Mayan hieroglyphic writing
Mayan hieroglyphic writing, system of writing used by the Maya people of Mesoamerica until about the end of the 17th century, 200 years after the Spanish conquest of Mexico. (With the 21st-century discovery of the Mayan site of San Bartolo in Guatemala came evidence of Mayan writing that pushed back its date of origin to at least 300 or 200 bc.) It was the only true writing system developed in the pre-Columbian Americas. Mayan inscriptions are found on stelae (standing stone slabs), stone lintels, sculpture, and pottery, as well as on the few surviving Mayan books, or codices. The Mayan system of writing contains more than 800 characters, including some that are hieroglyphic and other phonetic signs representing syllables. The hieroglyphic signs are pictorial—i.e., they are recognizable pictures of real objects—representing animals, people, and objects of daily life. During the 1950s the linguist Yury Knorozov demonstrated that Mayan writing was phonetic as well as hieroglyphic.
• North America