General Aztecs Maya Tocuaro Kids Contact 24 Nov 2017/9 Rain
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Article suitable for Top Juniors and above

Trio of very similar looking Maya glyphs

RESOURCE: The problems of telling Maya glyphs apart

Just when you thought you were getting the hang of identifying Maya glyphs, check this little trio out! Their close similarity is the result of what scholars call ‘sign convergence’. All Maya signs, according to world experts Stone and Zender, ‘were ultimately derived from pictorial art’. These three signs all follow the same basic ‘template’, one that seems to be based on objects covered in jaguar skin. But they actually depict three very different things... (Compiled/written by Ian Mursell/Mexicolore)

The Maya glyph for ‘book’
The Maya glyph for ‘book’ (Click on image to enlarge)

Each glyph shows spotted jaguar pelt, with little curvy edges (called ‘scallops’) to try to show how the fresh jaguar hide looks when stretched. The only way to tell the difference between the three is by the use of individual symbols: for the drum at the top it’s the T-shaped ik’ sign meaning sound, wind, music, voice; in the cushion throne it’s a (similar looking) dimple; for the book it’s the series of lines representing pages (notice the back cover is made of jaguar skin too). We show the Maya book glyph in schools and ask children to guess what it represents. The answers might amuse you. So far, apart from ‘book’ we’ve had the following (in no particular order):-
• sandwich/burger (predictable!)
• disease
• river
• waterfall
• road or path
• 3 levels of the world for the Maya
• a ‘drive-through’ (!)
• sponge
• ‘danger’
• a desert
• bread
• radiator
• space.

Info and picture source:-
Reading Maya Art by Andrea Stone and Marc Zender, Thames & Hudson, London, 2011.

This article was uploaded to the Mexicolore website on Aug 31st 2017

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