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Cracking the Maya Code - NOVA
Cracking the Maya Code - NOVA
Actor: Cracking the Maya Code - NOVA
Director: Nova
Genres: Special Interests, Television, Educational, Documentary
NR     2008     0hr 54min

The ancient Maya civilization of Central America left behind a riddle: an intricate and mysterious hieroglyphic script carved on stone monuments and painted on pottery and bark books. Because the invading Spanish suppresse...  more »


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Movie Details

Actor: Cracking the Maya Code - NOVA
Director: Nova
Genres: Special Interests, Television, Educational, Documentary
Sub-Genres: Special Interests, Television, Educational, History, Science & Technology
Studio: WGBH Boston
Format: DVD - Color,Widescreen - Closed-captioned
DVD Release Date: 07/01/2008
Original Release Date: 01/01/2008
Theatrical Release Date: 01/01/2008
Release Year: 2008
Run Time: 0hr 54min
Screens: Color,Widescreen
Number of Discs: 1
SwapaDVD Credits: 1
Total Copies: 0
Members Wishing: 6
MPAA Rating: NR (Not Rated)
Languages: English

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Movie Reviews

Uncovering history
Jason | Backwater, Alabama | 07/15/2008
(5 out of 5 stars)

"In the jungles of the Yucatan peninsula there was once a great empire. They grew in power and knowledge far beyond what many would expect of people centuries ago, creating lunar and solar calendars as well as detailed astronomy records. As a result of their isolated existence, they developed a unique system of hieroglyphs, iconography, and a system of written word that is just as complex, if not moreso, than many contemporary languages. The difficulty for archaeologists, anthropologists, epigraphers, and linguists, however, was determing whether or not it was ancient writing or simply art; and then, if it was translatable. Therein is the challenge faced by those who chose to take on the challenge of unlocking the secrets to the Mayan language, and possibly their mysterious culture.

When the ignorant religious fanaticism associated with the Spanish Inquisition decimated the Mayan civilization, and destroyed the majority of their historical texts, much of what was Mayan was lost. Combine that with their culture's mysterious abandonment in 9th century, followed by the great but dormant cities being swallowed by the jungle, and the puzzle's difficulty increases exponentially.

Nearly 1,000 years later, Spanish explorers found the towers and cities, and soon the difficult task of translating the Maya code began. Early breakthroughs as the result of a French artist's renditions of the inscriptions uncovered yet another deciphering difficulty: the problems of preconceived biases affecting translation. Even the most trusted Mayan heiroglyphic scholar was completely wrong in his presumptions for several years. I found it amazing how something considered to be the unequivocal truth could be turned on its head when new blood and new eyes bring about fresh perspectives, which happened when young minds questioned the status quo.

The difficult task got much "easier" when several books were found, one of which being the Dresden Codex, which contained important discoveries. However, it is nonetheless sad that the Maya have had to hold on to their cultural heritage with such difficulty because of the dearth of written legacy. Luckily, great effort has brought about change, and secrets have been uncovered that have unlocked the Maya code.

As a fan of linguistics, cryptography, and history, I found this documentary superb and incredibly compelling. I highly recommend it to anyone who is even remotely interested."
Learning a lost language
Jeffery Mingo | Homewood, IL USA | 07/02/2008
(5 out of 5 stars)

"There are many documentaries in which we humans pat ourselves on the backs for erecting edifices. The same is true for eradicating infectious diseases. However, besides the work on the Rosetta Stone, I can't think of any documentary that looks at learning ancient writing. Thus, I appreciate this contribution.

Just like the Rosetta Stone documentary, polyglots and those of us who want to be polyglots will love this work. Just like great individuals figured out Ancient Egyptian, this work lists the great individuals who cracked ancient Maya. The Rosetta Stone worked with the familiar and became more abstract. Modern people knew Greek and that's how they moved on to know demotic and hieroglyphs. Here, it's not like an object had Spanish and then Romanized Mayan and then Ancient Mayan. The code crackers lacked that type of aid. Still, the work never states whether the code crackers had to learn spoken Mayan from living Mayans in order to move forward.

The documentary is diverse in that you see men and women, Americans and Russians, and even the young and the old. The filmed interviews of deceased persons were done so well that they had to write that the persons were deceased. Otherwise, I am sure that viewers would watch this and think that they could e-mail those people. I must say that most anthropological works interview Western and indigenous scholars. This work concludes with saying that living Mayan could now teach some of the writing to their children. However, it would have been nice if some actual Mayan scholars or experts could have had some input here.

The work points to something important: how scholars are not always objective and how they bring their baggage with them. For example, one researcher in the 1800s assumed that some words had drawings of elephants in them, thus reflecting the idea that the Mayans were related to Asian Indians, but that is not the case, just his misinterpretation. The work said one scholar of Maya was a World War I vet so he liked spreading the idea that Mayans were peaceful people who just watched and recorded the stars. The work later shows many drawings that present warfare, murder, and masochism. This reminds me of how some says that Margaret Mead's work on Samoa was tainted by her desire to show at all costs that some cultures have sexually liberated young women.

This might be a great documentary to show at schools with many Mexican-American students. Viewers who liked the cartoon "The Road to El Dorado" may really like seeing this as well."