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An Introduction to the Study of the Maya Hieroglyphs

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An Introduction to the Study of the Maya Hieroglyphs
By Sylvanus Griswold Morley. Introduction by J. Eric S. Thompson. (Dover Publications, Mineola, New York: 1975. Pg. xxviii, 284. 117 Illustrations, Map.) ISBN: 0-486-23108-9.

Reviewed by Herbert White - February 14, 2005

An Introduction to the Study of the Maya Hieroglyphs provides not only a concise and understandable introduction to reading Mayan glyphs, but it also provides a general overview of the research conducted by Sylvanus Griswold Morley on the Maya. Originally published in 1915 by the Bureau of American Ethnology, this book quickly became the standard introductory text on reading the Mayan glyphs. Although modern Mayanist have enhanced their understanding and have improved their ability to interpret Mayan hieroglyphs, this book still serves as an excellent and accessible introduction to learning to read Mayan glyphs.

This edition of Morley's An Introduction to the Study of the Maya Hieroglyphs represents an unabridged republication of the original text with the exception that this edition includes a new introduction by J. Eric S. Thompson.

This text is divided into six chapters:
  1. The Maya
    This chapter offers a brief overview of the history and the culture of the Ancient Maya.
  2. The Maya Hieroglyphic Writing
    Offers a general introduction to how the Maya hieroglyphs were composed, and the writing system used.
  3. How the Maya Reckoned Time
    Detailed overview of Mayan cosmology and calendar.
  4. Maya Arithmetic
    Detailed overview of the Mayan method of counting.
  5. The Inscriptions
    Explanation on how to interpret the texts (glyphs) on monuments and other artifacts.
  6. The Codices
    Explanation on how to interpret hieroglyphic manuscripts.
By the time you work through this book, you will have a firm grounding in the Mayan writing system and calendar, and you'll have a decent start on learning how to read the Mayan glyphs. The text is authoritative and easy to understand, and is enhanced by numerous black and white illustrations and plates. (In the first edition, some of these plates were produced in color, however in this edition, all the plates are in black and white.) Be forewarned, however, some of the material in this book is very dated. It is still, however, the best introductory text on the Maya hieroglyphs and the Maya calendar. You'll find that this book is the perfect stepping off point to studying more detailed and more pedantic books on epigraphic and Mayan studies.

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