Mayan Script

For my historical postcard I chose to use the Ancient Mayan script, also known as Mayan glyphs or hieroglyphs. Apart from being the oldest writing system in Mesoamerica, it’s also considered to be the most developed, mostly because of its intricate aesthetics and because it has been partially deciphered. The earliest found inscriptions date back to the 3rd century BCE in San Bartolo, Guatemala. Mayan writing was in use through out Mesoamerica until shortly after the arrival of the conquistadors during the 16th century and into the 18th century CE. Early examples can be found at the caves of Naj Tunich and La Cobanerita in El Petén, Guatemala and the most complex inscriptions are considered to be those found at sites like Palenque, Copán and Tikal.


Mayan script, consist of a combination of logograms and syllabic glyphs, similar in function to modern Japanese writing. Mayan writing was called hieroglyphs by early European explorers from the 18th and 19th centuries who did not understand them, but found them to be similar to the Egyptian hieroglyphs even though they are in no way related. There are around 700 different glyph that have so far been documented with about 75% of those having been deciphered and around 7000 texts have been also been documented.

Mayan script consisted of elaborate glyphs which were painted on ceramics, walls, bark-paper, carved in wood or stone, or even molded in stucco. Glyphs that were carved were also painted but usually wouldn’t remain for long. Individual glyphs could represent a word or a syllable. The glyph could be used for both, for example the glyph for calendars, MANIK’ could also be used to represent the syllable chi

k1185The inscriptions were usually written in columns arranged of 2 blocks wide, and were read left to right, top to bottom. Each block usually corresponded to a noun or a verb phrase such as his blue hat. The glyphs were sometimes conflated, meaning the element of one glyph would replace part of a second one


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