Link to enlarge Scribe from K1185 ©Justin Kerr MAYA HIEROGLYPHIC WRITING
Workbook for a Short Course on Maya Hieroglyphic Writing

by J. Kathryn Josserand & Nicholas A. Hopkins (2nd Edition, 2011)


After a couple of years working with Linda Schele in the first workshops on Maya hieroglyphic writing at the University of Texas at Austin in the 1970s, Kathryn Josserand and I took on the job of carrying the workshops to the masses and went on the road, leading weekend workshops at museums, universities, and private study groups from Los Angeles to New York City and St. Paul to Miami. The goal of these introductory workshops was to introduce beginners to the essentials of Mayawriting and encourage them to go on to the Texas workshops and "get their noses pierced," the metaphor we took from the Mixtec Codex Nuttall for initiation into the community of glyphers. From 1987 to 2006, the year of Kathryn's untimely death in Palenque, we taught more than seventy workshops at some thirty different venues as far south as Chiapas and Guatemala. Early on we developed our own style of teaching hieroglyphic writing and a workbook for use in our workshops. This workbook went without major changes for twenty years; a page or so would be added periodically as new ideas were developed.

This workbook constitutes a second edition of our basic introduction to Maya writing. It preserves most of the material from the first workbook, but adds more material, generally drawn from our 1991 grant report to National Endowment of Humanities (Handbook of Classic Maya Inscriptions, Part I: The Western Lowlands. Final Performance Report, NEH Grant RT-21090-89). The additions go beyond the basics and introduce the user to our work on Maya inscriptions as literature, a topic we frequently lectured about in conjunction with our workshops. Our analysis of the texts as literature comes from two sources: an internal analysis of the texts themselves, and an intimate acquaintance with modern Maya storytellers, particularly in the Chol area. We started field work on Chol in 1978, and within a few years had begun to appreciate similarities in Classic and modem narratives that reflected a very conservative tradition of literature, oral and written. Bringing together those two eras of Maya literature has been our major contribution to contemporary Maya studies.

Part I: The Classic Maya and Maya Hieroglyphic Writing introduces the Maya and the principles of Classic Maya writing and goes on to point out the similarities between the Classic narrative texts and modern Maya narratives and formal speech. Part II: An Introduction to Classic Maya Inscriptions contains most of what the original edition of the workbook included, beginning with numbers, going on to a detailed discussion of the calendar, and ending with some comments on discourse features. Part III: Hieroglyphic Grammar and Lexicon presents our version of Classic Maya grammar and then lists common examples of hieroglyphic verbs, nouns, and adjectives. Part IV: How to Approach a Hieroglyphic Inscription is a step-by-step guide to our methodology of moving from the easy to the difficult in first looking at an inscription, with a sample text to illustrate the technique (get your colored pencils ready!).

Any use of this guide for sale or profit is strictly prohibited.

Download the Maya Hieroglyphic Writing Workbook

NOTE: We've found that it's faster and easier to view these documents if you download the individual files to your computer and open them locally. To download and save, right click on the file, choose "save as" from the menu, pick a location (for example "My Documents") and click "Save".

The PDF files require Adobe Acrobat Reader. To download the latest version, click the Get Acrobat Reader button below.

Get Acrobat Reader

For those with a fast connection, download the complete PDF file:

The complete Maya Hieroglyphic Writing Workbook in PDF format (8.17 MB).

For those with slower connections, download the PDF file in sections:

The Maya Hieroglyphic Writing Workbook by section:

Download Part   I – The Classic Maya & Maya Hieroglyphic Writing  (4.50 MB)
Download Part  II – Maya Numbers and the Calendar  (3.94 MB)
Download Part III – Hieroglyphic Grammar and Lexicon  (2.63 MB)
Download Part IV – How to Approach a Hieroglyphic Inscription  (1.52 MB)

Nicholas A. Hopkins
Jaguar Tours
Tallahasee, FL

Return to top of page