The British Museum
- Olmec stone mask
- Olmec Jade
- Olmec figurine
- Maya, an introduction
- Maya: The Yaxchilán Lintels
- Maya: The Fenton Vase
- Jade plaque of a Maya king
- Aztec (Mexica), an introduction
- Mosaic mask of Tezcatlipoca
- Stone kneeling figure of Chalchiuhtlicue
- Double-headed serpent
- Serpent mask of Quetzalcoatl or Tlaloc
- Sacrificial Knife with Mosaic Handle and Chalcedony Blade
- Mixtec: Codex Zouche-Nuttall
The Maya civilization (300-900 C.E.) was one of the most sophisticated in the pre-Columbian Americas. It extended from southeastern Mexico across modern-day Guatemala, Belize and the western parts of Honduras and El Salvador. The Maya were never politically unified but lived in around sixty separate kingdoms, each with its own ruler. Relations between the kingdoms were complex. There was negotiation, trading and inter-marriage, as well as invasion and warfare.
Maya cities usually had a dramatic stepped pyramid topped by a temple sanctuary at their center. Close by were the palaces of the royal court, which functioned as the center of government and provided luxury accommodation. As well as lesser residences, temples and plazas, ball courts have been identified. These consisted of two parallel walls between which a ritual game using a rubber ball was played.
The Maya produced impressive artworks, including polychrome ceramic vases and carved stone monuments portraying their rulers. The British Museum holds a number of carved lintels from Yaxchilan in modern south Mexico. They are considered to be among the masterpieces of Mayan art and record the rulers of the city.
The Maya developed a sophisticated writing system and used an elaborate calendar system known as the Long Count to provide dates. The majority of surviving examples of Maya writing are from the Classic period (250-900 C.E.) although some date to the Late Preclassic (400 B.C.E. - 250 C.E.). The origin of the script is complex and far from clear. Maya writing has been found on monumental sculpture, public buildings, murals, pottery, portable objects (made of shell, obsidian, bone, wood, jade and other stones) and screenfold books, called codices. The inscriptions deal mainly with calendrical and astronomical information, and historical events such as alliances, wars, lineages and marriages. They were only identified as a writing system by scholars during the nineteenth century.
The text was inscribed in blocks placed in horizontal and vertical rows. One or more glyphs were set in each of these blocks. The reading order within each block is generally from left to right and top to bottom. Two columns were read together following the same order. The text appears sometimes in single columns, in L-shape or other arrangements (see, for example, the Yaxchilán Lintels).
Maya hieroglyphs were first identified as a writing system during the nineteenth century, when the bar-and-dot numerical system was deciphered. In the 1950s it was discovered that the script combined signs representing whole words with signs representing syllables. Certain glyphs were recognized as naming specific people and cities (known as Name Glyphs and Emblem Glyphs respectively). There were major breakthroughs in decipherment in the second half of the twentieth century and approximately 85% of the glyphs can now be read.
The Maya today
By about 800 C.E. Maya civilization was in decline. Building and monument-making stopped and in some places there is evidence of violence and destruction. The problems may have been caused by warfare and agricultural crisis. Despite this "collapse," the Maya survived in reduced numbers. There are about six million Maya alive today.
© Trustees of the British Museum
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- In the last paragraph it says "there are about six million Maya alive today" but the paragraph before that says "approximately 85% of the glyphs can now be read". Since the glyphs are their written language why is it not 100% of the glyphs can be read?(9 votes)
- The glyphs cant be read because only Mayan descendants are left, not literal Mayans that lived in 300 bce. It's the same thing as the Minoans and Mycenaeans in Greece, the Aztecs took over and most of the culture was lost.(4 votes)
- Why does the British Museum have items important to the culture of a people still in existence which clearly, rightly, belong to those people and none other?(9 votes)
- Repatriation of objects of cultural heritage is a complex and contentious issue.
Here are links to pages that discusses this issue:
- How come they didn't understand that they were reading and/or writing something?(2 votes)
- Because many scholars assumed there was not written language and the glyphs were complex not basic like cuneiform, which caused them to look at them as pictures. It was only after the bar dot system was decoded much like braille that it was recognized as a written language.
You also have to keep in mind that similar (as in also a glyph from) but distinctly different Aztec writing could have been used as a comparison but all the Aztec scribes were killed and the codices burned by the incoming Spaniards who then banned traditional languages and traditions in their efforts to Christianize the area as part of colonization.(4 votes)
- What happened to the Maya? Just some possibilities on how their civilization was wiped out. I know its a mystery.(2 votes)
- your question prompted me to go to google, which sent me here;
there are several theories, all of which are plausible. Like you say, it's a mystery(3 votes)
- The maya have many interesting in writing. I absolutely love them, but they have different tribes everywhere, I,m from Cancun mexico where not a lot of Maya live now since its mostly a tourists area now, but the hieroglyphics got me the most im still unable to read maya language because I speak a different tongue called K'iche Maya.. . I read Telpecoolt, god of jaggaur.(3 votes)
- what was what they called 'Chichén Itzá?'(2 votes)
- Chichen Itza is now an archaeological site in the Yucatan Peninsula. It was a large city built by the Maya in PreColumbian times.(2 votes)
- what was the name of the ritual game with rubber ball(2 votes)
- My son is trying to find bibliography source for Mayan Introduction in Khan Academy.
Who wrote it , when, publisher. Is this information available?
- In the writing section, first paragraph. Why did it take so long for people to identify the writing?(1 vote)
- Lance Calcutt is right. And before they could decipher it, they had to realize that the complex figures were not ornamental but were in fact communication, that is, writing.(1 vote)