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Michael Coe's classic inside story of one of the major intellectual breakthroughs of our timeâ€”the last great decoding of an ancient scriptâ€”has been updated throughout and now includes an epilogue that brings the reader up to date in the fast-changing field of Maya decipherment.Among the more exciting advances to be described are: the discovery of the specific Maya language and sophisticated grammar used by the ancient scribes on stone monuments and painted vases; archaeological explorations of tombs and buildings of the ancient founders of the great city of Copan, whose very existence had been predicted by epigraphers through glyphic decipherment; the realization that many small city-states were dominated by two rival giants, Tikal and Calakmul, through a potent combination of military conquest, diplomacy, and royal marriages.
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Michael D. Coe is Professor Emeritus of Anthropology at Yale University. His books include The Maya, Mexico, Breaking the Maya Code, Angkor and the Khmer Civilization, and Reading the Maya Glyphs. He lives in New Haven, Connecticut.From Scientific American:
The decipherment of the Maya script was, Coe states, "one of the most exciting intellectual adventures of our age, on a par with the exploration of space and the discovery of the genetic code." He presents the story eloquently and in detail, with many illustrations of the mysterious Maya inscriptions and the people who tried to decipher them. Most of the credit, he says, goes to the late Yuri V. Knorosov of the Russian Institute of Ethnography, but many others participated. They did not always agree, and some of them went up blind alleys. Coe--emeritus professor of anthropology at Yale University--vividly describes the battles, missteps and successes. What is now established, he writes, is that "the Maya writing system is a mix of logograms and syllabic signs; with the latter, they could and often did write words purely phonetically."
Coe concludes with a swipe at "dirt archaeologists" who believe the decipherment of Maya writing "is not worthy of notice." According to them, he asserts, "the Maya inscriptions are 'epiphenomenal,' a ten-penny word meaning that Maya writing is only of marginal application since it is secondary to those more primary institutions--economy and society--so well studied by the dirt archaeologists." Coe sees that attitude as "sour grapes" and ascribes it to "the inability or unwillingness of anthropologically trained archaeologists to admit that they are dealing with the remains of real people, who once lived and spoke."
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