Do you have a passion for Maya archaeology and fancy learning how to read Maya glyphs? While there are a number of books you can buy – such as Michael D. Coe and Mark Van Stone’s Reading the Maya Glyphs – you might also want to check out these 5 useful and completely free online resources, especially if you’re on a tight budget.
This two-part booklet by Mark Pitts is perfect for beginners and assumes no prior knowledge of linguistics or Maya grammar. Part 1 provides an introduction to the Maya and their writing system, a syllabary of glyphs, guides to reading Maya texts and writing your name in glyphs, some commonly used vocabulary, and tips on how to start writing short sentences. Part 2 deals primarily with Maya numbers and the Maya calendar system, which consists of three different cycles: the Tzolk’in, the Haab, and the Long Count.
In addition, Pitts also provides some information about sacred days in the Maya calendar as well as links to online calculators for Maya dates and the phases of the moon.
This handbook was created by Harri Kettunen (University of Helsinki) and Christophe Helmke (University College London) and is meant to be used in conjunction with their hieroglyphic workshops. That said, it may still be useful for independent learners. It provides a more detailed overview of the Maya writing system and the history of its decipherment as well as the conventions used in transliterating and translating Maya texts.
Their handbook also covers Classical Maya grammar and the various types of inscriptions and artefacts that Mayanists normally work with. You can find suggestions for further reading and links to online journals and other useful resources in the appendices. Please note that this handbook is aimed at academics so it assumes some prior knowledge of linguistic terminology.
Inga Calvin’s hieroglyphic study guide provides illustrations and translations of hundreds of glyphs commonly found in Classical Maya inscriptions. The guide has been formatted for double-sided printing and consists of five thematic chapters: calendrics; verbs; nouns; titles, emblem glyphs and deities; and pottery text.
If you’re interested in learning more about Maya history, you may want to download a copy of Calvin’s guide to the royal Maya Dynasties of the Classical Period, which provides some basic biographical data about each of the known Maya rulers and a summary of the stelae their names appear on.
John Montgomery’s dictionary is an online database of over 1,200 glyphs and glyph compounds and users can either browse through the index or run a search. Each entry consists of an illustration of the glyph in question as well as its phonetic transcription, Maya equivalent, grammatical function, translation, and Thompson number. This dictionary is ideal for those who already have some basic knowledge of Classical Maya grammar and want to develop their translation skills.
Dr. David Stuart’s blog is essential reading for anyone who is interested in Maya archaeology and linguistics. You won’t find any real lessons on Maya glyphs on this blog but you will find plenty of articles on the latest developments in Maya epigraphy, art, and archaeology as well as links to related blogs and websites. With over half a million views to date, this blog has more than earned its place on this list and can be enjoyed by scholars and non-scholars alike.
If there are any books or online resources you’d like to recommend to aspiring Mayanists, feel free to share your recommendations below. You can also learn more about modern-day Yucatec Maya and Mam in my article “The Ancient Dialects of Shadow of the Tomb Raider“.
Note: All information on this page was correct at the time of publication.
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