Of Codes, Glyphs and Kings

Conference Presentation

The project will deliver a presentation at the DiXiT conference „Digital Scholarly Editing: Theory, Practice, Methods“ to be held at the University of Antwerp, October 5-7, 2016.

Of Codes, Glyphs and Kings: Tasks, Limits and Approaches in the Encoding of Classic Maya Hieroglyphic Inscriptions

Christian Prager, Katja Diederichs, Nikolai Grube, Elisabeth Wagner (University of Bonn), Sven Gronemeyer (University of Bonn & La Trobe University), and Maximilian Brodhun, Franziska Diehr (University of Göttingen)

So far, no existing digital work environment can sufficiently represent the traditional epigraphic workflow ‘documentation, analysis, interpretation, and publication’ for texts written in complex writing systems; such as Egyptian hieroglyphs, cuneiform writing, or Classic Mayan. The project “Text Database and Dictionary of Classic Mayan” will transpose this workflow to a digital epigraphy, by the reuse and development of digital methods and tools in the Virtual Research Environment. Maya writing is a semi-deciphered logographic-syllabic system with approximately 10,000 text carriers discovered in sites throughout Mexico, Guatemala, Belize, and Honduras (300 B.C. to A.D. 1500). When designing the digital epigraphic work environment, the documentation of the current state of decipherment of the script and language must to be considered. The digital decoding of undeciphered scripts requires a machine readable corpus with annotated textual data which meet technical requirements for applying corpus and computational linguistic methods. To digitally encode texts or markup linguistic information, the annotation guidelines of the TEI (Text Encoding Initiative) have become a standard. The project will therefore investigate the usability of TEI, rather designed for marking up transcriptions of fully readable texts originally written linearly and in alphabetic writing systems. A linear transcription of Maya inscriptions alone cannot represent the original spelling or primary source in its entirety, as many potentially significant details remain undocumented. Marking up the original text and its structure is therefore of great importance, particularly for partially deciphered or undeciphered scripts. We identify this issue as a significant desideratum in the TEI epigraphic research by estimating the limits as well as restating requirements for encoding standards like TEI. Our paper will not only address the tasks and limits of encoding texts in XML/TEI, but also our approaches in the study and decipherment of Classic Mayan.