The basics of a beautiful script
From there we can go on to the reading order of the texts – basically, the main rule is that it is read from left to right, top to bottom (so far so good for English readers), in double-columns (and this is where it gets complicated). As with many other ‘rules’, there are quite a few exceptions, depending on the size and shape of the item the text is inscribed on.
We will be looking at each section in more detail now, taking this full date as an example. Many stone monuments start with a full date like this one, made up of a glyph called ISIG, followed by the Long Count and the Calendar Round (also often interspersed with information about lunations and moon phases, etc.). We will keep it simple and stick to the basics: A two-fold system comprising a linear count of days and a cyclical record of time with two different cycles.
The Long Count is followed by the Calendar Round, the cyclical recording of time made up of two interacting counts - the Tzolkin and the Haab. The glyphs from the Tzolkin calendar are some of the most recognisable Maya glyphs, as they always appear in a cartouche (the frame with 'legs' around the smiley face here)
These are all examples of different ways to 'spell' the same thing: K'ahk' Tiliw Chan Yopat, Quiriguá's most famous ruler. He is mentioned on most of the monuments at Quiriguá and you can see the way Maya scribes combined and played with the possibilities of their logosyllabic script.
All images © Trustees of the British Museum
Text and image selection: Claudia Zehrt, Project Curator: British Museum Google Maya Project
Thanks to: Kate Jarvis, Christophe Helmke, Eva Jobbova and other BM Google Maya Project collaborators