Breaking the Maya Code
Length: 1 hr 56 minutes
Author/Director: David LeBrun
Writer: Night time Hearth Movies
Breaking the Maya Code (2008) is a one hour fifty-six minute video written and directed by David LeBrun from Night time Hearth Movies on the decipherment of the traditional Mayan hieroglyphic script. It’s primarily based on Michael Coe‘s bestseller of the identical identify. The Mayan decipherment is a exceptional accomplishment since there is no such thing as a “Rosetta Stone,” no instance of a passage or textual content in each the traditional Mayan hieroglyphic script and a identified language. Almost all historic scripts which were efficiently deciphered have had a Rosetta Stone. The one main exception previous to the Mayan script was the traditional Greek Linear B script deciphered by the architect and beginner linguist Michael Ventris within the 1950’s, a case which bears some resemblance to the Mayan decipherment. Arithmetic performed a serious position within the decipherment of the traditional Mayan script.
Breaking the Maya Code is a well-done documentary with a wonderful, participating narration by actress CCH Pounder. It’s each longer and higher than the PBS/Nova particular Cracking the Maya Code which makes use of a lot of the identical video footage and script. The interviews deliver most of the characters to life in a means that Michael Coe’s guide alone can’t. The documentary provides a superb introduction and overview to the traditional Maya and the thriller of their hieroglyphic script for these unfamiliar with the topic.
Followers and practitioners of arithmetic shall be most within the position that arithmetic performed within the decipherment of the traditional script. A severe query and a preferred science-fiction theme is the query of how we might decipher a transmission or spoken language from aliens. Most science fiction reveals like Star Trek sidestep this vexing concern by postulating magical gadgets like Star Trek’s Common Translator that in some way decipher and translate by no means earlier than encountered alien languages, typically into excellent spoken English :-).
A protracted standing concept is that even probably the most alien intelligences would share arithmetic in frequent with human beings. Science fiction typically portrays contact with an alien civilization beginning with figuring out arithmetic within the alien transmissions or language. Then, the scientists in some way bootstrap from recognizing numbers and mathematical expressions to excellent communication in a couple of days, minutes, and even seconds :-). The quantity PI, the sequence of prime numbers, and different presumably common mathematical truths have been utilized in these tales; the implicit argument being that if we acquired a sign that could possibly be transformed to PI or the sequence of prime numbers or another mathematical reality by some type of place worth calculation just like our decimal numbering system, then this sign may solely be the work of intelligence.
The traditional Mayan hieroglyphic script was rediscovered by Europeans within the nineteenth century with the invention of huge largely limestone ruins, pyramids, temples and different buildings within the jungles of southern Mexico, Guatemala and Honduras and the invention of three “codices,” folding bark-paper books, in libraries and collections in Europe: the Madrid Codex, the Paris Codex, and particularly the Dresden Codex which turned out to comprise mathematical tables of the dates of eclipses, the looks of the planet Venus because the Morning Star, and probably different astronomical topics as effectively. The Europeans additionally found a replica of the Franciscan friar Diego De Landa’s detailed account of the Yucatan and the Maya which included a mysterious and complicated alphabet in addition to a listing of the months utilized by the Mayans.
Breaking the Maya Code tells the story of the virtually two century lengthy effort to decipher the mysterious hieroglyphics discovered within the three (now 4) surviving codices (tons of of books of Mayan writing have been burned by Diego De Landa and the Spanish following the Conquest of the Yucatan) and on the traditional stone ruins within the jungle. The primary success was the identification and partial decipherment of the numbers by Constantine Rafinesque. The librarian Ernst Forstemann was subsequently capable of establish and decipher the dates and mathematical tables of astronomical information within the Dresden Codex. Like the traditional Sumerians and Babylonians, the traditional Maya seem to have practiced astrology on an unlimited scale, probably ordering their society in line with the dictates of the heavens, particularly the planet Venus recognized with the god Quetzalcoatl or Kukulcan.
How does one get from numbers, dates, and mathematical calculations to a common understanding of a script? With nice problem and never with out further assumptions and speculations. Breaking the Maya Code tells the story of how the Mayan students, armed with the Mayan courting system, started to interpret the hieroglyphic symbols on the pyramids, temples, and different buildings within the jungles as information of the delivery, coronation, and significant dates within the rule of assorted historic Mayan kings, beginning with a theoretical interpretation of a collection of dates by Tatiana Proskouriakoff.
In actual life, at the very least at our present state of mathematical and linguistic information, one can solely go to date with numbers, dates, and arithmetic. The actual key, as with Linear B, lay within the speculation that the hieroglyphs have been, in reality, a syllabic script (like Linear B) encoding the syllables of a identified language, or extra precisely the traditional precursor or precursors of a household of languages spoken by the trendy day Maya who reside in Mexico, Guatemala, and Honduras. Mixed with Diego De Landa’s mysterious and controversial “alphabet,” reinterpreted as giving the hieroglyphic indicators for the Mayan syllables comparable to the sounds of the Spanish alphabet within the sixteenth century! Mayan students now imagine they’ll decipher about ninety % of the identified Mayan texts together with the codices, the inscriptions on the stone ruins, and inscriptions on historic embellished pottery.
If we ever encounter or have already encountered true aliens, they’d doubtless have a language completely unknown to us, and probably suppose in actually “alien” methods, making communication exceedingly tough. We’d not be capable to make use of the trick used to decipher Linear B and now the traditional Mayan hieroglyphic script.
From a mathematical standpoint, deciphering an unknown script could be considered estimating or inferring an unknown mathematical perform that maps from the unknown script and/or language to a identified language corresponding to English or, on this case, the trendy Mayan languages. If one has a Rosetta Stone with an instance of the unknown script or language and its equal in a identified script or language, then this estimation is way simpler since one is aware of precisely or almost precisely what the perform should produce on this case. Even on this case, there are lots of features that can accurately decipher the Rosetta Stone however give totally different outcomes for different texts. Extra constraints have to be used both explicitly or implicitly. For instance, the deciphered textual content ought to, on the whole, make sense.
These issues are a lot worse if no Rosetta Stone exists. How does one constrain the allowed decipherment perform? If the written script represents a identified language with identified grammatical guidelines, which is considered the case for Linear B and the Mayan hieroglyphs, then one can use the identified guidelines of the identified language to constrain the estimation of the unknown decipherment perform. However there should be main issues. For instance, is it attainable to assemble multiple perform that maps the unknown texts to very totally different translations that nonetheless make sense and comply with the identified grammatical guidelines? Within the case of Mayan, the inscriptions on the buildings and pottery seem like a relatively simplified subset of the Mayan language: Wonderful Ruler Whooping Crane was born on fill in date, Wonderful Ruler Whooping Crane turned Wonderful Ruler on fill in date, Wonderful Ruler Whooping Crane’s Consuming Cup, and so forth.
With respect to the Mayan decipherment, if I’ve a pattern of eight-hundred or so hieroglyphic indicators (the variety of identified Mayan hieroglyphs) which, in reality, have been used just like the indicators in trendy written Chinese language, representing a subset of a a lot bigger set of indicators just like the tens of hundreds of indicators in written Chinese language, and I then mistakenly establish subsets of ten or twenty of those eight-hundred indicators as alternative ways of expressing the identical syllable in a hypothetical historic Mayan language that could be a precursor of the trendy Mayan languages, can I produce, fairly accidentally, a believable extremely simplified subset of Mayan phrases corresponding to “Wonderful Ruler Whooping Crane was born on fill within the date” that is perhaps discovered on monuments and pottery?
The reply is just not clear and it is a extremely technical concern that Breaking the Maya Code doesn’t even point out. It actually requires a rigorous quantitative and logical evaluation of the decipherment.
The ultimate key step within the Mayan decipherment, at the very least in line with Breaking the Maya Code and lots of different sources, was the identification of teams of ten to twenty fairly totally different hieroglyphic indicators as all representing the identical spoken syllable in Mayan. Most syllabic scripts corresponding to Japanese kana have about eighty indicators for about eighty distinct syllables. In distinction, the traditional Mayan script makes use of about eight-hundred indicators to signify about eighty syllables, which, from a sensible standpoint, appears relatively sophisticated and pointless. It’s true that some languages typically use totally different indicators for a similar sounds: corresponding to “f” in “faze” and “ph” in “section” in English. However languages usually don’t use such an unlimited variety of totally different indicators for a similar sound, most probably for sensible causes.
Breaking the Maya Code is a superb documentary and a superb praise to the guide of the identical identify by Michael Coe. It’s out there on DVD and Netflix. It’s effectively value watching if you are interested or might need an curiosity on this matter. Whereas it provides a superb introduction to the Mayan decipherment for common audiences, it’s actually essential to delve into the technical literature to evaluate the plausibility of the decipherment and what issues might exist with the brand new interpretation of the Mayan hieroglyphics.
Steered Studying/Extra Sources
Breaking the Maya Code
Michael D. Coe
Thames and Hudson
Studying the Maya Glyphs (Second Version)
Michael D. Coe, Mark Van Stone
Thames & Hudson
The best way to Learn Maya Hieroglyphs
Hippocrene Books (February 2002)
The picture of web page 9 of the Dresden Codex is from Wikimedia Commons and is within the public area.
© 2012 John F. McGowan
In regards to the Writer
John F. McGowan, Ph.D. solves issues utilizing arithmetic and mathematical software program, together with creating video compression and speech recognition applied sciences. He has in depth expertise creating software program in C, C++, Visible Fundamental, Mathematica, MATLAB, and lots of different programming languages. He’s most likely finest identified for his AVI Overview, an Web FAQ (Often Requested Questions) on the Microsoft AVI (Audio Video Interleave) file format. He has labored as a contractor at NASA Ames Analysis Heart concerned within the analysis and growth of picture and video processing algorithms and expertise. He has revealed articles on the origin and evolution of life, the exploration of Mars (anticipating the invention of methane on Mars), and low-cost entry to area. He has a Ph.D. in physics from the College of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and a B.S. in physics from the California Institute of Expertise (Caltech). He could be reached at [email protected].