Maya Hieroglyphic Language

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M AYAN
H IEROGLYPHIC
L ANGUAGE
Reintroduction of a lost language.
Northwestern H.S. / Global History for High Achieving Huskies / Hawkins
A RMATURE L INGUISTIC T OOL K IT
Rule #1
count the signs or Symbols
•If a script has 20 -35 signs or symbols then it’s probably
•alphabetical. Representing simple sounds.
•Ancient Somalian for example.
Question:
Mayan
Hieroglyphic
Language has
around 800
symbols….
what might we
conclude?
•If a script has 80 -100 signs or symbols then it’s probably based on
syllables. Native American Cherokee for example.
•If a script has hundreds of signs or symbols then it’s probably
logographical. A language where each sign represents whole
words, like Chinese has thousands of symbols for thousands of words.
Scholars assumed The Mayan system was a
Limited logographical System.
•With such a rich inventory of signs, both logographic and syllabic, the ancient
Maya scribe combined them in bewildering ways for both functional and
aesthetic purposes, hence the assumption.
•Scribes could and did write the same word in multiple ways. Sometimes only
logograms were used.
•Other times just phonetic signs were employed. And sometimes logograms
are accompanied by phonetic complements, phonetic signs that serve to
clarify the reading of the logogram by either spelling out the beginning or
ending sound of the word.
•One reason for the use of phonetic complements is that a sign can have
multiple functions, a phenomenon called polyvalence.
W ORD -
•It is also possible that a glyph can function as both logogram and phonetic sign.
•For instance, the phonetic sign ku is also the logogram TUUN and the
calendrical sign for the tzolk'in day Kawak
•. In this case, the logogram TUUN is usually followed by the phonetic
complement ni to indicate its reading.
•The Kawak sign would also be easily distinguished because of numeric sign
before it and its location in a Calendar Round or Long Count block….but let’s
go back to how this complicated language got lost in the first place.
H ISTORICAL R EFERENCE :
THE DEATH OF A CULTURE-
Diego de Landa
Franciscan priest and bishop of Yucatán.
Modern scholars regard Landa
with a mixture of frustration and admiration.
At the same time he wrote his comprehensive work
on Mayan culture, his orders to destroy
all icons and hieroglyphics obliterated the
Mayan language forever, helping to undermine
and destroy the civilization he so vividly described.
•Upon learning that the Mayans were
Still making offerings to ancient gods
Diego de Landa arrested and tortured
thousands of Mayans for devil worship.
Only four
incomplete
codex survived.
•He implemented a primitive inquisition
that destroyed most of Mayan artifacts.
He held a “Great Ceremony Of Destruction”
in the central plaza and burning every Mayan
manuscript available.
•Diego de Landa viewed the Mayan texts as
A tool of the devil and forced Mayan scribes
learn European script. Under prosecution of
being burned at the stake for writing in the
ancient language, Mayan Hieroglyphics
died out by the 1800’s.
D IEGO DE L ANDA
C RIMES AGAINST THE
M AYAN C ULTURE
1500 years of history destroyed in the name of Catholicism.
T IME L INE :
CRACKING THE MAYAN CODE
• In 1774, Spanish explorer Jose Calderon finds remains of
Mayan City Palenque. Inside the temple the explorer and his
men found huge stone tablets with Hieroglyphic carvings.
•1810 Three Mayan books resurface,
one in Madrid, another in Paris and the most famous in the
Royal Library of Dresden Germany it’s called the
Dresden Codex.
5 pages of the Dresden Codex are printed in a Paris
publication regarding communications in the Americas.
Time Line: Continued
•1832 Constantine Samuel Rafinesque:
•his explanation of the bar-and dot symbols
representing fives and ones, respectively,
constitutes the first instance of successful
decipherment of ancient Mayan.
E RNST F ORSTEMANN
1 8 8 0 R OYAL L IBRARY
OF
D RESDEN
•Facsimile reproduction of Dresden Codex by Ernst Forstemann,1880
with commentary. This was an early example of a "photographic"
process known as "chromolithography".
•The black and white images were reused for an 1892 edition.
Possibly the material that was found in WWII by Yuri Valentinovich Knorozov.
•Forstemann discovered the date the Mayan ‘s thought the universe began4 Ahau 8 Cumka [August 13th 3114 BC]
•This allows field researchers to establish important dates on the Mayan stelae,
critical to the work of Thompson and Proskouriakoff.
A LFRED M AUDSLAY
1880 PHOTOGRAPHER
•
Arrives with Glass plate camera
starts documenting the Mayan
carvings in the city states of
Quirigua, Copan, Tikai
•
This becomes the informational
foundation from which the ancient
language is resurrected.
Why is this Important?
J. E RIC S. T HOMPSON
1930’S- 1960’S
•Thompson did considerable work in deciphering of Maya hieroglyphics,
especially those related to the calendar and astronomy, as well as identifying
some new nouns.
•He developed a numerical cataloguing system for the glyphs
(the T-number system)
which, with some expansions, is still used by Mayanists today.
•His attempted decipherments were based on ideographic rather than
linguistic principles. In his later years he resisted the notion that the glyphs
have a strong phonetic component, as put forward by the Russian linguist Yuri
Knorozov.
•After his death, for a time some younger Maya epigraphers blamed
Thompson for holding back what became a very fruitful approach to the
glyphs with his forceful and articulate disagreements.
Y URI V ALENTINOVICH K NOROZOV
R USSIAN L INGUIST
A Russian solider
he became a linguist after finding a copy of the codexs in a bombed out library.
What set Knorozov apart was that he realized Landa's alphabet was really part of
the Maya syllabify, and he succeeded in identifying many of the syllabic glyphs.
Knorozov knew that no on language is made up entirely
of one system our own system uses numerals and logograms.
He realized that the Mayan systems combined
phonetic signs and word signs. He based his phonetic
Understandings on the works of Diego de Landa.
He used the Madrid Codex to decipher the word for “west” based on combining
Landa and Thompson’s academic theories.
•Thompson’s anti-communist political agenda discredits Knorozov’s phonetic theories.
T ATIANA P ROSKOURIAKOFF
E P I G R A P H E R , E T H N O L O G I S T, A N D A N A R C H A E O L O G I S T
1936-1975
Tatiana Proskouriakoff studied to be an
architect at Pennsylvania State University .
Attaining access to the Penn Museum, she
volunteered to draw for one of the curators
there. This work impressed the archaeologist
Linton Satterthwaite, who invited her to join
his 1936 expedition to Piedras Negras in
northwestern Guatemala. Piedras Negras
was a classical site of Mayan ruins that
Satterthwaite had been excavating
for some time. Over the next few years
Proskouriakoff produced a series of
reconstructive drawings depicting
ancient Mayan cities
This stela helped to prove that the Maya inscriptions spoke of history.
In 1960, Tatiana Proskouriakoff, suggested that these "niche" scenes
represented rulers newly seated on their thrones.
She pointed out that the "niche" stelae always carried
the earliest dates of their series and that a certain set of "inaugural"
hieroglyphs followed those dates whenever they appeared in later texts.
This breakthrough led to the recognition of birth and death glyphs,
the name-glyphs of the rulers, parentage information,
the capture of enemies, and other biographical items from the
lives of the Maya rulers.
BEAUTY AND BRAINS
Pioneering woman in the field of Maya archaeology

Tatiana began to notice a sequence of dates and
signs in the hieroglyphic transcriptions. She
identified a series of seven rulers in a time span
of 200 years. She was also able to prove that
these texts showed rites of passage and major
accomplishments of the rulers.

Her studies of the stelae of Piedras Negras
influenced the way archaeologists today
incorporate glyphic data to reach interpretive
results.
While touring Palenque, Linda Schele met the famed artist and
photographer of Maya ruins, Merle Green Robertson,
 who became Schele's most important mentor during the early
stages of her new vocation.
The association with Robertson quickly drew Schele into the world of
the ancient Maya, their art and their system of hieroglyphic writing.
In 1973, Robertson organized the first Mesa Redonda de Palenque,
a small conference whose goal was deciphering Maya writing, a
hieroglyphic system, at that time not fully understood.
Participating In that conference, and working with Peter Matthews,
Schele used her knowledge, vision and a compilation of recent
epigraphic breakthroughs to decipher a major section of the
Palenque King List.
This achievement became the stimulus that led to many later
discoveries by Schele and other scholars.
R OBERTSON / S CHELE / M ATTHEWS
Dr. David Stuart
Linda and David Schele Professor of Mesoamerican Art and Writing
David began deciphering Mayan hieroglyphs
at the age of 8, under the tutelage of his father
and later Linda Schele.
He presents first paper on Mayan Hieroglyphic language
at age 12 In 1983, at the age of 18, he became the
youngest-ever recipient of a Mac Arthur Fellowship
"genius grant”.
His publications include Ten Phonetic Syllables (1987),
which laid much of the groundwork for the now-accepted
methodology of decipherment.
In 2003 he published a volume ongoing series
Corpus of Maya Hieroglyphic Inscriptions, devoted to
drawings and photographs of sculpture from
Piedras Negras, Guatemala.
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