Maya Hieroglyphs not rebus writing

In the article “How come we can’t decipher the Indus script” (, it says that Maya hieroglyphs are a form of rebus writing. Since the 1970s, Maya writing has been considered deciphered.

It is a syllabic writing system, supplemented by logographs. In most written words, a glyph block represents a word. Within the glyph block, symbols are used for syllables. There are occasional symbols that represent complete words, such as a picture of a jaguar head to represent a jaguar (balam), but more frequently they would just write the syllables for ba-la-ma to represent the same word. This is not rebus writing.

The best work on deciphering Maya Hieroglyphs is Breaking the Maya Code by Michael Coe.

Not exclusively, but it seems many hieroglyphic languages used rebus style writing at least part of the time, definitely including Egyptian, and according to this link, Mayan too.

Arg! Just noticed the typo in the title.

There are occasional words in Maya hieroglyphs that have rebus components, but the most do not. Most are syllabic, with occasional logographs.

Until the 1970s, the dominant person in Maya Epigraphy, J. Eric S. Thompson, assumed that Maya writing was rebus writing. It wasn’t until he died that real progress was made on deciphering them. People started giving Yuri Knorozov’s theories about syllabic writing a second look, and suddenly things started falling into place.

The history of Maya decipherment is complicated, as there were many people who all contributed their piece, including Thompson. Besides the book mentioned above, there is a TV show based on it called Cracking the Maya Code that is very good and accurate. It is sometimes shown on PBS, and NetFlix has it available.

Thanks for bringing this to my attention. The books and articles I used for that Staff Report, and my notes, are a few hundred miles away and I don’t remember where I got that bit of information. It may have been from an out-of-date source or I may have misunderstood something I read. I’ll look it up when I get home in a couple months. If I can confirm that the passage is inaccurate or misleading (and I now think it probably is one or the other), then I can get it corrected.

I think I saw that PBS documentary, but only after writing the report.

Please continue the discussion. I find it fascinating.

Tlaloc, I’ve fixed the typo in the title. No sweat, no worries. Although, frankly, I thought there was a certain appeal in hier-go-glyph. :slight_smile: