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Death and the Classic Maya Kings

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Death and the Classic Maya Kings. By James L. Fitzsimmons. (University of Texas Press, Austin: 2009. Pg. 294. 12 Color and B&W Photos, 63 Line Drawings, 4 Maps, 6 Tables.) ISBN: 978-0-292-71890-6.

Reviewed by Herbert White - March 2, 2009

Death and the Classic Maya Kings is a text that provides a comprehensive survey of death and burial rituals in Maya lowland society during the Classic Period (250-900 C.E.). From this survey, he extrapolates an archetype of royal Maya funerary rites and meaning. In the process, this book also provides a current overview of our understandings about Maya ideas related to their beliefs in an afterlife, ancestor veneration, attitudes toward death and dying, and their use of funerary art and grave goods.

Death and the Classic Maya Kings was written by James L. Fitzsimmons, who is an Assistant Professor of Anthropology at Middlebury College. He is also actively involved in directing the excavations at Zapote Bobal, Guatemala. In addition, Death and the Classic Maya Kings is one of the latest editions in the Linda Schele Series in Maya and Pre-Columbian Studies.

In composing this significant addition to the body of works in the field of Ancient Maya studies, Fitzsimmons has incorporated all the latest research in the realm of Ancient Maya attitudes toward death, and the existing evidence concerning Ancient Maya funerary rites and death rituals and practices. In the process, he examines the information being garnered from well-known archaeological sites such as Tikal, Copan, Palenque and Quirigua, as well as less-known sites such Piedras Negras, Yaxchilan, Río Azul, and Caracolas.

The information in this book is organzied into six, substantial, thematic chapters. Within these six chapters, a range of topics are covered, including the methodologies used to study ancient Maya death rituals, celebrations for the dead, the afterlife, royal funerals - including tombs, grave markers, embalming practices, and funeral rites, the role of ancestory in Maya religious and political life, tomb reentry, and the relationship between dead kings and living kings.

Death and the Classic Maya Kings is essential reading for anyone with a series interest in Ancient Maya society and their culture. The extensive endnotes, and reference bibliography will benefit anyone interested in delving deeper into ancient Maya death rituals and royal funerary practices. This book should also be required reading for university students taking courses in Maya studies, anthropology, archaeology, and iconography.

Related Reviews:

Water and Ritual - The Rise and Fall of Classic Maya Rulers, by Lisa J. Lucero.
An in-depth look at the role that water and ritual played in Mayan culture and politics.

The Memory of Bones: Body, Being, and Experience among the Classic Maya, by Stephen Houston, David Stuart, and Karl Taube.
How did the Classic Maya view the human body? How did they express their emotions? What role did the human body play in their art, their world view, and their sense of what comes after death? These and many more intriguing questions are answered in this compelling book.

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