Mysterious Maya Hieroglyphs

Maya hieroglyphs
Tro-Cortesianus. Wikimedia Commons

For hundreds of years linguists have tried to decode this ancient Mayan script. Now, thanks to a new research conducted by experts in the field, 85 to 90% of the bizarre symbols have been decoded. The final deciphering could be a huge step forward to understanding the social, political, and historical aspect of the Maya civilization.

For a long time scientists consider that the hieroglyphs don’t actually represent any script. It’s easy to see why this thesis has prevailed – the Mayan writing system is exceptionally complex and contains hundreds of unique symbols and glyphs in the shape of humans, animals, supernatural objects, and abstract shapes. These figures are mostly displayed onto stone tablets. One tablet may contain one or more glyphs, which represent a sound, word, or a whole sentence.

Wikimedia Commons
Wikimedia Commons

The first big breakthrough in the deciphering happened in the 50s when a Russian ethnologist suggested that the Mayan script is at least partly phonetic. His ideas weren’t accepted but after a while the scientist was able to prove his claims. The progress accelerated in the 70s and 80s when many linguists started to show interest in the topic. Only then, it became clear that the Mayan script was a fully functional writing system capable of expressing any ideas of the spoken language.

Even though around five million people speak the evolved version of the Mayan language, their writing system suffered a different fate. The secrets of their traditional culture are lost after the Spanish invasion of the 16th century.

Travis/Flickr
Travis/Flickr

At present, scientists are working hard on deciphering the last 10 to 15 percent of the unknown symbols. Swiss researches have even invented an algorithm that can decode the Mayan script. It is considered that this new invention will eventually become a database that the scientific community will use to translate any Mayan inscriptions. To understand what the Maya have left us, is to understand many of the civilization’s mysteries.

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