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Water and Ritual. The Rise and Fall of Classic Maya Rulers

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Water and Ritual. The Rise and Fall of Classic Maya Rulers
By Lisa J. Lucero. (University of Texas Press, Austin: 2006. Pg. xiv, 253. Illustrations, Tables, Map) ISBN: 0-292-70999-4.

Reviewed by Simone Bonim - May 2, 2006

What role did water, and that lack thereof, play in Ancient Mayan culture? How did access to water impact a ruler's status and power? These are but two of the intriguing questions that are addressed in Lisa J. Lucero's ground breaking book, Water and Ritual: The Rise and Fall of Classic Maya Rulers. This book focuses on the region of the southern Maya lowlands and covers the period from the Late Preclassic to the Terminal Classic periods (ca. AD 250-950).

The Southern Maya Lowlands was a region that was often beset by long periods of drought and where access to surface waters was limited. The ability of the Maya to construct reservoirs and water distribution apparatus was essential for the establishment and long term viability of farming communities and both large and small Maya centers. How the elites organized these construction projects, and how the commoners responded to them, offers a fascinating glimpse into Ancient Maya culture, ritual, politics, and history. Lucero shows how rulers used water related rituals as a basis for their power. Most important, when climatic shifts began to increase the length of the seasonal drought along with decreased rainfall in the wet season occurred, a corresponding loss of power occurred. As they increasingly found themselves unable to provide their subjects with sufficient access to water, their source of power failed. I.e., their ability to supercede with the supernatural forces to make the rains come. This in turn led to their demise and a general failure of the then current Maya political system.

Water and Ritual: The Rise and Fall of Classic Maya Rulers is a ground-breaking book that expands upon our knowledge of Mayan culture and history, and how water and ritual served as a fulcrum that contributed to both the rise and the fall of the southern lowland Mayan rulers. In the course of this study, Lucero also provides a concise overview of Mayan political, ritual, and culture history throughout the southern lowlands. In addition she provides detailed case studies that focus on Tikal, Saturday Creek, and the Altar de Sacrificios.

Water and Ritual: The Rise and Fall of Classic Maya Rulers is part of the Linda Schele Series in Maya and Pre-Columbian Studies. This book will intrigue scholars interested in all aspects of Maya studies, including history, anthropology, religion, and archaeology. In addition, Lucero has included an extensive list of references cited in the book that will provide motivated students with a wealth of material for further study.

Related Reviews:

Maya Political Science: Time, Astronomy, and the Cosmos, by Prudence M. Rice.
In this work, Rice expounds upon her theory that the Maya politico-religious structure was uniquely Mayan and based upon a 256-year calendar cycle called the may.

Maya Palaces and Elite Residences, Edited by Jessica Joyce Christie.
Taking an interdisciplinary approach, the essays in this collection strive to answer the questions: What were the Mayan Palaces, how were they used, and who, if anyone lived in them?

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