For the first time, NOVA presents the epic inside story of how the decoding was done—traveling to the remote jungles of southern Mexico and Central America to investigate how the code was broken and what Maya writings now reveal.Imagine explorers arriving to find our cities deserted; our books have perished in some unknown catastrophe; all that is left to speak for us are the written words we have carved in stone.They were carved on monuments and objects, painted on pottery and written in bark-paper books. Were they merely pictures and symbols, or, in fact, true writing, expressing an ancient language?For centuries, the hieroglyphs confounded explorers. In the 16th century, the flames of the Spanish Inquisition scorched the New World, decimating the Maya civilization.(Program not available for streaming.) The ancient Maya civilization of Central America left behind an intricate and mysterious hieroglyphic script, carved on monuments, painted on pottery, and drawn in handmade bark-paper books.For centuries, scholars considered it too complex ever to understand—until recently, when an ingenious series of breakthroughs finally cracked the code and unleashed a torrent of new insights into the Mayas' turbulent past.
In the jungles of southern Mexico and Central America, the ancient ruins of the Maya posed such a mystery.Upon learning they were still making offerings to ancient gods, he arrested and tortured thousands of Maya for "crimes of devil worship." He inflicted a primitive inquisition on them that was incredible in its ferocity, at the same time...while destroying everything that he could find that was what he would call superstition, in other words, a good part of their culture.So they had a great ceremony of destruction in the plaza and burned hundreds, maybe thousands of books. And, of course, out of all of that, only four books or partial books survived.The heart of their civilization lay between the highlands of Guatemala and the plains of the Yucatan, much of it a vast region of dense jungle. They were renowned for their monumental architecture.Pyramids and temples towered over plazas and ball courts, where kings ascended to the throne and warrior athletes competed for their lives.