Cover image for How to read Maya hieroglyphs
How to read Maya hieroglyphs
Montgomery, John, 1951-
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
New York : Hippocrene Books, [2002]

Physical Description:
xvi, 360 pages, 8 pages of plates : illustrations (some color), map ; 24 cm
History of decipherment -- The basics -- Introduction to the calendars : numbers, initial series, and long count -- The calendar round -- The supplementary and other series -- Period endings and distance numbers -- Phoneticism in the Maya script -- Verbs, verbal inflection, and grammatical elements -- The major events -- Names and titles -- Relationships -- Locations and objects -- Gods and supernaturals -- The primary standard sequence -- Discourse and structural analysis : putting it all together -- Advanced decipherment.
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
F1435.3.W75 M66 2002 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area
F1435.3.W75 M66 2002 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

On Order



Serving as both an introduction to the script and a convenient reference to its basic features and symbols, this book is designed for amateurs and specialists, including general readers, travellers to the Maya areas, and participants in hieroglyphic workshops.

Author Notes

John Montgomery is an epigrapher and illustrator whose travels in Central America first inspired his interest in the ancient Maya. He lives in Albuquerque, New Mexico with his wife and two children

Reviews 1

Choice Review

Anyone with even a passing interest in the Maya Indians and their hieroglyphic system of writing will find Montgomery's book valuable. This is not a history of how scholars have come to understand Maya hieroglyphics, but rather a straightforward book on how to read the glyphs. Other writers have done this, but Montgomery outdoes them by assuming almost nothing on the part of the reader. Let's face it: reading Maya hieroglyphics is not easy. It may be second nature to specialists, but those of us with no background quickly become lost in the discussion. Montgomery, a professional draftsman who illustrated several books written by the late Linda Schele, one of the more influential Maya scholars of the late 20th century, leads the reader through the myriad twists and turns, using simple phrasing and plenty of illustrations. The hundreds of excellent drawings add immeasurably to the book's success. If readers are willing to put time into the discussion and follow along carefully, they will begin to see the logic to the glyphs and will soon be able to actually read them. Recommended for most levels, especially interested general readers, graduate students in archaeology and linguistics, and professionals in those fields. M. J. O'Brien University of Missouri--Columbia

Table of Contents

Acknowledgmentsp. xv
Introductionp. 1
Map of the Maya Worldp. 2
Pronunciationp. 9
Orthographyp. 13
Conventions for Transcribing Maya Glyphsp. 15
T-Numbersp. 17
Abbreviationsp. 19
Chapter 1 History of Deciphermentp. 21
Discovery Phase: Early Attemptsp. 22
Initial Deciphermentsp. 24
The Age of Thompsonp. 27
The Historical Phase of Deciphermentp. 28
Phonetic Deciphermentp. 30
Chapter 2 The Basicsp. 35
Organizationp. 35
Columnsp. 35
Glyph Blocksp. 39
Types of Glyphs: Carved Versus Painted Formsp. 40
Types of Glyphs: Functional Formsp. 41
Main Signsp. 41
Affixesp. 43
Types of Glyphs: Iconographic Formsp. 45
Symbolic or Geometric Variantsp. 45
Head Variantsp. 46
Full-Figure Variantsp. 47
Types of Glyphs: Grammatical Formsp. 47
Logogramsp. 47
Phonetic Signsp. 49
Phonetic Complementsp. 49
Semantic Determinativesp. 50
Polyvalent Signsp. 51
Selected Common Signsp. 52
Chapter 3 Introduction to the Calendars: Numbers, Initial Series, and Long Countp. 57
Numbersp. 57
Symbolic Numbersp. 58
Head-Variant and Full-Figure Numbersp. 58
Other Signs for "Zero"p. 63
Systems of Timep. 64
Initial Seriesp. 64
Long Countp. 66
B'aktunp. 66
K'atunp. 66
Tunp. 68
Winalp. 68
K'inp. 68
Summaryp. 70
Chapter 4 The Calendar Roundp. 71
Tzolk'inp. 74
Ja'ab'p. 80
How the Calendar Round Worksp. 85
The Initial Series: Putting Everything Togetherp. 87
Chapter 5 The Supplementary and Other Seriesp. 89
Lords of the Nightp. 89
Lunar Seriesp. 94
Current Age of the Moonp. 95
Lunar Namep. 96
Moon Lengthp. 98
819-Day Countp. 98
Glyphs Y and Zp. 100
Putting It All Togetherp. 101
Chapter 6 Period Endings and Distance Numbersp. 105
Period Endingsp. 105
Distance Numbersp. 111
Suppression of Signsp. 116
Distance Numbers as Initial Seriesp. 116
Summaryp. 118
Chapter 7 Phoneticism in the Maya Scriptp. 119
Landa's "Alphabet"p. 120
Clues from the Codicesp. 122
The Principle of Synharmonyp. 124
Spelling Conventionsp. 126
Morpho-syllablesp. 130
Substitution Setsp. 130
The Syllabaryp. 131
The Language of the Glyphsp. 134
Summaryp. 135
Chapter 8 Verbs, Verbal Inflection, and Grammatical Elementsp. 137
How to Identify Verbsp. 138
Syntaxp. 138
Affixationp. 140
Pronounsp. 141
Third-Person Pronounp. 142
Second-Person Pronounp. 143
First-Person Pronounp. 144
Demonstrative Pronounsp. 145
Quotative Particlesp. 145
Plural Endingsp. 146
The Particle Suffix -ilp. 147
Prepositionsp. 148
Verbal Inflectionp. 148
Transitive Completive Verbsp. 148
Intransitive Completive Verbsp. 149
Positional Verbsp. 149
Passive Verbsp. 150
Miscellaneousp. 150
General Verbsp. 150
Ti Constructionsp. 151
Summaryp. 151
Chapter 9 The Major Eventsp. 161
Birthp. 162
Heir Designationp. 163
Accessionp. 165
House, Monument, and Object Dedicationsp. 170
Arrival and Departurep. 175
Appear, Emergep. 176
Miscellaneous Actionsp. 177
"Turn, Rotate"
"Face Down, Doubled Over, Fold"
"Mold, Form in Clay"
"Create, Awaken"
"Bathe or Water"
"Cut Up"
"Rest, End, Finish"
Contract, "Betrothal"p. 184
Get Drunk, Dancep. 185
Bloodletting and Sacrificep. 186
Warp. 188
General War-Related Termsp. 189
"Capture"p. 190
"Bring Down"p. 191
"Burn"p. 191
"Drive Out"p. 192
Star-Shell, Star-Earth, and Star-Emblem Glyphp. 192
Axe Glyphp. 193
Deathp. 194
Burialp. 195
Chapter 10 Names and Titlesp. 197
Personal Name Clausesp. 198
Male Namesp. 199
Female Namesp. 200
Titles and Officesp. 201
K'ul Ajaw
Numbered K'atun Glyphs
"Successor" Glyphs
Penis Title
"He the Youthful"
"Captor of"
"Count of Captives" Epithet
"First Staff"
Aj K'ujun
Ordinal-Numbered Titles
Royal Namesp. 212
Tikalp. 212
Palenquep. 213
Copanp. 214
Yaxchilanp. 214
Artists' Signatures and Titlesp. 215
Chapter 11 Relationshipsp. 219
Parentage Statementsp. 219
Child of Motherp. 220
Child of Fatherp. 222
Wifep. 224
Siblings and Other Relativesp. 224
Companionsp. 225
Political Relationshipsp. 225
U Kab', "Under the Authority Of"p. 226
Yajawp. 227
Yetep. 228
Summaryp. 228
Chapter 12 Locations and Objectsp. 229
Directional and Color Glyphsp. 229
Emblem Glyphsp. 231
Titles of Originp. 235
Toponymsp. 235
Names of Buildingsp. 238
Monuments and Other Objectsp. 238
Tributep. 240
Summaryp. 241
Chapter 13 Gods and Supernaturalsp. 243
"The Heavenly God, the Earthly God, All the Gods"p. 243
Lineage Foundersp. 245
Vision Serpentsp. 247
Way, Wayob'p. 248
The Pantheon of Major Godsp. 250
God of Gods
Jun Nal Ye
The Maize God
K'inich Ajaw
The Sun God
The Hero Twins
The Palenque Triad
God of Royal Bloodlines
The Rain God
Ik' K'u
The Wind God
The Paddler Gods
Chapter 14 The Primary Standard Sequencep. 257
The Basic Formulap. 258
The Introductory or Presentation Phrasep. 261
Surface Treatmentp. 262
Vessel Typep. 263
Vessel Contentsp. 265
The Closure Phrasep. 267
Summaryp. 269
Chapter 15 Discourse and Structural Analysis: Putting It All Togetherp. 271
The Discourse Structure of Yaxchilan Stela 11p. 272
Multiple Episodes and Eventsp. 272
Establishing an Event Linep. 276
Discourse Structure on Piedras Negras Panel 3p. 277
Episode 1, Event 1, Part 1p. 278
Episode 1, Event 1, Part 2p. 283
Episode 1, Event 2, Part 1p. 284
Episode 1, Event 2, Part 2p. 284
Episode 1, Event 2, Part 3p. 284
Episode 2, Event 1p. 288
Episode 2, Event 2p. 288
Episode 3, Part 1p. 290
Episode 3, Part 2p. 291
Summary of Episodes and Events On Piedras Negras Panel 3p. 293
Chronology of Piedras Negras Panel 3p. 294
Chapter 16 Advanced Deciphermentp. 295
Techniques of Structural and Comparative Analysisp. 295
Advanced Analysis: Calculations Into the Extreme Pastp. 297
Creation Eventsp. 297
Coba Stela 1p. 299
Quirigua Stela Cp. 302
The Crack in the Turtle Shellp. 302
Problems in Decipherment: Looking Forwardp. 302
How to Teach Yourself In Greater Depthp. 306
Yaxchilan Stela 11, Front, Lower Glyph Panelp. 308
Appendix I Sample Texts and Practice Inscriptionsp. 309
Easyp. 309
Difficultp. 316
Appendix II A Guide to Hieroglyphic Resourcesp. 325
Internet Resourcesp. 325
Maya Calendar Programsp. 325
Other Internet Resourcesp. 326
Publication Seriesp. 327
Sources of Inscriptionsp. 328
Annual Meetingsp. 329
Bibliographyp. 331
List of Illustrationsp. 339
List of Platesp. 351
Indexp. 353