National Geographic: Lost Kingdoms of the Maya


Many clues still lie hidden

in the temples

where the Maya elite buried their dead

The Classic Maya had virtually

no interest in metal,

so there is no gold buried here.

But sometimes something

even more valuable is unearthed.

Watch the wire.

See this face.

All right. It's repainted.

It's a stucco coating over...

In 1992 Robert Sharer discovered

the tomb of a royal family member.

Buried with him were some pots.

One glyph is there.

What makes these vessels

especially significant

are the painted designs

and the hieroglyphic writing.

Well, those are fantastic vessels,

although I don't know if I can say much

about the glyphs on them.

Forty years ago we could read only

a few Maya hieroglyphs.

Today we can read about half.

But it takes an expert.

There's another pot just like the one

with the feet in the tomb.

David Stuart is the son

of Maya scholars

and one of the world's

foremost epigraphers.

By being able to read the glyphs now,

it makes the Maya

a little bit more normal.

It makes them more human because

we see that they did have history,

that they were a people that had

real concerns about themselves

and the events in their lives.

One kind of Maya writing

was almost lost forever.

When Spanish priests arrived

in the 16th century,

they found hundreds of

folding books called codices,

and promptly burned them.

Today, only parts of

four codices remain,

but they have helped to shape the way

we think about the Maya.

The books are almanacs,

filled with astrological information.

The men and women who wrote

the almanacs were scribes,

well versed in astronomy.

Using a sophisticated mathematics,

they calculated the movements

of the night sky

thousands of years into the past

and thousands of years into the future.

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