The Mayan civilisation lasted from about 500 BC to 1200 AD, with a classical period from 300-900 AD. The earliest known writing in the Mayan script dates from about 250 BC, but the script is thought to have developed at an earlier date. Recent archeological finds indicate that the Mayan civilisation started much earlier: around 3,000 BC.
In about 1566, the first bishop of Yucatan, Diego de Landa, compiled a key to the Mayan syllabary consisting of 27 Spanish letters and the Mayan glyphs with similar sounds. This became known as the Landa Alphabet and helped with the decipherment of the script, even though it was based on the false premise that the script was alphabetic.
For a long time many scholars believed that the script did not represent a language at all, or that it wasn't a complete writing system. The first major breakthrough in decipherment came during the 1950s when a Russian ethnologist, Yuri Valentinovich Knorosov, proposed that the Mayan script was at least partly phonetic and represented the Yucatec Mayan language. His ideas were not welcomed by other Mayanists, but he was eventually proved correct.
Further progress in the decipherment was made during the 1970s and 1980s when more linguistics began to take an interest in the script. Today most Mayan texts can be read, though there are still some unknown glyphs.
A gripping account of the decipherment of the Mayan script can be found in Breaking the Maya Code, by Micheal D. Coe.
The Yucatec Maya continued to use the Mayan script until at least the 16th century. Recently, their descendants have started to learn the script once again from the scholars who have deciphered it.
Some Mayan logograms
How Mayan glyphs are written
Patal an inik ani an uxum u wa'tsinal walkadh abal jununúl kin bats'uw an alwa'taláb ani ka pidhan in éy jant'ini' in tomnál; in kwa'al in tsalpádh ani in k'ayá' abal kin k'anidha' in juntal.
Konojel ri winaqi' kan kalaxib'en pe ri kolotajïk, ri junan kiq'ij, ri junan kejqalen, junan kich'ojib'al pa kik'aslen, xa achi'el k'a ri kik'ojlen, ri kinojib'al kichajin xa tik'amun k'a chi nimaläj konojel xtikajo' ki'.
Kyaqiilqe winaq nchi itz'aj tuj kopib'il, juunx kychuwiinqal b'ix kyokleen, kyja'tzan tuj tb'aanal xiinv'il tu'n kyanq'iin tuj b'ank'u'j kyxool.
Chijunil li poyanam juntaq'eet wankil xloq'al naq nake'yo'la, ut kama' ak reheb' naq wan xna'leb'eb ut nake'reek'a rib', tento naq te'xk'am rib' sa' usilal chirib'ilrib'eb'.
Spetsanal ja swinkil ja lu'um k'inali junxta wax jul schonjel, sok ja sijpanub'ali, ja yuj ojni b'ob' sk'u'luk ja jas sk'ana-i ja b'as lekilali, ja yuj ja ay sk'ujoli sok ay spensari t'ilan oj yilsb'aje lek sok ja smoj jumasa.
Skotol vinik o ants ta spejel balumile k´olem x-hayan i ko´ol ta sch´ulal i sderechoetik i, skotol k´ux-elan oyike oy srasonik y slekilalik, sventa skuxijik leknóo ta ju jun ju ju vo.
Spisil winiketik te ya xbejk´ajik ta k´inalil ay jrerechotik, mayuk mach´a chukul ya xbejka, ya jnatik stojol te jpisiltik ay snopibal sok sbijil joltik, ja´ me k´ux ya kaibatik ta jujun tul.
Tuláakal wíinik ku síijil jáalk'ab yetel keet u tsiikul yetel Najmal Sijnalil, beytun xan na'ata'an sijnalil yetel no'oja'anil u tuukulo', k'a'abet u bisikuba bey láaktzilil yetel tuláakal u baatzile'.
All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They
are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another
in a spirit of brotherhood.
(Article 1 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights)
Dictionary of Maya Hieroglyphs
The Mayan Epigraphic Database Project - includes a relational database of Mayan glyphs and an archive of digitally transcribed Mayan texts: http://jefferson.village.virginia.edu/med
Foundation for the Advancement of Mesoamerican Studies
The Mayan Languages - a database containing more than 40,000 entries for 31 Mayan languages: http://maya.hum.sdu.dk
A Brief Introduction to Yucatec Maya
A Basic English - Yucatec Mayan Dictionary
Yucatán: Identidad y Cultura Maya
Information about the Junp'iit Maaya (Yucatec Mayan) - includes prounciation some phrases with audio: http://www.unc.edu/depts/ilas/junpiitmaaya/expressions.htm
La Casa en el Arbol - language courses in Mayan (Tsotsil and Tseltal) and
Spanish in San Cristobal de las Casas, Chiapas, Mexico
Na'atik, Instituto de Lenguas y Culturas - courses in Spanish and Yucatec Maya in Carrillo Puerto, Quintana Roo, Mexico: http://www.naatikmexico.com
Photos of and information about the Maya, Aztec and Inca peoples
Akkadian Cuneiform, Ancient Egyptian (Demotic), Ancient Egyptian (Hieratic), Ancient Egyptian (Hieroglyphs), Chinese, Chữ-nôm, Cuneiform, Japanese, Jurchen, Khitan, Linear B, Luwian, Mayan, Naxi, Sawndip (Old Zhuang), Sui, Sumerian Cuneiform, Tangut (Hsihsia)
Page last modified: 23.04.21
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