This is the story of how the Mayan glyphs found in the ancient ruins of Copan and other Mayan sites have been deciphered within the last 20 years. Michael Coe worked with all the leading players in this field. Although the Mayan cities were discovered a century and a half ago, the field of Mayan scholarship was dominated by scholars who had a ...
This is the story of how the Mayan glyphs found in the ancient ruins of Copan and other Mayan sites have been deciphered within the last 20 years. Michael Coe worked with all the leading players in this field. Although the Mayan cities were discovered a century and a half ago, the field of Mayan scholarship was dominated by scholars who had a dogmatic approach to the decipherment. Both personalities and Cold War politics slowed down the process. Then in the early 50s, a Russian scholar, Knorosov, interpreted the glyphs in a new way, comprising both phonetic and conceptual ideas. Another breakthrough, deciphering the pattern of dates in the Mayan records, followed at the end of the decade. In the 70s, studies of comparative languages furthered the decipherment, and now perhaps 85% of the glyphs can be deciphered - though many mysteries remain. This is an account of the decipherment of an ancient language, which is given added impact by Coe's first-hand account of scholarly rivalries, personality clashes, and political prejudices which held back progress for so long. The book includes many illustrations of the glyphs and engravings, and two photo insets.
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Prof. Coe, himself a pre-eminent Mayanist and epigrapher, adeptly blends the history of this intriguing decipherment, still only two-thirds accomplished, with revelation of the pertinent idiosyncracies of those who have figured prominently in the cumulative study and reading of the Maya glyphic (logosyllabic) writings. Authoritative, informative, lively, fascinating -- there is no book in my personal library that I value more highly.
Jul 9, 2009
It takes a bit of patience to get into this book but it is well worth it. Worth it if you are interested in how a "hieroglyphic" system was finally and belatedly decyphered. I found it a hard book to put down once the story took hold, The Maya glyphs were a longtime enigma to scholars, so much so that for decades many thought they had nothing to do with spoken Maya. One major hurdle to breaking the code was the absence of a "Rosetta Stone" for the Maya script, another was scholastic arrogance. By the way, the Mayans were the only New World civilization which developed a true written language.
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