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Lightning Warrior - Maya Art and Kingship at Quirigua

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Lightning Warrior - Maya Art and Kingship at Quirigua
By Matthew G. Looper. (University of Texas Press, Austin: 2003. Pg. xi, 265. B & W Photos, Line Drawings, Maps.) ISBN: 0-292-70556-5.

Reviewed by Rochelle Caviness - January 7, 2004

The ancient Classic Maya city of Quirigua is perhaps best known for its well-persevered sculptures and for the size of its public monuments. The city is located in what is now southeastern Guatemala. Although a relatively small city, Quirigua has proven to be a fountain of information on Mayan political and religious history. In Lightning Warrior - Maya Art and Kingship at Quirigua, Matthew G. Looper takes a comprehensive look at the information on the Maya that has been obtained at Quirigua.

This mesmerizing book is primarily 'biography' of K'ak' Tiliw Chan Yo'at (K'ak Tiliw), who ruled Quirigua from about A.D. 725 to 785. Looper delineates K'ak' Tiliw's reign by focusing on the political and religious meaning of the sculptures that were erected during his reign. In studying these sculptures, Lopper has taken an expansive approach. Rather than concentrating on just artistic or iconogrphaically significant elements, he has taken an integrated approach that seeks to meld all relevant epigraphic, iconogrpahic, stylistic, and associated archeological evidence together in order to develop a well-rounded and rigorous description of life in this ancient city during K'ak' Tiliw's reign and the role that the ruler played in both the political and religious spheres.

By taking this integrated approach to the study of the Quirigua monuments, Looper is able to provide unique and innovative insights into this period. In the process, he also shows how the political, social, and religious practices of Quirigua are related to other Classical Mayan centers, such as Copan, and he chronicles the development of Maya art. Throughout this text, Looper also details the history surrounding Quirigua's rediscovery by western archaeologist in the late 1800's and the archeological research that has been undertaken at the site since then.

Lightning Warrior is an informative book and it adds significantly to our understanding of Maya civilization, and the Maya kingship system. Not only is this an enthralling book to read, but it is also beautifully illustrated with hundreds of line drawings of the various stelae, sculptures, glyphs, and pictographs from the site. This work offers general readers, students, and scholars a fascinating glimpse into Mayan society and the history of Quirigua and its ruler, K'ak' Tiliw.

Lightning Warrior will be of particular interest to students and scholars with an interest in Maya art from the early through late classical period, Mesoamerican studies, and Mayan history. Looper provides a detailed analysis of each of the major and historically significant monuments that have been found at the site. The text serves as a virtual guidebook to the site and the discoveries made there. The text also includes a list of the Rulers of Quirigua complete with their glyphic names. Other useful additions include a list of the major historical events that were recorded in texts found at the site, as well as those from texts found at Copan, and a list of transcriptions of inscriptions commissioned by K'ak' Tiliw. The text also includes a useful and up-to-date bibliography and informative endnotes. In short, Lightning Warrior is a 'must read' for any Mayanist!


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Fifteen papers on Mesoamerican ritual cave use from the Pre-Columbian period to the present.

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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