Time Line of Decipherment

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Unveiling a dynasty

Concerned that Maya research was limited to a few experts with special access to key resources, Merle Greene Robertson, an American artist based at the Classic Maya site of Palenque, built a center where anyone could go to study the city's art and inscriptions. In December 1973, 30 people came to the center at Robertson's invitation, forming the first major scholarly conference held at a Maya site. Attendees included Robertson's assistant Linda Schele, who had studied every Palenque inscription firsthand, and Peter Mathews, an undergraduate who had spent the previous year assigning Thompson's "T"-numbers to the city's inscriptions. The duo (above, at the site) began piecing together Palenque's history using a carving from the site called the Tablet of the 96 Glyphs, which researchers vaguely understood to depict a line of royal accession. Within hours, and with a combination of luck and an intimate knowledge of the glyphs, Schele and Mathews accomplished something extraordinary: They unveiled most of Palenque's dynastic history, including the life stories of six rulers.

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