Speaker Series

Bringing a Script into the 21st Century:
A Mayan Epigraphic Project
Thomas Witten

Thomas Witten with Don Crisanto Cummul Chan
Thomas Witten with Don Crisanto Cummul Chan

March 13, 2021 2:00 PM – 4:00 PM (EST)
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Thomas Witten has studied Mayan writing with archeologists in the Yucatan region of Mexico. Mayan script uses pictures or glyphs that represent syllables. Witten began developing a computer program that allows a user to easily write in Mayan glyphs. The program, still in development,  was used in partnership with Mayan writer Don Feliciano Sánchez Chan to produce what may be the first novel piece of glyph literature to be written in over 400 years. This talk will cover the basics of the Mayan script and the program, as well as hopes for the future of the script.

Knowledge of the Mayan script was intentionally eradicated by the Spanish around the end of the 16th century, during their conquest of Mesoamerica. In the 20th century, the script was deciphered by a group of international archaeologists and linguists, though much of it still remains a mystery. While knowledge of the script is mostly used by archaeologists in their research, some native Mayan speakers have learned it in hopes of reconnecting with a lost part of their culture.
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