The history of decipherment and principles of Maya writing

Ancient writing systems have always aroused interest, so it is not surprising that the course „Maya Hieroglyphic Writing – beginner level” attracted the attention of people who wanted to explore the secrets of Maya glyphic writing. However, this subject is not easy and learning requires a lot of commitment. Many years have passed since John Lloyd Stephens, traveling with Frederick Catherwood in the Maya lands in 1839-42 and looking at the inscriptions carved in stone, asked himself: Who can read them? The first work on the Maya script began after the 1864 publication of fragments of a surviving copy of „Relación de las cosas de Yucatán” by Bishop Diego de Landa, which included drawings and names of glyphs concerning the calendar and 27 glyphic characters, which were initially mistaken for a kind of alphabet.

Until the middle of the twentieth century, apart from information about the calendar, little was known about the nature of the Maya script. And then, there was a breakthrough in research when a Russian ethnologist and scholar studying various writing systems,  Yuri  Knorozov showed that the glyphs presented by the bishop are in fact syllables. Since then, scholars from all over the world have been working on reading the Maya script for years.

We now know that  it constitutes one of the greatest achievements of this civilization. The system is logosyllabic: logograms (which we write in capital letters) denote full words: nouns, adjectives and verb roots, while syllables (which we write in lowercase letters) serve as additions to logograms,  indicating proper phonetic readings and grammatical information, though words can also be written fully phonetically using only signs for syllables. To add to the complexity and beauty of the system, signs may have different graphic variants, including simple and complex forms, such as abstract signs, head variants and full-body glyphs.

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