Breaking the Maya Code

Breaking the Maya CodeAmong The Exciting Advances To Be Described Are The Discovery Of The Specific Maya Language And Sophisticated Grammar Used By The Ancient Scribes On Stone Monuments And Painted Vases Archaeological Explorations Of Tombs And Buildings Of The Ancient Founders Of The Great City Of Copan, Whose Very Existence Had Been Predicted By Epigraphers Through Glyphic Decipherment The Realization That Many Small City States Were Dominated By Two Rival Giants, Tikal And Calakmul, Through A Potent Combination Of Military Conquest, Diplomacy, And Royal Marriages

Michael D Coe was an American archaeologist, anthropologist, epigrapher and author Primarily known for his work on the Maya civilization.

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  • Paperback
  • 304 pages
  • Breaking the Maya Code
  • Michael D. Coe
  • English
  • 02 February 2018
  • 9780500281338

10 thoughts on “Breaking the Maya Code

  1. says:

    Although reluctant to be a first world tourist in a third world area, my wife Linda eventually got me to go down to Quintana Roo in the NE Yucatan with her Ultimately, I made three trips, all of them to the area midway between Cancun and Belize, preparing for them each time by reading up on the region and its original inhabitants, the Maya.While Linda preferred the beach, I preferred exploring the ruins which are abundant in the area To do so I befriended the locals, the descendants of the Maya, particularly the children, asking them where interesting things were Then, following the paths of generations of little kids, I would go into the jungle to the places the tourists never venture, the places without roads There, among other things, I found a cave with an island in it, and many square limestone structures, open on their sides, ranging in size from buildings a dozen feet tall to stupas the height of one s chest And, yes, of course, I also went to Tulum and Xelha and Coba and other touristic sites, pretty much covering the coast from Cancun to the southern border with Belize, much of it on foot.Now, three trips and dozens of books into the matter, I m an amateur student of the Maya, a culture at once so distant from ours and so close The conquest of it only happened 400 500 years ago The paint on some of the ruins, compared to those of ancient Greece or Rome, is still fresh.One of the better introductory works on the Maya that I read was Coe s book by that title Published in 1966, it still looked at Mayan civilization as a mystery We could read their numerations, but not their language at that time This book, published in 1992, tells a very different and much hopeful story, the written Mayan language having been substantially deciphered in the intervening years.Breaking the Maya Code is at once a history of the study of Mayan civilization and an explanation as to how their written language worked and why we took so very long to come around to understanding it The historical part of the book is very accessible, almost as exciting as a good mystery The linguistic part of the book tends to get technical, though the author does adequately explain things for the layperson.

  2. says:

    I was really excited to read this book as a linguistics dork this sounded great The pseudo anthropologist in me felt his heart go pitter pat But the book itself is so incredibly tedious in tone that I quickly lost enthusiasm Praise for certain academics and descriptions of their quirks as people crotchety indictments of others, along with descriptions of their quirks as people Shut up and tell me about the role of phonetics in the deciphering of the script already Sheesh.

  3. says:

    Well, this certainly had a lot of content I sought this out after reading the recent book about the Stephens and Catherwood expeditions Overall, I enjoyed it, although my impression of it perhaps suffered a little because it wasn t exactly what I was looking for Roughly the first half covers the major personalities in Mayan studies and the history of the field It was interesting, and it set the stage, and it went into detail than I was prepared for Some of it had a weird tone because the author himself is a Mayan scholar, and knows or knew the recent folks working in this area, and it felt like he was trying to say nice things about the individuals but for me, seeing as I don t know these people and don t care what they think of me, it felt wedged in Or maybe an editor told him oh, for human interest, you should add some tidbits that show the personalities of these people and then he randomly stuck in odd descriptors that ended up feeling really out of context and in addition to the nice things, some of them were rather salty, which seemed even stranger The main takeaway from this section is important, however, which is that there were a lot of incorrect assumptions about the Mayan writing that shifted the focus away from avenues of inquiry that might have produced better results sooner namely that Mayan civilization wasn t advanced enough to develop a truly coherent writing system wrong , that the written language was entirely symbolic and not related to spoken Mayan, variations of which are still spoken by actual people wrong , and that the writing was only used to express dates and calendar calculations there are a lot of dates, but still wrong.The second part of the book got into what was actually happening as researchers started to make progress with the Mayan writing The book was impressively successful at broad stroking the general idea of the thing how you if you are a linguist can suss out the relationship between sounds and symbols For the curious, the signs can act as either outright symbols of a thing a picture of a jaguar is a jaguar but they can also be used as phonetic markers so you can use them to spell out any word Or any word that a Mayan person wanted to carve into a lintel or paint on ceramics As interesting as all of that was, I suspect it s the kind of thing where Coe isn t that used to explaining it to beginners, and this stuff probably seems very obvious to him What was really missing, for me, and again, this might not have been his goal at all, was a deep explanation of how the glyphs work visually They re incredibly hard to suss out for a person outside of that tradition It was extremely challenging to match up the Mayan images with the explanations And of course, you have a body of writing that spanned centuries, ranging over a large geographic area, and so there are a lot of differences from example to example and it was utterly unclear which threads of commonality I was supposed to be looking at What I wanted was of a visual history of the writing itself As an example, one of them is supposedly the image of a frog, and I m staring at this thing and I can t see a frog is it a frog in profile A birds eye view Is that squiggle a leg A hat WHAT IS THIS But it definitely succeeded in showing the complexity of understanding Mayan writing and makes a real impression of how dedicated and smart and determined folks had to be to make progress.

  4. says:

    REVOLUTION AMONG MAYANISTSFROM SIR ERIC THOMPSON TO REAL EPIGRAPHYSTRAIGHT FROM THE MOUTH OF A DIRECT WITNESSSir Eric Thompson was knighted by the Queen of England in 1975, just before his passing away, to thank him for all he had done in the field of Maya research But what on earth had he done He had blocked for at least forty years all research about Maya writing because for him all these signs and carvings and paintings and decorations in stone, in paint, on walls, on pots, on plates, on bark paper, all those monuments in the jungle were not writing, were not the written form of an oral language that had been in existence for thousands of years, but was the aesthetic beautiful artistic expression of no scribes but visionary shamans of some kind able to see beyond the surface of things and able to express directly the depth and beauty of the soul of the shamans, of the artists, of the Maya people It was decreed by this Sir Eric Thompson that apart from the mathematical glyphs with numbers and long count, short count or whatever, all the rest was in no way linguistic and the dates and mathematical symbols were only the sign of the absolute addiction of the Maya to numbers, mathematics, time, and other figments of their somewhat troubled imagination during the long bouts of absolute drunkenness drunken coma they enjoyed by enematic injections They might even be astrologers, you know, these people who are predicting your future from the stars, telling you your horoscope in two sentences for the day, the week, the month, the years to come, even your life, though then they need a crystal ball or a pack of tarots cards And mind you for them the planet Venus is supreme, male and vindictive in HIS request for blood In other words, they were and still are barbarians according to these intellectuals who must be attracted to the subject by the scent of blood.The damage was so deep that it took twenty years for the epigraphers, ethnographers, archaeologists, and linguists, plus a myriad of other scientists or undergraduate and graduate students to finally recognize the truth that was first said and published in 1952 by a Soviet linguist in Leningrad, Yuri Knorozov, the truth that Maya writing was comparable to Egyptian hieroglyphs on the basis of some logographs glyphs that represented an object, an animal, a person or a god, and at times something abstract, like the sun, the moon, sunrise and sunset that have kept their recognizable forms, the writing system developed as a phonetic system whose architecture was that of a syllabary And that had been suggested in the 16th century by Landa, the monk and later on a bishop who had thousands of Maya books burnt up in an autodafe We are luckily far beyond this sorry phase of the forty years of feudal and aristocratic dictatorship from one single man, Sir Eric Thompson Kukulkan, please, bless the child If that had not happened the Maya might have been able to resist against the last episode of genocide and ethnocide they had to suffer in Guatemala at the end of the 20th century, not to mention the systematic segregation they are the victims of everywhere in Mesoamerica since they pretend to speak Maya languages, they consider Spanish as a second language, and they identify to Christianity because in a way Jesus Christ is Quetzalcoatl, aka Kukulkan D.H Lawrence said that in the 1920s with his famous novel The Plumed Serpent, 1926 Let s hope this resurrection, restoration, renascence of an ethnocided, genocided and ecocided culture will bring La Malinche back into the light, the interpreter of Hern n Cort s who has been diabolized and Satanized by the Mexicans.You will find here the long study on Michael D Coe s essential book on the saga of how Maya script was finally deciphered, and Coe knows what he is speaking of since he was a direct witness of the whole dys adventure because he managed to get a modest position in academia in Thompson s time and he remained modest in his suggestions that could not, had not to appear like a challenge He informed the Master about Yuri Knorozov, he did his own thing under the table, and he let the Master exorcize the communist devil from Leningrad And that lasted from 1952 to 1975 That was the Cold War in academia That was, plain and simple, intellectual academic McCarthyism Really God, please, Kukulkan, pretty please, Quetzalcoatl, with sugar on top, do bless the child and try to save us from the deeply rooted anti communistic prejudices that reign in the USA so powerful that it makes everyone blind, like some onanistic sin of the past, according to absolute experts about it, viz priests of any affiliation and confession, who happened to speak of it between two episodes of child molesting.Enjoy that descent into hell, the hell of the good fundamentalist and sectarian we would have said Stalinist in my days academic totalitarianism of the intellectual elite of a nation, of the Western world in days of globalization.Dr Jacques COULARDEAU

  5. says:

    Michael D Coe s Breaking the Maya Code Third Edition is about a conflict between the diggers and the linguists When Napoleon invaded Egypt in 1798, he had his scholar Champollion with him It was not too many years after the discovery of the Rosetta Stone during that expedition that Champollion had figured out how to translate Egyptian hieroglyphs.There was a Rosetta Stone for Mayan hieroglyphs as well one dating all the way back to 1566 It was Bishop Diego de Landa s book Relacion de los cosas de Yucatan, which included the bishop s own study of the language Darn nice of him, since he was the man responsible for burning so many of the Maya condexes at Mani years earlier What prevented the glyphs from being translated was that the diggers the archaeologists, rather than the linguists were in control One man, Sir J Eric S Thompson had, for four decades, insisted that the glyphs didn t mean anything It was not until Thompson died in 1975 that the glyphs yielded up their meaning Oddly, the impetus came not from America, but from two Russians, Tatiana Proskouriakoff and Yuri Valentinovich Knorozov When I first visited Yucatan in 1975, I believed Thompson that the thousands of glyphs were not important For all his renown, Thompson never learned any dialect of Mayan It was the linguists who gave the Maya a history, complete with names, dates, and events.Coe s book is actually exciting It is a detective story about how to overcome stodgy entrenched interests.

  6. says:

    I really like that the book is dedicated to Knorosov TO THE MEMORY OF YURI VALENTINOVICH KNOROSOV aj bobat, aj miatz, etail.Coe s book is a very interesting one about the story of the decipherment of Mayan script I did not even know that the Mayas had a system of writing that represented their spoken language And due to Knorosov work now we can read Mayan stelas, inscriptions, pottery, codices.

  7. says:

    Breaking the Maya Code is not so much about deciphering the Mayan script as it is about the adventurers, divines, scholars, librarians, insurance salesmen, and students who contributed to and often befuddled our understanding of Mayan epigraphy for over four centuries.Before actually discussing how the Mayan code has been recently deciphered, Coe indulges himself in nearly two hundred pages of scholarly anecdotes, brief biography, and sometimes curious, though often pointless trivia as he traces in great detail how, in spite of centuries of effort, the writing on the monuments of Chichen Itza, Copan, and Palenque was misunderstood or intentionally disregarded by feuding scholars With perfect hindsight, Coe waspishly criticizes predecessors and colleagues whose attempts at decipherment either failed or whose opinions and renown in academia hindered others from making progress toward understanding the true nature of the glyphs With great embellishment, he heaps praise on the work of the Young Turks who have finally adopted phonetic principals to crack the code.What results is Coe s book of remembrance, his memoirs of fifty years in some of the privileged corners of academia he never fails to mention he took his degrees from Harvard and taught at Yale spent trying to make sense not only of the Lords of the Forest but also of the gods, men, and monsters in the university.

  8. says:

    Reviewed for The Bibliophibian.This book is, I ll warn people right up front, also a history of how the Mayan specialists in the West failed to break the Maya code for far too long, due to petty jealousies and larger than life characters Quite often Coe sketches a mini biography of someone who was involved in the decipherment or often, the failure of decipherment sometimes the biography isn t so mini.Still, I think it s better written than his other book on the Mayans, which I read not that long ago it certainly worked better for me, anyhow Perhaps because there are glimpses of the scholars and larger than life characters who put in the work, erroneous though it often was.The book is illustrated, both with full reproductions and sketches For me, the full page spreads of Mayan characters were meaningless, but I m sure it would appeal a lot to some people to be able to have a crack at it themselves I know I m not visually inclined enough, so I tended to skip the examples and such, but they are there and I m sure visually inclined people could pick out some of the features Coe discusses.

  9. says:

    This book is great The Mayan glyphs are so mysterious, so artistic The author walks through the history of the attempts to decipher Mayan glyphs, spanning 150 years It is a no holds barred, in your face primer on the basics of written language, yet not so technical that you lose interest The storyline is interesting as Michael Coe introduces the reader to the great minds and not so great minds and their contributions to the decipherment All along the way, the ancient Maya are brought to life as their written statements shed light into their philosophy, astronomy, calendrics, aggressions and rituals.

  10. says:

    This one is filled with facts, fluid truths and supposition about the Mayans I have to admit this took me awhile to read because I went back and forth, re reading parts I had read before There is history here and deep digging into the ancient lives and possible joinings and breakings of familial lineage Overall it was a good book but beware, it will cause you to think and research Scary LOLDanny

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