The ancient Maya civilization created a visually stunning hieroglyphic script, carved on monuments and painted on pottery and bark paper. For centuries it was undecipherable however a series of breakthroughs finally cracked the code and has given us new insights into the Maya past. This NOVA program takes us to remote jungles of Central America and shows us how the decoding was done, and what the script reveals.
Although the Maya civilization had been in decline for centuries before the arrival of the Spanish, the period between 1517 and 1570 saw the final destruction of the Maya culturally and spiritually. An untold number of Maya books were destroyed, and during the Inquisition it was forbidden to write the Maya language. As a result, only four known Maya books survived.
The process of deciphering the Maya language has taken nearly two centuries. One clue was provided by people living today who speak the Maya language. Another clue was provided by the discovery of a manuscript by a Spanish priest, who wrote down a little about the hieroglyphic system and how it was structured. And a third clue was the realization that the written Maya language was a combination of glyphs for complete words and individual syllables, and thus was able to communicate any word in the spoken Maya language.
Today, researchers are able to read about eighty percent of the inscriptions that are still legible. One of the most fascinating discoveries they have made is that the Maya empire was one of divine rule and blood sacrifice, with warrior-kings constantly waging war against their rivals. Today, researchers continue to work with living descendants of the ancient Maya, to link their spoken language with the deciphered glyphs, and thus allow modern Maya to reclaim their rich history. While the program focuses on history, and no mention is made of the prophetic Maya Calendar, if you are interested in language, cryptography and Maya history, you won't want to miss this program.
Originally released by Night Fire Films as a two-hour director’s cut titled Breaking the Maya Code, a 50-minute adaptation was broadcast nationally and internationally on the PBS series NOVA, under the title Cracking the Maya Code.
Labels: documentary, mystery
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