Cracking the Maya Code
Time Line of Decipherment
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Time Line of Decipherment

When the Spanish conquered the Maya empire in the 16th century, they forced their new subjects to convert to Christianity and speak and write in Spanish. But long before the Maya used the Roman alphabet, they had created their own rich and elegant script, featuring more than 800 hieroglyphs. Sadly, the glyphs' meanings were lost in the decades following the Conquest. Ever since, scholars have struggled to decode these symbols, pronounce the words they form, and understand the stories they tell. In this time line, follow the centuries-long decipherment, which has only recently reached the point where scholars can read more than 90 percent of the glyphs.—Rima Chaddha

Note: This time line is not meant to be comprehensive. For a more detailed history on the decipherment, see Michael Coe's Breaking the Maya Code (Thames & Hudson, 1999), on which NOVA's film was based.

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© | Created March 2008