I received yesterday a review copy of James A. O'Kon's new alternative history book The Lost Secrets of Maya Technology (New Page Books, 2012). I really had rather hoped it would be full-on crazy with claims about computers or airships or something wacky. Instead, it seems to be a relatively sober overview of Mayan construction techniques, and as such is actually a bit on the dry side. I've only read part way through, but I don't see much that wasn't previously known about the Maya, nor much that would interest general readers who aren't architects or engineers.
The book's claim to alternative status mostly revolves around a critique of outdated archaeological texts about the Maya and the author's effort to argue for placing the Maya among the most advanced premodern civilizations. O'Kon is especially dismissive of the idea that the Maya were "Neolithic" because he reads this as "primitive" rather than its more specialized meaning of lacking metal tools. This isn't terribly controversial, except perhaps where he trails off into speculation about whether the Maya's four-cornered mythic cosmos can be related to the modern space-time continuum of physics. He also seems more dismissive of the Olmec inheritance used by the Maya as a springboard for their culture, all the better to make the Maya seem as though their achievements were all the more astonishing for lacking clear antecedents.
The book's most sensational claim is that several Maya buildings, including the tallest towers, were cast in place from cement, a theory O'Kon has been researching and reporting on for decades. His discussions have appeared in the anthologies System-Based Vision for Strategic and Creative Design (2003), Environmental and Water Resources (2007), and J. Douglas Kenyon's Forbidden History (2005). I am not an expert in Maya construction, but this seems to be a bit of an exaggeration from the truth that Maya buildings had an external layer of fitted stone within which was a cement-like fill, which isn't quite the same as prefabricating a building wholesale from interchangeable parts. It is also unfair to call Maya pyramids "high rise" structures, since this implies that they had multistory living spaces; instead, they were large platforms built by accretion over time. In my cursory search about the cement, I can't find much information about cast-in-place Maya concrete except what O'Kon has himself written.
I'll try reading a bit more of the book, but it's looking like that's about the extent of its alternative claims.
6/13/2012 12:20:07 am
Nice about the concrete towers,it may be helpful to many people related to construction business.Thanks for sharing.
4/8/2013 06:29:36 pm
I have read this book and I find it to be interesting. The point he is trying to make about the Maya and the problem in classifying them as neolithic is that there is a whole lot more that goes along with the label "neolithic" other than the use of stone tools and development of agriculture. One problem is writing, if you classify Mayans along with neolithic people, you are putting them in a category in which the vast majority of cultures had no writing or proto-writing (as they call it).
4/8/2013 11:31:18 pm
That's very true, and it's also why European terminology isn't typically used with New World peoples anymore. One of the problems with books like this is that they are reacting to older archaeological ideas that became obsolete years or even decades ago. Even where the term is used, such as in "The Neolithic Demographic Transition and its Consequences," archaeologists specify that the Maya aren't "strictly comparable" to European Neolithic cultures, though they find it useful insofar as it helps understand the impact of farming on the formative to archaic transition.
4/9/2013 08:47:11 pm
I had a small exchange with the author of the book, or the person handling the books facebook page and this is how it went:
9/15/2014 04:12:48 am
Cement is a great invention. Not learning how to work iron, copper , zinc and tin keeps you second rate. allof those ores are in central america
6/15/2018 05:17:37 pm
The Mayans did not have metal ores nearby. Iron ores weren't even remotely located in the Maya region.
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