Maya Writing

The Maya are one of the five cultures worldwide to have independently developed a writing system. In comparison with the other writing and notational systems in Mesoamerica, the hieroglyphic script of the Maya culture is the only legible writing system to have been used for a period of approximately 2,000 years. The earliest attestations of the script in the Maya Lowlands date to the third century B.C. The first texts with calendrical dates recorded using the long count notation date to between 36 B.C. to A.D. 126 and originate from the highlands and the Pacific coast region of Guatemala. Whereas use of the script in the Guatemalan highlands and on Guatemala’s southern coast ceased at the end of the second century A.D., a long and intensive tradition of Maya writing was initiated by the beginning of the Classic Period in the third century at the latest, with the appearance of the first securely dated monument from the Maya Lowlands. This tradition lasted at least until the arrival of the Spanish in the sixteenth century and was continued underground through the late seventeenth century.

The first breakthroughs in the decipherment of Maya writing did not occur until the 1950’s, and many research questions still remain unanswered. It is at this point that the project „Text Database and Dictionary of Classic Mayan“ enters the scene.

In this section, we offer a general overview of the structure and function of the writing system. In accordance with the goals of the project, we also outline here current research questions, desiderata, and concrete problem areas that the project aims to address.