Cracking the Maya Code Research Paper

Cracking Maya Code

Cracking the Maya Code

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In the early 200’s A.D. The area around Southern Mexico and Guatemala was the home to a civilization that rivaled any on Earth. They built enormous stone buildings, carved with images and writing, and thrived for centuries. However, in the 9th century they inexplicably abandoned their cities and their civilization was lost to time. While much of their culture disappeared, they still maintained some semblance of traditional Mayan culture up to the time of the arrival of the Spanish in the 16th century. But the arrival of the Spanish brought with them the Catholic Church who sought to convert the natives of the Americas to Christianity by any means necessary. One such zealot, Diego de Landa, viewed the Mayan Hieroglyphics as tools of the devil and an impediment to his conversion of the Mayan people. The Mayan insistence on worshipping their traditional gods caused a major crackdown by de Landa who not only punished those who refused to accept Christianity, but also set out to destroy all traces of Mayan culture. This resulted in the destruction of hundreds of ancient Mayan books and the annihilation of the Mayan writing system. In fact only four Mayan manuscripts survived the Spanish devastation.

It wasn’t until the early 1800’s when Spanish explorer, Jose Calderon, discovered the ancient city of Palenque and the large stone tablets with figures and hieroglyphs carved on to them, that interest in Mayan culture was reignited. As the news of this discovery spread, beginning in 1832 many researchers came to Central America to sketch these inscriptions but their misunderstanding of the symbolism caused most to copy many inscriptions wrong. It wasn’t until the early 20th century and explorers brought cameras that the detail necessary for decipherment was captured and real scientific research into translating the language of the Maya could begin. This, and the four Mayan books that had survived the Spanish destruction, began the real work toward decipherment.

One of the surviving Mayan manuscripts is called the “Popol-Vuh,” and tells the tale of the rise of the Mayan people. Described as one of the most important myths discovered in the New World, the Popol-Vuh allows modern researchers a glimpse into the basis of Mayan religion; one which seemed to be immersed in blood and violence. Without the Popol-Vuh the Mayan would still be viewed as a mostly peaceful civilization, a misunderstanding of the situation. In reality the Maya of the classical period were a culture of city-states who constantly viewed for power over each other and resorted to human sacrifice to appease their gods.

Centuries separate the people of modern Mexico with their Mayan ancestors but the recent decipherment of the Mayan language has allowed a people who lost a major part of their culture to rediscover it. This has allowed the people of southern Mexico and Guatemala who have had their culture brutally suppressed to experience a renaissance of Mayan culture and a rediscovery of themselves as a people. Without the decipherment of the hieroglyphs Mayan culture would still be lost to history and the Maya would cease to exist as an independent culture.

Works Cited

“Nova: Cracking the Maya Code.” You Tube. You Tube, 22 Feb. 2012. Web. 17 Feb.


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