The book has two overall purposes. First, it presents a synthesis of what we know about ancient Maya society as it developed over a span of some 25 centuries. This synthesis is based on both the archaeological and historical record that furnishes the empirical evidence for deriving the second purpose, to better understand the causes and consequences of this 2,500 year process of social and cultural development.
This first goal is important in its own right, especially as a step towards preserving the cultural heritage of the Maya people of today... the Maya have long been lauded for their outstanding accomplishments in art, architecture, and mathematics. While some claims for the uniqueness of ancient Maya achievements... have been thoroughly disproved by accumulating evidence, it is still appropriate to highlight their many positive and admirable accomplishments. The promotion of the genuine achievements of the Maya past has a positive effect on the present, especially for the descendant Maya people of today. This is important since European colonizers have long denigrated the Maya, along with other Native American peoples. Thus the accomplishments of the ancient Maya have become an important means for modern Maya peoples to rediscover their past and promote their self-esteem. Fortunately Maya archaeologists are now taking an increasing active role in working with Maya communities to foster this process of rediscovery.
The second goal is important because, for archaeologists, the Maya past offers one of the best documented cases of the evolution of a preindustrial civilization found anywhere in the world. Revealed by over a century of archaeological research, the course of Maya civilization offers numerous parallels with similar developments in the Old World, such as ancient Egypt. In fact, the Maya are often placed on the roster of the world's early civilizations, along with the their Mesoamerican neighbors (the Olmec, Zapotec, and Teotihuacan), Andean civilization, and the Old World civilizations of Egypt, Mesopotamia, the Indus Valley, and China. Like other Native American societies, the evolutionary course of Maya civilization was not influenced in any way by the civilizations of the Old World. The Maya therefore provide an outstanding opportunity for the anthropological study of the processes involved in the growth of economic, social, political, and ideological systems and their role in the development of an increasingly complex society.
The Ancient Maya, 6th Edition, excerpt from pp. 69-70.