Review Article

History, politics and meaning among the Classic Period Maya of the southern lowlands

Scott R. Hutson

Books reviewed

Gyles Iannone, Brett A. Houk & Sonja A. Schwake (ed.). Ritual, violence, and the fall of the Classic Maya kings. 2016. xv+361 pages, several b&w illustrations, 4 tables. Gainesville: University Press of Florida; 978-0-8130-6275-4 hardback $89.95.
William A. Haviland. Excavations in residential areas of Tikal—group 7F-1 (Tikal Report 22). 2015. iv+232 pages, 43 b&w illustrations, tables. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press; 978- 1-934536-81-0 hardback £42.50.
Andrew K. Scherer. Mortuary landscapes of the Classic Maya: rituals of body and soul. 2015. xiv+291 pages, numerous colour and b&w illustrations. Austin: University of Texas Press; 978-1-4773-0051- 0 hardback $65.


Over the last 30 years, there has been a revolution in knowledge of ancient Maya writing and iconography that, with the help of ethnohistory and ethnography, has given us a rich understanding of the meanings and beliefs that underpinned Classic-period (AD 250–900) societies. This revolution has also revealed the micro-histories of a score of city states, laying bare the dramas of royal actors, courtly treacheries and inter-polity relations. Although we lack texts from farmers, fishers and other folk, research in some parts of the Maya world approaches a type of historical archaeology. This concern with history, meaning and political competition brings studies of the ancient Maya close to the interpretive archaeologies that became popular in the 1980s and 1990s. Each of the three books reviewed here manifests this trend in different ways.


  • Scott R. Hutson
    Department of Anthropology, University of Kentucky, Lexington, KY 40506-0024, USA (Email: srhuts2 [at]