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Time Line of Decipherment

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1880

1880
Math and astronomy

As with many early glyph-related discoveries, serendipity may have played a role in the next major step in decipherment. A librarian with a penchant for mathematics named Ernst Förstemann just happened to work at the Royal Library in Dresden, Germany, which owned the Dresden Codex and after which it was named. He also had access to Landa's "Relation." Using his unique skill set, Förstemann decoded the astronomy tables the Maya used to determine when, for example, to wage war (above are codex pages depicting the planetary cycle of Venus). He also deciphered the Maya system for measuring time, now called the Calendar Round. In this system, dates cycle once every 52 years, much like dates cycle annually in our Gregorian calendar. Later Mayanists used Förstemann's discoveries to convert Maya dates to Gregorian dates—for instance, the Maya believed the world was created on August 13, 3114 B.C.


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