Coe, Michael Douglas 1929-

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COE, Michael Douglas 1929-

PERSONAL: Born May 14, 1929, in New York, NY; son of William Rogers and Clover (Simonton) Coe; married Sophie Dobzhansky, June 5, 1955 (deceased); children: Nicholas, Andrew, Sarah, Peter, Natalie. Education: Harvard University, A.B., 1950, Ph.D., 1959.

ADDRESSES: Home—376 Ronan St., New Haven, CT 06511. Office—Peabody Museum, Room 213, Yale University, New Haven, CT 06511-8161; E-mail—[email protected].

CAREER: University of Tennessee, Knoxville, assistant professor of anthropology, 1958-60; Yale University, New Haven, CT, instructor, 1960-62, assistant professor, 1962-63, Charles J. MacCurdy Professor of Anthropology and curator Emeritus at the Peabody Museum of Natural History at Yale, 1963-94; Robert Woods Bliss Collection of Pre-Columbian Art, Dumbarton Oaks, Harvard University, advisor, 1963-80.

MEMBER: Royal Anthropological Institute, National Academy of Sciences, Sociedad Mexicana de Antropologia, Connecticut Academy of Arts and Sciences.

AWARDS, HONORS: Elected to the National Academy of Sciences, 1986; Tatiana Proskouriakoff Award from Harvard University for distinction in Mesoamerican research, 1989.


Mexico, Praeger (New York, NY), 1962, 3rd revised edition, Thames & Hudson (New York, NY), 1984, published as Mexico: From the Olmecs to the Aztecs, Thames & Hudson (New York, NY), 2002.

The Jaguar's Children: Pre-Classical Central Mexico, Museum of Primitive Art (New York, NY), 1965.

The Maya, Praeger (New York, NY), 1966, 6th revised edition, Thames & Hudson (New York, NY), 1999.

An Early Stone Pectoral from Southeastern Mexico, Dumbarton Oaks (Washington, DC), 1966.

(With Elizabeth P. Benson) Three Maya Relief Panels at Dumbarton Oaks, Dumbarton Oaks (Washington, DC), 1966.

(With Kent V. Flannery) Early Cultures and HumanEcology in South Coastal Guatemala, Smithsonian Press (Washington, DC), 1967.

America's First Civilization: Discovering the Olmec, American Heritage Press (New York, NY), 1968.

(Author of introductory text) Pre-Columbian Mexican Miniatures, Praeger (New York, NY), 1970.

The Maya Scribe and His World, Grolier Club (New York, NY), 1973.

Classic Maya Pottery at Dumbarton Oaks, Dumbarton Oaks (Washington, DC), 1975.

The Lords of the Underworld: Masterpieces of Classical Maya Ceramics, Princeton University Press (Princeton, NJ), 1978.

(With Richard A. Diehl) In the Land of the Olmec, University of Texas Press (Austin, TX), 1980.

Old Gods and Young Heroes: The Pearlman Collection of Maya Ceramics, Israel Museum (Jerusalem, Israel), 1982.

(With Gordon Whittaker) Aztec Sorcerers in Seventeenth-Century Mexico, Institute for Mesoamerican Studies, 1982.

(With Dean Snow and Elizabeth P. Benson) Atlas of Ancient America, Facts on File (New York, NY), 1986.

(Contributor) Swords and Hilt Weapons, Weidenfeld & Nicolson (New York, NY), 1989.

(With Sophie D. Coe) The True History of Chocolate, Thames & Hudson (New York, NY), 1996.

(Editor) The Olmec World: Ritual and Rulership, Art Museum at Princeton University (Princeton, NJ), 1996.

(With Justin Kerr) The Art of the Maya Scribe, Harry N. Abrams (New York, NY), 1998.

Breaking the Maya Code, Thames & Hudson (New York, NY), 1992, revised edition, 1999.

(With Mark Van Stone) Reading the Maya Glyphs, Thames & Hudson (London, England), 2001.

Angkor and the Khmer Civilization, Thames & Hudson (New York, NY), 2003.

Contributor to professional journals.

SIDELIGHTS: Michael D. Coe thought he would be a writer, but after visiting the Yucatan one Christmas with his family during the 1940s, he decided on archaeology. From that moment, he improved his study habits and entered a doctoral program at Harvard University. Although he abandoned his earlier desire to study literature, he did not give up his interest in writing. Coe has spent most of his professional career associated with Yale University, concentrating his teaching and his own studies on historical archaeology of the Americas, with a special interest in the ethno-history of Mesoamericans and their early forms of writing. He has also written almost twenty books and many journal articles on his favorite topics, which include the Mayan culture of Mexico, the Aztec people, and the so-called mother culture of all native people of Mexico, the Olmec. He has since turned his attention to the early civilization of Angkor in Cambodia, which he first visited in 1954.

His first book, Mexico, was originally published in 1962 and offers an extensive survey of the cultures and languages of the early people of the ancient lands of Mexico. The book has been extensively revised over the years and continues to interest scholars and travelers alike.

Coe has studied and researched various aspects of the ancient cultures in Mexico. One of his favorites is the study of language. Breaking the Maya Code, first published in 1992, has been referred to as an insider's view into one of the intellectual breakthroughs of modern time. Coe outlines the full development of the study of the Mayan language and has recently updated his first publication with extensive notes on the fast-changing field of Maya decipherment. He also describes the ancient city of Copan (the existence of which was discovered before the decipherment of the old script) and the two titans of power in the Mayan civilization, Tikal and Calakmul. Vernon Scarborough of The Sciences found Coe's book to be "a lively and highly personal narrative of the history of the scholarly decipherment of Maya script from the Classic period."

In 1996, Coe and his wife, Sophie, who had both a culinary and an anthropological background, wrote a book that touched the palates of their readers. The True History of Chocolate covers the history of the cacao bean and all its various uses. Recently it was suggested that the Olmec people (not the Mayans) were the first to use the cacao bean some three thousand years ago. The Mayans and Aztecs took up the practice, making a bitter drink from the bean, then eventually passing the recipe on to the Europeans who took it back to their homeland, sweetened it up with sugar, and the rest of the story is history. Sophie began this book, but she was diagnosed with cancer halfway through and could not finish it. Coe promised to complete her study, which he did, after her death. Rose Dosti, for the Los Angeles Times, wrote, "The True History of Chocolate goes beyond scholarly excellence. Every inch of unraveled data is set in a bright halo of journalistic energy that only occasionally goes flat with too much textbook detail, and this definitive history of chocolate must certainly be regarded as a textbook."

Coe returns to the Mayan script with Reading the Maya Glyphs. In this book, Coe and his collaborator, Mark Van Stone, illustrate all the signs of the ancient language, making them accessible to students, tourists, and anyone else with an interest in this culture. At this time, most of the hieroglyphics are understood, making it possible for amateurs to decipher inscriptions found on all Mayan artifacts. The book also reviews the Mayan calendar, supernatural beliefs, history, and culture. With the help of Mark Van Stone, a calligrapher, Coe introduces the Mayan signs and assists with an understanding of their phonetics and morphology. There are exercises provided, references to software available, and suggestions for further reading.

In an article written by Caleb Bach for Americas, Coe reminisces about early promises he once made to himself. There was an inscription on the portal of the Long Island high school that Coe attended. It read, "Who dares to teach must never cease to learn." Coe commented, "I don't know where that comes from, but I've tried to remember that all my life. It's absolutely true!" Another defining moment was his experience at a prep school in New Hampshire, where the teachers were considered masters, insinuating that they had nothing more to learn. After graduating from that school, Coe promised himself that he would "always question authority." He remembered his promises when he began his first teaching job at the University of Tennessee. "I used to shamelessly pick my students' brains," he stated. "Why not? They picked mine! I let everyone speak up. Amazing ideas emerged because these young people were perceptive. They saw things no one else saw and asked questions no one else was asking." Bach concluded his article on Coe by describing him as "fiercely independent" and "refreshingly irreverent at every turn."



Americas (English edition), January-February 1996, Volume 48, number 1, Caleb Bach, "Michael Coe: A Question for Every Answer," pp. 15-21; March-April 1997, Volume 49, number 2, Jack Robertiella, review of The True History of Chocolate, p. 63.

Choice, July-August 1996, Volume 33, number 11-12, C. D. Roy, review of The Olmec World: Ritual and Rulership, p. 1785.

Language in Society, September 2000, Volume 29, number 3, Dorie Reents-Budet, review of The Art of the Maya Scribe, pp. 467.

Latin American Research Review, winter 1997, Volume 32, number 1, William D. Phillips, Jr., review of Breaking the Maya Code, pp. 265-61.

Library Journal, March 1, 1999, Volume 124, number 4, Robert Cahn, review of The Maya, p. 79; February 1, 2002, Lucille M. Boone, review of Reading the Maya Glyphs, p. 109.

Los Angeles Times, August 25, 1996, Rose Dosti, review of The True History of Chocolate, p. 5.

The Sciences, March-April 1994, Volume 34, number 2, Vernon Scarborough, review of Breaking the Maya Code, pp. 40-45.

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Coe, Michael Douglas 1929-

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