NEW BOOK: The Maya (Ninth Edition)


The Maya (Ninth Edition)

By Michael D. Coe and Stephen Houston

Thames & Hudson, 2015

The Maya has long been established as the best, most readable introduction to the New World’s greatest ancient civilization. Coe and Houston update this classic by distilling the latest scholarship for the general reader and student.
This new edition incorporates the most recent archaeological and epigraphic research, which continues to proceed at a fast pace. Among the finest new discoveries are spectacular stucco sculptures at El Zotz and Holmul, which reveal surprising aspects of Maya royalty and the founding of dynasties. Dramatic refinements in our understanding of the pace of developments of the Maya civilization have led scholars to perceive a pattern of rapid bursts of building and political formation. Other finds include the discovery of the earliest known occupant of the region, the Hoyo Negro girl, recovered from an underwater cavern in the Yucatan peninsula, along with new evidence for the first architecture at Ceibal.

Michael D. Coe, Author
Michael D. Coe is Professor Emeritus of Anthropology at Yale University. His books include The Maya, Mexico, Breaking the Maya Code, Angkor and the Khmer Civilization, and Reading the Maya Glyphs. He lives in New Haven, Connecticut.
Stephen D. Houston, Author
Stephen D. Houston is Dupee Family Professor of Social Sciences at Brown University. His most recent book is The Life Within: Classic Maya and the Matter of Permanence.

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7 thoughts on “NEW BOOK: The Maya (Ninth Edition)

  1. John Major Jenkins June 29, 2015 / 4:45 PM

    It is now well understood that Michael Coe’s book The Maya (1st edition, 1966) was the origin of the association between the 2012 period-ending and doomsday (or “Armageddon” as he put it). (It was also the origin of a miscalculation of the date, as picked up by popular writers.) As such, this new 9th edition is significant because that passage on 2012, preserved in all previous eight editions, has been eliminated. No explanation was given; however, Coe and his new co-author, Stephen Houston, do revise the viewpoint on 2012, based on the two 2012 inscriptions which are briefly alluded to. Now, rather than Armageddon, 2012 is “if anything … rather dull.”

    Unfortunately, this aspect of the revised 9th edition is wanting, because over a dozen academic papers by Maya scholars that dealt with the 2012 inscriptions — including the contributions of Callaway (2011), Carlson (2011, 2015), Grofe (2011, 2012), MacLeod (2011, 2012), and MacLeod & Gronemeyer (2010), were completely overlooked. Not to mention my own SAA paper of April 2010, freely available since 2010 at The Maya Exploration Center’s online research papers and The Center for 2012 Studies website, as well as my chapter in 2012: Decoding the Countercultural Apocalypse (2011) — which Coe write the Preface for.

    It’s likely that Coe and Houston disagree with the fact that 2012 was a significant artifact of ancient Maya thought, but given the status of Coe’s 1966 book as the instigator of the 2012-doomsday meme, their careful scholarly considerations of the evidence — both epigraphic and astronomical — would have been appropriate for this 9th edition of Coe’s classic work. I read this 9th edition several weeks ago and my considered review is posted at The Center for 2012 Studies:

    John Major Jenkins

    • David Stuart June 29, 2015 / 5:01 PM

      I also wrote about the whole 2012 thing, and I wasn’t mentioned in their book either!

      In seriousness, it’s clear the authors had other priorities for such a very general book, especially now that has come and gone and given the many new and exciting issues to cover. Besides, the varied epigraphic and astronomical takes on the subject (including Houston’s own) are easily accessible to anyone still interested in the topic.

  2. James Smith July 1, 2015 / 12:24 PM

    I teach math and science in Chiapas, Mexico, and have given workshops to Tsotsil and Tseltal teachers on use of Maya numbers in the classroom. Therefore, I’m fascinated by the discovery of the “Mathematicians’ workroom” in Xultun ( Is that discovery is discussed in this book?

    BTW, if you’ll forgive me for going off a little further on that tangent, there’s a petition to have UNESCO name Maya numbers as part of the World Heritage. UNAM physicist Fernando Magaña, who promotes their use in schools, has written a marvelous book on experiences with using in classrooms in the Yucatán. More information on the petition and Professor Magaña’s work is available at this link:

    • David Stuart July 4, 2015 / 5:16 PM

      I’m not sure if the Xultun paintings are discussed in the new edition of The Maya — my copy is at my office at the moment. A good source to go to that summarizes our work with the astronomy and mathematics is a short article from Mesoweb.

      About mathematics, I wonder if you’ve seen the post I wrote some time ago about how the structure of “Maya math” has been consistently misrepresented in most textbooks. The bar-and-dot positional system is almost always described as a pure base-20 count yet the Maya never actually used it this way in their record keeping. When one sees a column of numerals it’s always a record of days, not things, using time units that are not vigesimal.

  3. Jesse Simms July 3, 2015 / 7:04 PM

    Hey Professor Stuart,

    The above exchange got me thinking about the idea of precession within the Dresden Codex (specifically Michael Grofe’s interpretation in his Serpent Series thesis). I was wondering if you had any thoughts one way or another about the Maya conception of solar vs. sidereal year and whether Grofe’s (and by extention Teeple’s and Beyer’s) ideas about the serpent series seem plausible to you. I am working on a sort of independent thesis about the regal rabbit vase (K1398) and the chinstrap glyph in conjunction with TE’-BAAH TOK’-BAAAH collocation got me researching solar years, eclipses and precession within Maya history. I have read in “The Order of Days” your hesitation to accept what can, admittedly, be seen as forced evidence (or at best back-calculation). I often wonder if this method mixed with the multiple cycles with which to test out these vast distance numbers makes it likely to find whole intervals just by chance (however some seem almost certainly deliberate, especially within Dresden). But of course the Maya choose these numbers for some reason, esoteric, astronomical or otherwise.

    I would love to hear any thoughts you have on the subject and whether you have developed the chinstrap glyph idea any further. The 9-year cycle seems an interval of the so-called 18 year eclipse cycles.

    Thank you again for this wonderful blog – its a treasure to Maya enthusiast everywhere!

    Jesse Simms

  4. James Smith July 5, 2015 / 9:41 PM

    Thank you for this valuable information, Dr. Stuart. I’ll pass it on to other teachers. (Especially to those whom I’ve misinformed.) Apparently I’ve been guilty of teaching ways in which the Maya number system is capable of being employed, rather than how the Maya actually used it in practice.
    I look forward to reading “The Maya”.

  5. Norman Kwallek July 10, 2015 / 11:05 AM

    I’m enjoying the Kindle version of THE MAYA this week. It is nice to see it published in a version that I can carry on vacation to Mayaland. In the past, it has always been,”What books do I take?” and it is still that way because I only take the Kindle and the books that are only published on paper stay home. I have a limited budget for media so a good part of my decision on what title to buy is if I can take it along when I go to the ruins.

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