Maya Literature and Maya Writing for Kids - How do you read Maya writing? What sorts of stories did the Maya tell? What did the Maya write about?

Maya Literature

madrid codex
A page from the Madrid Codex

It's possible that the Maya learned how to write from the Olmec, but there aren't any examples of early Olmec writing, so more likely it was the Maya who invented writing in the Americas. Like most other writing systems, Maya writing is a syllabary, not an alphabet (compare Sumerian cuneiform or Egyptian hieroglyphics or Chinese.)

Maya writing is not very difficult to read once you get some practice. You can begin by reading the numbers. One dot means one, two dots mean two, and so on. A bar means five, and two bars on top of each other mean ten.

Now you can begin to read words. The main root part of each word is in the middle of the picture, and then prefixes and suffixes like un- or -ing are added on around the corners and edges.

Maya people used their writing mainly to carve inscriptions on their stone buildings telling who made the building and when.

When the Maya were losing power to the Aztec, the Aztec also learned how to write from the Maya. So Aztec writing is closely related to Maya writing.

To find out more about Maya literature, check out these books from Amazon or from your library:

South America after 1500 AD
North America before 1500 AD
North America after 1500 AD
Main religion page
Kidipede - History for Kids home page

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