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Friday, March 19th, 2004

Time Event
7:18p
Another book ...
Breaking The Maya CodeWell, I have finally finished plowing through this one. Not that it was a tedious read, but it involved a bit more focus than some of the other things I've been reading. Having been a big fan of Mayan archaeology my whole adult life, I found the subject of this more interesting than most folks would have. What I found fascinating was that the Mayan glyphs were not properly translated until just the past few decades ... my first trip to the Yucatan was in the late 70's, and that was just when all this stuff started falling into place. Hmmm ... maybe that's why the rates at the Villas Archaeologicas started to skyrocket soon after!

It was interesting, although off-putting, to read the in-fighting that went on amid the Mayanist crowd over the past century, with cut-throat positioning so that certain "leading lights" could have their own pet theories stand unchallenged. Interesting that it was a Russian linguist who came up with the key to the decipherment, although having never visited the ruins! The book ends, frankly, with this sort of up in the air, as there seems to be a deep divide between the "dirt archaeologists" and the folks doing the analysis, with the former pretty much ignoring the advances of the latter. Despite the in-fighting in the field, it does make me wonder where I would have ended up were I to have followed a path that seemed open to me in my freshman year at Northwestern ... the folks in the Religion department there were offering me the possibility of doing my Masters concurrently with my B.A., making the classes for the former my electives for the latter, and graduating with both degrees simultaneously (I rather wowed them with my research papers when taking junior/senior level courses in my first year) ... and the probably moving on to the Oriental Institute. Oh, well ... it's a long story why that did not play out that way, best held for some more mopey time. The gist of this being that I would have been hitting the Anthropological/Archaeological world right around the time the Mayan stuff was falling into place.

All in all, Breaking the Maya Code is a worthwhile read if one has any interest in Mayan stuff. Of course, there is a shadow over all this ... now that we can read Mayan writing, it only serves to highlight the painful fact that there is so little left of the Mayan heritage to read! Coe touches on this in one of the later chapters ... all there remains of a wide, cohesive culture (in that the myths, symbols, etc., were common to many different "culture groups" and across warring political and dynastic borders), are the stone carvings of the ruins, three or four codexes, and pottery shards. The Christians took care of all the rest, burning every scrap of writing (and the Mayans had many, many books, along with the inscriptions on everyday items) they could lay their hands on, because the glyphic writing "looked demonic" ... and the Conquistadors' records talk of vast bonfires of these irreplaceable texts. I can not understand how anybody of good will can tolerate that religion ... it's history is nothing but oppression, bloodshed, and enforced ignorance!

Anyway, as I've noted, I have a good decade's worth of books that I bought but never got around to reading while I was running Eschaton ... and, unfortunately, a lot of the stuff that's stacked up here is a bit on the old side ... at least in terms of books that were written as "cutting edge science", putting in a decade on the shelf might lead to "stale content". I'm hoping that's not the case with the next book, The Light at the Edge of the Universe which is sub-titled "Leading Cosmologists on the Brink of a Scientific Revolution". Ten years is a long time to be hanging "on the brink" of a "revolution", so I hope I'm not going through this whole thing saying "yeah, yeah, I read about that ages ago"!


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