Archaeology Magazine Archive

A publication of the Archaeological Institute of America

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The New Maya Volume 51 Number 5, September/October 1998
by T. Patrick Culbert

[image] The Castillo at the site of Chichén Itzá in Yucatán is depicted in this mid-nineteenth-century rendering by Frederick Catherwood. [LARGER IMAGE]

When ARCHAEOLOGY debuted in 1948, the views of Sylvanus Morley and J. Eric S. Thompson, the leading Mayanists at the time, prevailed. The majority of the Maya, they believed, were devout peasants who practiced slash-and-burn agriculture and lived in small, sparsely populated settlements on the outskirts of temple precincts. They were guided by priest-kings, gentle men without egos, devoted to prayer and temple building. This utopian view of Maya civilization persisted until a new generation of scholars took to the field on the heels of the Second World War. Having dispelled the myth of a model society led by gentle priest-kings, scholars are piecing together a fresh picture of the rise and fall of a complex civilization.

T. PATRICK CULBERTis a professor of anthropology at the University of Arizona.
© 1998 by the Archaeological Institute of America