Looking for a view of Maya technology that does not concentrate on absurd interpretations of calendars and December 21, 2012? If so, James O'Kon's The Lost Secrets of Maya Technology belongs on your bookshelf. The Lost Secrets of Maya Technology is the culmination of civil engineer James O'Kon's lifelong passion for studying the Maya and their technological advances, with information from four decades of study and fifty visits to remote Maya sites seamlessly brought together in this book.

O'Kon's career lies in the world of engineering, operating his own high-profile New York City engineering firm. Over time, O'Kon became an expert in forensic engineering – finding the critical fail points in a structure and devising how these failures can be overcome in future design work. O'Kon's engineering background places him in the perfect place to investigate his passion, the technology of the Maya, as he creatively reverse engineers kilns, suspension bridges, and larger pieces of the infrastructure of the Maya and their fifty-plus city-states.

O'kon steers clear of any connection between the Maya and 2012-related conspiracies and doomsday prophecies, instead using the space to give the reader a better knowledge of the engineering feats and the political science behind the Maya civilization.

Throughout the book, O'Kon makes an effort to compare Maya cities to well understood populi like Rome and France. For example, the city of Tikal, held over 100,000 people in the 9th Century C.E. – triple the size of Rome at the time. The empire consisted of a tightly knit group of 50 city-states over a 125,000 square mile area in Modern Mexico, with the Maya building these cities through a combination of cast-in-place cement modified for individual purposes with additives like latex and volcanic ash.

One of my favorite parts of the book is O'Kon's discussion of water purification technology used by the Maya, particular filters found in the city of Chichen Itza, in the modern Mexican state of Yucatán. The Maya collected rain water in chultunes, underground reservoirs filled with water during the rainy season for use in the dry season. Hollowed out, porous limestone vessels filtered reservoir water using gravity, with 1-2 liters cleansed through this simple purification system within an hour.

O'kon argues the Maya excelled by using modified human labor over animal labor for brute force movement of supplies, as humans ate considerably less food than animals when considering the amount of work they could perform. To amplify the carrying capacity of human workers, the Maya used a tension-based system, the tumpline (similar in design to to a backpack used in mountain climbing), to distributes mass evenly over the frame of the human body.


Dotted with drawings explaining the engineering feats of the Maya along with color pictures of remote areas taken by O'Kon during his many expeditions. If you would like a taste of O'Kon's thought process before picking up the book (available at Amazon or directly through New Page Books), you can view some of O'kon's personal research at theoldexporer.com.

All images courtesy of James O'Kon and New Page Books.