Maya script

The font of the Maya is the only fully developed written in Pre-Columbian America, which is currently known.

The character of Maya is mainly found on old buildings and monuments (for example, in Tikal ) in the form of wall paintings (eg in Bonampak ) or Epigraphiken. Only three authentic with security manuscripts, called codices, have the destruction of almost all combustible font support by Diego de Landa, the Catholic Bishop of Yucatan, during the Conquista survived in the 16th century. There are also ancient Mayan ceramics with mostly just a few characters.

Knowledge of the Maya writing was forgotten since the Spanish conquest. Your almost complete deciphering is done only in the second half of the 20th century. It is now considered a readable and interpretable.

  • 6.1 Unicode
  • 6.2 Movie Documentary


The Maya writing is a so-called logo syllabic writing, which means that the characters can consist of logograms and syllabic signs. However, the characters are well separated from each other. Overall, half of the approximately 700 characters logograms and syllabic signs. In most cases correspond to the logograms actually existing objects or living things. In some however, no knowledge of the actual sense is possible. In contrast, the Syllabogramme have a different meaning, and indeed that of the syllable representation. Most Syllabogramme are in consonant-vowel patterns available ( for example, " BA "). A few provide only vowels dar. Of all logograms and Syllabogrammen there were several variants, so that the writer could choose the best fit his aesthetic understanding. Partly this was done even by large murals, which should represent only one character.


By the end of the 20th century it was thought that the Maya writing descended from the Olmec or by the Isthmus font, but recent discoveries have predated the date of the Maya writing by several centuries. Since at least 2006, there is archaeological likely that the Mayans were the inventor of writing in Mesoamerica.

The earliest records, which are assigned to the Maya (2012 ), are from the 3rd century BC by the archaeological Maya site of San Bartolo ( Petén ) in Guatemala.


See also: Maya numerals

Numbers 11-20

Numbers from 0 to 20



Already in the 16th century, Diego de Landa employed, Bishop of Yucatan, with the character of Maya. From a noble Maya he had to write down the Spanish alphabet in Maya writing. Although this so-called Landa alphabet led to misinterpretations, but still served as a basis for future research. It was he who burned all the manuscripts ( codices ) of the Maya. Only three Maya codices survived. Knowledge of the Maya writing was as a result of the Christian conquest lost, although the language lives on to this day.

An Exploration of Maya writing, there was not until the 19th century. The complexity of the font, but also error while copying the glyphs difficult with a scientific view.

Deciphering the numbers

To 1830 when Constantine S. Rafinesque - Schmaltz to understand the number system of the Maya writing. He showed that it is based on dots and dashes (one dot represents a one, a bar for a five ), and he also suggested some characters for different gods, animals and plants.

1881 Alfred Maudslay made ​​for the British Museum extensive impressions and photographs of the glyphs and was able for the first time make available copies of European researchers.

The ethnologist Cyrus Thomas suspected in the Maya writing consonant-vowel sequences ( eg, " cu " or "ti" ) and made comparisons with the still spoken Mayan language.

Deciphering the calendar

Then laid the foundation for the decipherment of Maya writing 1880, the German linguist Ernst Förstemann ( 1822-1906 ), who analyzed the Dresden Maya Codex and could explain the calendar system of the Maya, together with its annual cycles. He showed that the Maya knew the zero, and were able to express based on a 20 system very large numbers. This they utilize highly accurate tables of eclipses and phases of Venus to create, from which emerged favorable and unfavorable times for hunting, sowing or warfare. Förstemann realized with the so-called calendar round the time system of the Maya, which consists of three interlocking circles ( outside 365 " sunny days ", in the mid 20's name and in the inner circle 13 numbers ), and repeats itself after 52 years in her constellation. He noticed that a specific date, is dated in the past, appearing repeatedly and interpreted it as the start of the Mayan era.

1905 compared to the American publisher Joseph Goodman the calendar system of the Maya with today's calendar and dated the beginning of the Mayan calendar on the 21.02.739 BC This brought a breakthrough in dating countless stelae.

Deciphering the syllables and symbols

The Russian scientist Yuri W. Knorosow succeeded in 1952 a decisive step with the inclusion of hitherto misunderstood information in the so-called Landa alphabet, which he interpreted correctly as syllabic signs for the Spanish letter name. He was the first to the mixture of syllables and characters into the Maya writing what he could in the word " chi k'in " (west) to prove. Here he could also show that a term that here the syllable "chi " was represented by different characters.

His hypotheses that had been shared by the Canadian David H. Kelley, and its initial decryption of Maya texts, was dismissed from his time leading Mayan researchers in the West, the British JES Thompson as communist propaganda and found up to Thompson's death (1975 ) in the West largely ignored.

Regardless had Heinrich Berlin and Tatiana Proskouriakoff 1962 demonstrated that the monumental stone inscriptions had historical and dynastic- genealogical details the subject. She showed the birth, marriage and enthronement of entire dynasties.

From about 1980, the decipherment of Maya writing made ​​rapid and unexpected advances that took place in a supported of faster communication international cooperation of a small group of specialized scientists. Important driver was the American linguist Floyd Lounsbury, who stimulated a generation of young researchers, including Linda Schele and David Stuart, who in 1983 at age 18 the youngest recipient of the "genius grant" the MacArthur Fellowship was. They succeeded with the deciphering of many hitherto unknown syllables of the breakthrough.

About 90 % of the currently known Maya writing is now considered interpretable.

  • Variants of a graphic symbol on the example '' '' Caban ( Tag: 17, Direction: East, Color: Red, meaning: motion, earth)

Received Mayan books

Today there are only three certainly authentic Mayan manuscripts:

  • The Paris Codex (22 pages ) is located in the National Library in Paris.
  • The Dresden Codex (also the Dresden Codex, 74 pages) is available for inspection in the Saxon State Library in Dresden.
  • The Madrid Codex (112 pages) is located in the Museo de las Americas in Madrid.

The Grolier Codex ( 11 pages) is in Mexico under wraps. Today is the Codex, and especially its label, considered a forgery.



The Maya writing (Mayan hieroglyphs ) are not yet encoded in Unicode.

Movie Documentary

About the Maya Code, a documentary was filmed in 2008 by David Lebrun, which is based on the book Breaking the Maya Code by Michael D. Coe and the individual phases of the decryption is detail.