This is fascinating!
The Maya lived in what is now Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras, and Belize since at least 2600 BC. Their hieroglyphic texts were inscribed mostly from AD 250 to 900. This is called the “Classic Period” of the Maya. After that, the Maya mysteriously abandoned many of their major cities, and their civilization collapsed.
Thanks to the work of many other epigraphers (eh-PIG-ruh-fers, people who decipher and classify ancient inscriptions), we now know that Maya writing has two kinds of symbols. Some represent whole words. For example, a picture of a spotted animal with long teeth means “jaguar.” Other symbols represent sounds, such as “la,” “ka,” or “ma.” When put together — la-ka-ma — they form “lakam,” which means “banner.” We know that from a 16th-century Spanish/Maya dictionary. The Maya used around 500 glyphs. They are inscribed in columns that are read in pairs from left to right, top to bottom.
Another breakthrough happened in 1960. Russian-American architect Tatiana Proskouriakoff noticed that when the ancient Maya drew a picture of a man being dragged by his hair, they often drew similar glyphs nearby, like a caption for the picture. She identified the symbols for “was captured” — chu-ka-ja, or “chukaj.” Ms. Proskouriakoff was eventually able to prove that glyph texts told stories of real events in Maya history.
Filed under: Archaeology