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Find out who was the father of the decipherment of Maya writing.

Biography Yuri Knórosov

                    (19.11.1922  -  30.03.1999)

Yuri Knorosov was born in 1922 in Kharkov, Ukraine in a family of Russian intellectuals who came to this city in the Russian capital of St.-Petersburg back then in 1914. His father was a railroad engineer. Her mother was in charge of the education of five children. Yuri was born last.. In 1937 Y. Knorosov finished high school, but continued his studies at the medical school. He hopes to study psychiatry. It is not known why in 1939 he joined the history faculty of the University of the City of Kharkov.


In June 1941 came the Second World War to the Soviet Union. The Germans entered to the country, bombing Ukraine. For health reasons Yuri, who just finished the second year in the early days of the war, could not go from soldier to defend the country, which hurt a lot. So he, like other students, sent to the trenches. However, the Germans occupied Ukraine and Yuri quickly returned to the house where his mother was with his sister, until 1943 the Soviet troops finally liberated Kharkov Yuri came out with her ​​mom in the occupied territory and went back to Moscow where he continued his studies at the faculty of Lomonosov University history. A year later he was called to military school of telephone near Moscow, where he remained until the end of the war in 1945. He then continued his studies, finishing university in 1948, specializing in ethnography. He developed his master's thesis on Central Asian shamanism, publishing his first article entitled "Shamun Mazar-nabi" in the magazine "Soviet Ethnography". However, in these years he had found in the National Library editions of the work of Diego de Landa "ratio Yucatan things" and translated into Russian. Publications also found Mayan Codices and began deciphering. According to Professor Sergei Tokarev, Yuri for the year 1948 had already deciphered the Maya script ... The "dramatic" story of the appearance of the books in the flames of Berlin invented 10 years after a journalist.

The decipherment of Maya writing, he was against general skepticism. He was sure: "What created by a human mind, can be solved by another human mind. From this point of view does not exist and cannot exist unsolved problems in any area of science ".

However Yuri Knorosov, who had graduated brilliantly in college, not allowed to enter to do a doctorate - could not forgive, according to the Soviet ideological concept of the time, the fact of having been "in the territory occupied by the Germans "...


Then the young Knorosov he left to Leningrad to work as a researcher and curator of the Asian collection at the Museum of Ethnography of the peoples of the Soviet Union, living there in little room just for a bed and a chair, next to the stairs. There Yuri has to work for the development of methodology and decipherment of Maya writing.


In 1952 in the magazine "Soviet Ethnography" published his first article on the results of the decipherment. It was a success. This compared with Frenchman Jean-Francois Champollion, who had deciphered Egyptian writing, but actually the work of Yuri Knorosov has a much larger value. The French just compared a bilingual inscription - Russian instead developed a scientific method of deciphering ancient scripts. He applied this method to the Maya script and had a great outcome: first read what they had written in their ancient Maya codices!


Commonly few people attach importance to the methodology, however, without that scientific work becomes lottery without a result set. Knorosov became very clear what was the difference between the scientific linguistic deciphering what is to identify the correlation between the signs and the exact phonetic reading of each hieroglyph, and the "interpretation" - attempts to guess the meaning of signs separate what was common for researchers of that time, starting with Eric Thompson.


Knorosov knew that had to be separate two notions together, quite different: the deciphering of the ancient writing systems (particularly the Maya) decryption of encrypted codes specially. In ancient texts the signs bearing the natural order, without alteration, but their interpretation is forgotten and language at the same time is unknown (dead) or old, changed considerably over time. In codebooks known symbols are replaced by other, their order is altered, but the language is modern and alive.


Therefore, what they have in common the two decryption methods, is the end result: achieving understanding of written text. Everything else is important too decoder Academic Readiness, the volume needed to process text that has to be large enough and the methodological approach.


Yuri Knorosov made ​​the main provisions of the decipherment of ancient scripts systems in an introduction of specialist publishing called "Texts unknown" for the series "forgotten systems of writing: Materials decoding", whose publication began in 1982.


The method developed by Yuri Knorosov and applied in the decipherment of Maya writing was also used to decipher the writing of Easter Island and Protoindios texts.

The above method of "statistical positional" prepared by Knorosov for deciphering ancient writings, was based on the work of Michael Ventris in the first half of the twentieth century applied to the Linear B script Knorosov managed to develop and generalize the final theory and method of deciphering, which have been brilliantly tested in practice in the 1940s-1950s.


The essence of "Positional Statistical Method" in brief is as follows: the number of signs in the writing and the frequency of appearance of new signs in new texts, determines the type of writing. In the world there are three main types basic scriptures, which is marked with the number of signs used simultaneously in this scripture: ideographic (5000-50000 over signs), syllabic (80-400 signs) and alphabetical (30-40 signs ). There are also mixed types of writing, such as Japan (2000 characters). Based on that Mayan writing, which had about 350 signs, presented syllabic script variant retaining FEMICA mor correlation.


Then an analysis of the frequency of use of one kind or another and their positions in the sentence, which determines the reference grammar of hieroglyphs.

Comparing the language materials with other language-related texts, references identifies grammatical, semantic and morphemic. Then reveals phonics of one kind or another that establishes the basic reading signs composition. The certainty of the "conventional reading" is confirmed by the "cross-readings" of the sign in different positions and texts when the sign is always read in the same way and complete the logical semantic content of the sentence.


Still translating from Spanish into Russian former "The Relation of the Things of Yucatán", famous work of the Franciscan Diego de Landa sixteenth century, Knorosov was identified 29 signs reading "Alphabet" Maya, which proved true key to decrypt writing. He failed to understand the misunderstandings that have arisen in the dictation of the alphabet, when the informant recorded not so much reading the Mayan signs, such as the name of the Spanish lyrics.


The decryption itself was conducted on three codices Mayan hieroglyphic bearing the names of European cities, where they are now: Paris, Madrid and Dresden.
It turned out that in the texts of the three manuscripts are near 350 graphemes, which allowed Knorosov determine the type of writing as phonetics and Syllabus-morphemic. That means that each Maya sign read like a syllable. Syllables and morphemes could match. After work focused on reading and translation of three Mayan codices.


The first publication of the result of the deciphering which appeared in the aforementioned "Soviet Ethnography" with the modest title of "Old Central American writing" in 1952, was all the rage. Knorosov The great discovery was received with much enthusiasm by the national and international scientific community.


Only three years later pass his doctoral thesis on the theme sounded neutral: "The relation of things Yucatan Diego de Landa as ethno-historical source." However, Yuri Knorosov main task was to make evident the existence of the State Maya - and only after justification of the presence of phonetic writing. The thesis defense took place in Moscow on March 29, 1955 and it was spectacular - by the unusual behavior of the young scientist who did not initially explain how he managed to get the incredible results. But all ended well and was awarded the well-deserved title of "Doctor.


Meet the father of the decipherment of Mayan writing.


Yuri Knorosov Mayan Studies Center


It is directed by renowned Russian anthropologist Dr. Galina Ershova.



There are indecipherable writings, any writing system produced by man can be read by man.

Yuri Knorosov


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