Much has been learned in recent years, through archaeological excavations and the decipherment of hieroglyphs, about the world of the ancient Maya peoples of Mesoamerica. But an important question continues to engage scholars: why did their powerful empire, extending from southern Mexico to Nicaragua, collapse so swiftly and completely, hundreds of years before the European arrival brought other New World empires to ruin? Popular-archaeology writer David Drew
examines the existing evidence and the sometimes contentious scholarly literature in The Lost Chronicles of the Maya Kings
, a well-crafted portrait of the Mayan world, in which religious orthodoxy, constant warfare, and political struggle held sway as leaders such as Smoking Frog, Shield Skull, and Flint Sky battled for supremacy.
Drew shows that there were really two Mayan empires: an "international one" verging on the Toltec and Mexica lands to the north, and an isolationist, conservative one to the south. Both constructed impressive, crowded cities marked by monumental architecture and elaborate royal tombs. Both fell victim to overpopulation and environmental failure, as drought and the depletion of the soil combined to produce famine. With them came the abandonment of the great cities. "It must be a gauge of the catastrophe and the severity of damage to the environment that in the years to come no attempt was made to revive a single one of them," Drew writes. The Mayan civilization emerged anew after the collapse, if at a much less ambitious scale--only to fall again as European-introduced diseases killed half a million Mayas between 1520 and 1547.
Drew's account of the Mayan empire's rise and fall is among the best general-interest books on this enigmatic era of New World history; scholars may prefer Martin and Grube's Chronicle of the Maya Kings and Queens. --Gregory McNamee
--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
"Drew presents an excellent account of how Mayanists have labored to construct both a chronology of Maya rulers and a history of their accomplishments as related through the inscriptions. The book is very readable, requires little previous knowledge, and has numerous line drawings and color and black-and-white photographs."--M. J. O'Brien, "Choice"