Maya script, also known as Maya glyphs or Maya hieroglyphs, is the writing system of the Maya civilization of Mesoamerica, presently the only Mesoamerican writing system that has been substantially deciphered. The earliest inscriptions found, which are identifiably Maya, date to the 3rd century BC in San Bartolo, Guatemala. Writing was in continuous use until shortly after the arrival of the conquistadors in the 16th century AD.

The Maya script is generally considered to be the most fully developed Mesoamerican writing system mostly because of its extraordinary aesthetics and because it has been partially deciphered. In Mayan writing, logograms and syllable signs are combined. Around 700 different glyphs have been documented, with some 75% having been deciphered. Around 7000 texts in Mayan script have been documented.

Maya writing used logograms complemented by a set of syllabic glyphs, somewhat similar in function to modern Japanese writing. Maya writing was called “hieroglyphics” or hieroglyphs by early European explorers of the 18th and 19th centuries who did not understand it but found its general appearance reminiscent of Egyptian hieroglyphs, to which the Maya writing system is not at all related.

The codices and classic texts were written by scribes who were usually members of the Maya priesthood in a literary form of the Ch’olti’ language. The Ch’olti’ language is an extinct Mayan language which was spoken in the Manche region of eastern Guatemala. The Ch’olti’ language has become of particular interest for the study of Mayan Hieroglyphs since it seems that most of the glyphic texts are written in an ancient variety of Ch’olti’ called Classic Ch’olti’an by epigraphersand which is thought to have been spoken as a prestige dialect throughout the Maya area in the classic period.

The decipherment of the writing was a long and laborious process. 19th century and early 20th century investigators managed to decode the Maya numbers and portions of the texts related to astronomy and the Maya calendar, but understanding of most of the rest long eluded scholars. In the 1960s, progress revealed the dynastic records of Maya rulers. Since the early 1980s it has been demonstrated that most of the previously unknown symbols form a syllabary, and progress in reading the Maya writing has advanced rapidly since.

Notes

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    Jeroglíficos Maya
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    Mayan hieroglyphs Source
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