August 25th, 2006


Whiiiiiiine ... now I want a VACATION!

As you can tell by the picture, this is not a pristine new copy of this book ... as much as I theoretically like used book sales/stores, I always get a bit "creeped out" by used books, especially if they're not "like new" and have a lot of traces of their previous owners. This is the first book I've read from my minor haul from the Newberry Library Book Fair last month, and it's certainly in the worst shape, having been obviously been heavily used (likely touring the ruins). Tikal: A Handbook of the Ancient Maya Ruins (with a guide Map) by William R. Coe (currently missing its guide map), was a fascinating read, however. The 1975 seventh printing of Coe's 1967 book, this is a no-nonsense ruin-by-ruin look at the core of Tikal, from the interesting perspective of a researcher writing prior to the "deciphering" of the Mayan language (resulting in a lot of pictured, but untranslated glyphic inscriptions).

Now, I've traveled quite a bit to the Mayan sites in the Yucatan, but have never made it down to Tikal (which is in Guatemala), and I had no idea how massive the site is. The "central zone" alone covers around six square miles (with over 3,000 "constructions"), and Coe suggests that the city as a whole might spread out over something like 25 square miles! Tikal is also quite old, with over a millennia of what Coe describes as "apparently ceaseless" building, resulting in what he estimates as over 10,000 individual platforms or buildings lying beneath or within later construction in the central area alone! Unlike the later "sequenced" building as exhibited in such monuments as the Castillo at Chichen Itza (which was built over "bigger and better" at the start of every new 52-year calendar cycle), the residents of Tikal were in the habit of almost randomly tearing down old edifices and building new ones over-lying other parts of existing structures, resulting in what seems to be quite a confusion of buildings. The earliest layers of Tikal date to as early as 600 BCE, and there is a constant building and re-building of the city up to about 900 CE, when the lowland Maya civilization collapsed (in fact, there are several ruins which were abandoned mid-construction at that time). There are some really fascinating line drawings in this book which show the results of "trenching" down to the bedrock to reveal a vastly complicated series of over-laid development through that span of time.

I really need to do some research on the current state of "tourist Tikal" ... needless to say, in 1967, the logistics of visiting the ruins were rudimentary at best, but I'd guess that they've developed like the various Mexican sites, most of which have become much more "user friendly" even since I started to go down there! It's been over 10 years since I last did any "ruin travel" (The Wife was pregnant with our now 10-year-old Daughter #1 the last time we were down at Teotihuacan), and I sure miss it.

This book seems to be out of print (at least as far as Amazon, etc. are concerned), but I suspect it might still be available in Guatemala (the book is "officially" put out by the Museum of the University of Pennsylvania, but it was printed by one or more local publishers) ... not that this would help you in finding a copy! There are four or five versions listed on Amazon, but no available copies. If you run into it at a used book store or sale, do consider picking it up if you have an interest in Mayan archaeology, as it really is an interesting over-view of the site!

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