Mayan Glyphs

A Virtual Bookself of Online and Offline Resources

To download a 63 page Mayan Glyphs Workbook from the FAMSI website, click here.

The race to decipher the Mayan glyphs was a long and often bitter competition among some of the greatest and most colorful academicians of the last 100 years. The story of how this mystery was finally unravelled (well, almost) is told in Michael D. Coe's excellent book, Breaking the Maya Code.

It was once thought that the symbols that archaelologists found on Mayan buildings, stelae, pottery fragments and in the few remaining books, might not represent a spoken language at all, but instead were simply "ideograms" directly representing concepts, such as gods, natural events or astrological preditions. After years and much wasted effort, some even believed that the mystery would never be solved.

John Lloyd Stephens on his famous 19th century expeditions with artist Frederick Catherwood asked if these ancient voices would ever be heard again. Now, a little more than 150 years later, the Mayan glyphs speak.

Learning to read the glyphs is difficult indeed. Not only are they complex in themselves, but the underlying language (various antiquated Mayan dialects) is even more so. Ah, but isn't it great to be an amateur! We have nothing at stake: no lost tenure, no reputation to defend against academic catiness. We can begin to learn the glyphs for no better--or worse!--reason than the sheer enjoyment of unlocking their mysteries. And a little knowledge is a wonderful thing as it will immeasureably enrich any future tour of the Mayan sites in the Yucatan, Chiapas, Guatemala and Belize.

We're very lucky today to have extraordinary recources available to us, many of them online. On this page we begin to build a collection, a "bookshelf," of the best we've found. Just as important, we ask that you let us know what you have found, so that others may benefit as well.

Recommended Resources

The first resource on our list is the incredibly rich website maintained by FAMSI, (Foundation for the Advancement of Mesoamerican Studies, Inc.)

This is how FAMIS describes itself on the "About FAMSI" webpage.

The Foundation (FAMSI) was created in 1993 to foster increased understanding of ancient Mesoamerican cultures. The Foundation aims to assist and promote qualified scholars who might otherwise be unable to undertake or complete their programs of research and synthesis. Projects in the following disciplines are urged to apply: anthropology, archaeology, art history, epigraphy, ethnography, ethnohistory, linguistics, and related fields.

Though the the organization clearly serves the academic community, their website contains a horde of materials that will be interesting and helpful to amateurs. These include:

  • drawings
  • photographs
  • videos
  • resources for teachers
  • book lists and bibliograpahies, and
  • a collection of dictionaries, grammar text, vocabulary lists and concordances.

    One particularly useful resource for the beginning student is the online dictionary of the Mayan Glyphs by John Montgomery. The dictionary provides images, explanations, even audio files that demonstrate how the glyph was pronounced.

The only thing I didn't see on this wonderful site, was any way to send in a donation. Too bad...I had my checkbook out.

Please note: we will update this site continuously. Please visit often!

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