New Resource on Ancient Maya Writing Released
A new volume published under the Institute's Research Press imprint is A Thematic Bibliography of Ancient Maya Writing, by Stephen D. Houston and Zachary Nelson. "Many people don't know about the quantity of research on ancient Maya writing," says Houston, a BYU professor of anthropology who is an authority on Maya writing. "In fact, the literature is overwhelmingly large. This bibliography provides a roadmap through that literature."
The bibliography arranges hundreds of publications into nine sections. The section titled "Discovery" lists publications that report on the first eyewitnesses who saw Maya writing in use and discussed the script with native scribes. Because of pressure from Spanish authorities, these scribes soon went out of business, in some cases possibly transferring their literacy to roman script. "Nature of Maya Writing" lists works dealing with the pivotal question of how scholars have understood the writing system and what its components or spelling rules might have been. "History" relates to the first glimmerings and eventual triumphant discovery that Maya inscriptions contained historical records structured according to Maya needs and dynastic glorification.
Publications grouped under "Time" discuss the Maya practice of placing events in a temporal and astronomical context. For a long period the only understood portion of the Maya texts was time, and the associated numbers proved more amenable to analysis than the other portions of the glyphic texts (whose content has been revealed only in the last two decades). The section on "Supernaturals" relates to the presence of god names in the Maya "screenfold" books. Works in the "Objects" section treat a principal preoccupation of Maya texts: the dedication and possession of sacred objects and valuables, which the Maya "name-tagged" (denoted ownership) by means of hieroglyphic texts. These objects include chocolate vessels with text reporting ownership and even the recipes of particular decoctions. Other sections in the bibliography are "Principles of Decipherment," "Mayan Languages and People," and "Sites."
According to Houston, the bibliography is a companion piece to The Decipherment of Ancient Maya Writing, which he recently published with Oswaldo Chinchilla and David Stuart. "Together," says Houston, "these works should provide scholars with a key resource for understanding the great intellectual adventure of glyphic decoding."
To obtain a copy of A Thematic Bibliography of Ancient Maya Writing, see the enclosed order form or visit the catalog section of the FARMS Web site.