Maya Writing - Maya Language and Stories
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Maya Writing

madrid codex
A page from the Madrid Codex

It's possible that the Maya learned how to write from the Olmec, but there aren't any examples of early Olmec writing, so more likely it was the Maya who invented writing in the Americas. Like most other writing systems, Maya writing is a syllabary, not an alphabet (compare Sumerian cuneiform or Egyptian hieroglyphics or Chinese.)

Maya writing is not very difficult to read once you get some practice. You can begin by reading the numbers. One dot means one, two dots mean two, and so on. A bar means five, and two bars on top of each other mean ten.

Now you can begin to read words. The main root part of each word is in the middle of the picture, and then prefixes and suffixes like un- or -ing are added on around the corners and edges.

Maya people used their writing mainly to carve inscriptions on their stone buildings telling who made the building and when.

When the Maya were losing power to the Aztec, the Aztec also learned how to write from the Maya. So Aztec writing is closely related to Maya writing.

Learn by doing: can you find some numbers in Maya books?
More about Aztec writing
More about the Maya people

Bibliography and further reading about Maya writing:

Aztec
Inca
Later South America
Native Americans
American History
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Professor Carr

Karen Eva Carr, PhD.
Assoc. Professor Emerita, History
Portland State University

Professor Carr holds a B.A. with high honors from Cornell University in classics and archaeology, and her M.A. and PhD. from the University of Michigan in Classical Art and Archaeology. She has excavated in Scotland, Cyprus, Greece, Israel, and Tunisia, and she has been teaching history to university students for a very long time.

Professor Carr's PSU page

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