Mesoamerican book wins archaeology book award

April 06, 2005

Salt Lake City, Utah -- Aztec child raising, how to play the Maya ball game and the calorie counts for a forager's diet are a few of the special features found in "Ancient Mexico & Central America, Archaeology and Culture History," by Susan Toby Evans, winner of the Society of American Archaeology's 2005 Book Award.

The SAA's Book Award is given to a book that "has had, or is expected to have, a major impact on the direction and character of archaeological research."

This beautiful book, published by Thames & Hudson, covers Central America from the southern most portion of the American Southwest to the beginning of South America and is intended as an entry and resource for those interested in the archaeology and cultures of this area and as a textbook for undergraduate students.

"In writing this book, I wanted to tell a compelling cultural story, and so I tried to avoid the academic language of citation," says Evans, adjunct professor of anthropology, Penn State. "I wanted to help people understand the cultural history of the area and I wanted the reader's focus to stay on that, not on us, the archaeologists who did the work. This is a cultural story, not a history of archaeologists."

While the cultural history is paramount in this work, the book has an extensive bibliography, index, and, best of all, 21 reference maps covering the entire area included in the book. Illustrations within the book are spectacular in color and black and white. The reproduction of the murals at Bonampak jumps off the page. The details of architecture are easily seen in photographs and drawings of archaeological sites -- both site maps and reconstructions -- do explain what the sites looked like and where structures are located.

The first chapter sets the stage for an unusual presentation of Mesoamerican archaeology and cultural history by incorporating the clash of cultures that occur at Spanish contact along with a general roadmap of the chapters that follow including the monumental, breathtaking sites. A discussion of ecology and culture follows this chapter before the book steps off into the past, beginning in 8000 B.C. with archaic foragers, collectors and farmers.

As the chapters work their way up through history, the best parts are the diversions to special features that connect with any reader and not just budding anthropologists. A table of food values for foragers provides both calorie counts and grams of protein. Another feature covers maguey or agave, the modern source of tequila, but an important source of calories in pre-contact Mexico. Also included are essays on jade, jaguars, dogs, cosmetic alterations, metal working, childbirth, childhood, and adulthood, sex and marriage, along with the standard calendar, writing, obsidian blade technologies and ball game treatments.

As an overview of the cultural history of Mesoamerica, "Ancient Mexico & Central America" covers all the basics. As a portal through time and space in an area that both fascinates for its similarity to our world and confuses for its vast differences, Evans creates a guide that is both informative and fun.

(Media Contacts)

Last Updated July 28, 2017