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Cracking the Maya Code

Program Overview


NOVA chronicles the 200-year worldwide quest by linguists, mathematicians, artists, architects, archeologists, and others to decipher the Maya hieroglyphs.

The program:

  • describes where the Maya region is located.

  • recounts the first documented discovery by an expedition from Spain, in 1785, of tablets with hieroglyphs.

  • notes that the complexity of the hieroglyphs presented the greatest obstacle to deciphering the images.

  • reports that Alfred Maudslay was the first to photograph the ruins in 1881.

  • relates how the Maya language faded to obscurity after, in 1562, Bishop Deigo de Landa and other Spaniards destroyed—for religious reasons—all the Maya texts he could find.

  • reports on how one of the first breakthroughs in deciphering the code came in 1810, when a scholar first determined that some of the glyphs stood for numbers.

  • pieces together the puzzle of how numerous scientists and laypeople unraveled the mystery behind the hieroglyphs, including what sound each glyph represented.

  • reports on present-day efforts to teach the original Maya language to children in the region.

Taping Rights: Can be used up to one year after program is recorded off the air.

Teacher's Guide
Cracking the Maya Code
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