Vol. X, No. 3

Winter, 1998

Exploring the Lost Maya - A Review

David Freidel

Exploring the Lost Maya, An interactive exploration of the ancient Maya people. (ISBN 1-57047-016-2) Sumeria, San Francisco, CA. $49.95. (Computer requirements: MAC: 8MB of application RAM, 68040 processor, system 7.0, 13" monitor with 256 colors, double speed CD-ROM drive; IBM: 8 MB of application RAM; DOS 5.1, Windows 3.1, or Windows 95; VGA display with 256 colors at 640 x 480 resolution; sound card; double-speed CD-ROM drive)

Exploring the Lost Maya begins with a video preview inset of the contents of the CD that effectively orients the viewer. Contents is clearly labeled as a thumbnail in the left hand corner.

The table of contents is organized into six illustrated categories: maps, site index, chronology (a timeline of Maya history), ancient culture (writing, ritual, and cosmology), material culture (artifacts from sites and collections), and early explorers.

There is a help thumbnail in the lower right-hand corner. This brings up 14 clearly illustrated and annotated explanations of the main screen of each of the six categories and major subcategories, such as detail maps, site maps, site overviews, history and description of sites, "getting there," panoramas, slideshows, and finally the two side help bars, navigate and control.

The navigate bar allows immediate movement among all six major categories. It also displays credits and allows exiting the program. The control bar switches audio on and off, switches slideshows between auto and manual, prints screens, exports movies, exports photos, and exports text from the history section only.

The interactive maps show the major sites of Chichen Itza, Uxmal, Palenque, Yaxchilan, Copan, and Quirigua. These major sites are hot-buttoned on the main map to allow immediate access to site maps. Each major site map features labeled principal groups and buildings. Each label triggers a pop-up thumbnail photo. Clicking on the photo brings it up to full screen, with brief explanatory labels at the bottom. The photo labels provide historical information.

The major site maps have two thumbnails in the left-hand corner - the main regional map and the contents page for the site. The contents page of each main site has six categories: image index, slideshow, "getting there," panoramas, history and description, and historical photos. This contents page also features a thumbnail of the site map. Not all sites have material in each of the six categories. Specifically, Uxmal and Chichen Itza do not have panoramas. Otherwise, the main sites have deep coverage.

There are sub-regional maps for the northern and southern Maya lowlands and it is possible to toggle between these two regional maps with a thumbnail in the lower right-hand corner. The sub-regional maps include the major sites in red, the minor sites in gold. Each of the minor sites is a hot button to allow access to the contents page for that site. Some of the minor sites, like Iximche, have panoramas, but not history or historical photos. Minimally, the minor sites have three categories, images, slideshow, and "getting there." Some, like Sayil, have historical pictures by Catherwood, the main source of historical drawings. The minor sites do not have maps and pop-up photos like the major sites. The minor site category can be misleading to the uninitiated: Calakmul is given as a minor site, and it is definitely a major one.

The sites on the CD are listed in the site index. As the cursor/arrow is placed on a name on the list, a photograph and a regional map showing the right location appear. Each site name is a hot button to go to the site contents page. The site index book is divided into Mexico, Guatemala, and Belize/Honduras. The book always opens with Mexico, but it is easy to go to the other lists. There are 23 sites on the Mexico page alone, 8 on the Guatemala page, and 6 on the Belize/ Honduras page. In general the sites selected have been developed for tourism to some extent and are accessible by available transportation.

The cultural section of the CD features excellent animations and good color photographs of artifacts in major categories.

All together, this is a very sophisticated and impressive educational CD. It is suitable for use in fifth- through twelfth-grade classrooms and for children 12 and older. The CD draws on material presented in Robert Sharer's Ancient Maya, and like that broadly introductory book, the CD covers a wide range of material relevant to the subject; but the book is considerably more comprehensive and would make a good reference companion to the CD. The CD draws on historical interpretations of Maya kingdoms detailed in other books, including Linda Schele and David Freidel's A Forest of Kings. That book uses ancient texts and images combined with archaeological evidence to infer events in the lives of royalty at Cerros, Tikal, Palenque, Yaxchilan, Copan, and Chichen Itza; all but the first are sites important to this CD presentation. William Fash's book on Copan, Scribes, Kings and Warriors, T. Patrick Culbert's Maya Civilization, and Jeremy Sabloff's The New Archaeology and the Maya are other good companion books for this CD. Linda Schele and Peter Mathew's forthcoming The Code of Kings details important buildings at the major sites covered in the CD. There are also a number of recently established websites on the Maya worth consulting when using this CD, most especially the interactive educational adventure MayaQuest, which is designed for children. All the same, Exploring the Maya is a remarkable and intriguing introduction to the subject, a welcome enticement to the computer generations to find out about these fascinating people.

David Freidel

For an index of other CD and Web site reviews available on the Web pages of the CSA Newsletter, see the review index.

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