Having fun with activities is the best way to understand Maya Hieroglyphs and their meaning. This resource can be use for the Maya Writing KS2 History Key Stage 2 curriculum.
Creating your own Emblem-Glyph
The Maya had emblem glyphs for their cities, much as football teams have insignia.
Emblem Glyphs are ubiquitous on Maya monuments. They functions as polity names (i.e. a state as a political entity) but also as the name of dynasty who rules a given territory1.
Emblem glyph consists of three parts:
- The main sign which varies for each polity
- A prefix with dots attached to another sign.
- A superfix (above the main sign) that reads ajaw (“king”, “lord”).
The entire glyph can be translated as “Holy Lord of …”
Using the following examples2, students can make their own emblem glyph using the attributes of their town.
Stelae were carved standing stones that represented the major events in a ruler’s life, such as accession to the throne, marriage, conquest and so on. Using the the Montgomery Drawings Collection, students can draw their own stelae and record important events in their lives.
For the Maya, writing and painting were virtually identical and within the glyphs themselves there is a strong link between text and picture.
Ask pupils to try and decipher the lintel from Tikal above Various dates are mentioned that pupils should be able to pick out.
Cracking the Maya Code
A great resource is the NOVA documentary ‘Cracking the Maya Code’. The documentary includes a timeline of decipherment and an interactive with the mural of San Bartolo.
Murals of San Bartolo
After watching the photos of the San Bartolo murals, students can make their own mural either on own or collectively about themselves or their town. The mural should reflect life and events in their town.
The Maya Codices
Show the presentation on the codices from the Maya Codices database. Discuss what is represented in the codices, the animals, people and objects. What numbers are there?
Ask pupils to paint their own manuscript on what they did during the holidays and then tell the class as part of a story-telling session. You can then compile all the manuscripts and make one codex, which you can display as a book.
Decoding a Stela
NOVA – This site allows you to read Maya hieroglyphs and hear them being spoken aloud.
How To Write Your Name With Maya Hieroglyphs
Demonstration by expert decipherer and calligrapher Dr Mark Van Stone who explains how Maya hieroglyphs are constructed by writing a modern name in glyphs.
After watching the video students can try their hand at writing their own name in glyphs, or rather what they think their own name would look like in Maya hieroglyphs.
They can use the syllabary charts below to reconstruct their names (see our article The Maya Writing System to see how to use them).