a thorough overview of current archeological progress being made in the field, prevailing interpretations of the available material, as well as the diversity of research currently being conducted in this field. While the evidence presented in overwhelming in favor of the theory that the Maya arose as a distinct civilization, the debate is not yet settled. As the contributors to this book are quick to point out, there is still a great deal of information missing from the 'puzzle'. Until all the blanks have been filled in, it will be difficult to say positively how the Mayan Civilization came into being. That said, the details offered in this book, surrounding what is know about the interactions between the Classical Mayans and the Teotihuacanos, helps to fill in some of the pieces of the puzzle that have long been missing and thereby greatly adds to the ongoing academic and professional debate about the origins of the Mayans.

Due to this The Maya and Teotihuacan - Reinterpreting Early Classic Interaction being a collaborative effort, the style of writing found in the essays varies from author to author. The essays are, however, unified by their common theme of exploring the interactions between the Mayan and the Teotihuacan. Each essay is also enhanced by the inclusion of end notes and line drawings and pictures of relevant artifacts, site maps, burial remains, and related materials. The text concludes with an up-to-date, extensive bibliography on the subject.

This text is essential reading for anyone interested in Mayan archaeology and history, as well as Mesoamerican history in general. This text is not, however, a history of Mayan Civilization. It assumes that you are already familiar with Mesoamerican history, the various cultures native to the region, and that you have some understanding of the archaeological work that has already been conducted in the field. As such, this book is suitable for use in upper level and graduate courses, as well as by general readers with an intense interest in the field. It is also an essential reference book for anyone working in the field of Mesoamerican studies, including archaeologist, anthropologist, and historians.

Note: If you are not already acquainted with early Mesoamerican history, I'd recommend that before tackling The Maya and Teotihuacan - Reinterpreting Early Classic Interaction that you read a book such as Prehistoric Mesoamerica, by Richard E. Adams. This is an admirably readable book that offers a comprehensive introduction to Mesoamerican studies. It examines the geography of the region, and the classic cultures that inhabited the region such as the Olmec, Maya, Toltec, Aztecs, Zapaotecs, Mixtecs, and Totonacs. It also offers a detailed look at Teotihuacan society, architecture, and interactions with other Mesoamerican cultures. As such, Prehistoric Mesoamerica will help you fill in any gaps of your knowledge about this period, and make your reading of The Maya and Teotihuacan - Reinterpreting Early Classic Interaction more enjoyable and fulfilling.

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Maya Palaces and Elite Residences, Edited by Jessica Joyce Christie.
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