NOVA: Cracking the Maya Code

Chris Higgins

This week's NOVA has a great story: Cracking the Maya Code explains how Mayan glyphs were deciphered -- a truly difficult problem with a satisfying solution. The decipherment is a surprising adventure involving limited (and often incorrect) examples of the glyphs themselves, Cold War rivalries, the youngest ever recipient of a MacArthur 'Genius' Award (David Stuart received it at age 18), and some good old-fashioned linguistics.

My favorite part is how this Russian linguist (Yuri Knorosov) answered some major questions about Mayan glyphs, only to have work ignored by Westerners for political reasons:

(As far as we know, the cat had nothing to do with the affair.)

In a poignant note, the program includes brief interviews with Dr. Kathryn Josserand (who died in Palenque in 2006). She oversaw my senior internship in FSU's Anthropology Department, when I was working on connecting databases to websites (a fairly high-tech thing at the time), and had done a ton of original research collecting and cataloging Mesoamerican glyphs.

You can watch the whole show online in QuickTime or Windows Media format for free. Also interesting: a brief preview of the show, and other interactive bits.