I finally received my copy of Mysteries of Mesoamerica. I haven't read it in detail but from just skimming through it my general impression is that it's a very decent supplement.
As a fan of precolumbian Mesoamerica and therefore, admittedly, perhaps overly alert to faulty information on the subject, I still wanted to point out that even with this superficial skimming of the book I already noticed a couple of errors.
For example, it is claimed that the name 'Olmec' was given to this culture by the Maya. With the word olmec
being of Nahuatl origin this of course cannot be true. In fact, the name olmec
is derived from olmecah
, which is the name the Aztec used to refer to contemporary inhabitants of the so-called heartland of the Olmec culture. These sometimes-called 'historic olmecs' - they were actually referred to as olmecah-xicallanca
- bare no known relation whatsoever to the prehistoric Olmec.
Another flaw that caught my eye: the Pipil people of El Salvador are referred to as 'Pipil Maya', but even though El Slavador is part of the Maya region the Pipil are not Mayan. They are but one example of many pocket populations of speakers of Nahua languages, of which the Aztec's Nahuatl
is an example, that can be found all over Mesoamerica.
My overall impression of the precolumbian part of the text was one of an overly simplistic and diffusionist view of the Mesoamerican culture area with societies developing there owing practically every major cultural trait to their supposed primordial mother culture: the Olmec.
Such flaws surprise me, really, because among the referenced books mentioned in the back there are some fine, recent publications on the subject.
I don't know enough about early 20th century Mesoamerica to pass any judgment on the information applying to that era. This is actually the main reason why I wanted to get this book.
I did notice one NPC
of Mayan ethnicity who is an archaeologist, which seems highly unlikely in the 1920s as the involving of the indigenous people themselves in studying their own past is only a recent development and to my knowledge it is still not so common to find archaeologists of indigenous origin.
Now I don't want to come across all negative because apart from the flawed introduction to precolumbian Mesoamerica I really like how this book looks (and smells!) and it shows that a lot of work and enthusiasm went into making it. It practically breathes the adventurous, exotic, 'mesoamerican' atmosphere it is trying to convey and the scenarios, which of course shall not be checked for archaeological/anthropological flaws since they are of a fictitious nature, at first glance look like they'll be a lot of fun to run with my group.