THE CODE OF KINGS by Linda Schele


The Language of Seven Sacred Maya Temples and Tombs
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 A richly detailed and illustrated tour of seven important ancient Mayan cities. Schele, a widely published art historian (coauthor, A Story of Kings, 1990, etc.), and Mathews, an archaeologist, team up here to examine advances made since the early 1970s in the interpretation of ancient Mayan glyphic writing systems. Knowing already that these characters recorded the spoken language and that their content was almost always historical in nature, archaeologists have increasingly used ancient Mesoamerican inscriptions to confirm their discoveries--for instance, the name of the occupant of a tomb or the builder of a temple complex. By reckoning Mayan chronology in native terms, these archaeologists have shed new light on questions of social organization, political power, trade relationships, and the like. After introducing readers to these fascinating but often difficult scholarly problems, Schele and Mathews embark on a guided tour of cities like 2,000-year-old Tikal, where pyramids tower over the surrounding jungle. Ruled by leaders named Foliated Jaguar, True-Great-Jaguar-Claw, First Crocodile, and Smoking Frog, Tikal eventually fell in war to a northern kingdom, but not before its leaders could erect a great complex of temples, each rich in inscriptions that give insight into Mayan history. Schele and Mathews describe and translate many of them, as they do finds at places like Chichen Itza, Palenque, and Uxmal. Their language alternates between scholarly aridity and for-the-buff enthusiasm (``Think of it! Toh-Chak-Ichíak was a man like Alexander the Great or George Washington. He marked the history and identity of his city for the rest of its existence''). And their approach, while resolutely factual, allows for some interesting guesses on such matters as whether the ancient Maya believed that the souls of the dead transmigrated into the trees that surrounded them. For tourists to the Mayan heartland, this is a well-conceived guidebook; for students of ancient Mesoamerica, it's a useful reference. (b&w photos and line art, 8 pages color photos, not seen)

Pub Date: Feb. 1st, 1998
ISBN: 0-684-80106-X
Page count: 418pp
Publisher: Scribner
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15th, 1997


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