After the discovery of Mayan writings in the 16th century, their meaning remained a mystery for almost 500 years. Many believed they would never be deciphered, until an unknown Russian scholar, Yuri Valentinovich Knorosov, found the key. But in the contentious political climate of the Cold War, Western scholars ignored Knorosov and his findings. It took more than 20 years for the world to recognize his achievement.
KNOROSOV: THE DECIPHERMENT OF THE MAYAN SCRIPT traces the history of the ancient Mayan codices since their discovery, and relates the fantastic story of Yuri Knorosov and his accomplishment, perhaps the greatest archaeological achievement since the translation of the Rosetta Stone.
Beginning with the work of Diego de Landa, the first European to study the language of the Mayas, the film chronicles the many preceding, unsuccessful theories, and details successive efforts by scholars to understand the writings.
A practically unknown linguist who had never visited the Mayan sites, Knorosov discovered the key to the Mayan writing system while working at the Russian Institute of Ethnography in Leningrad after World War II. Published in 1952 in the midst of the Cold War, the Western academic community dismissed his work as harboring Marxist-Leninist leanings.
KNOROSOV recounts the personal and intellectual journey that led to his discovery, and the subsequent struggle for recognition. The film explains the process Knorosov used to eventually succeed where so many had failed, and incorporates animated sequences that illustrate how the Mayan Script was deciphered. The film includes interviews with Yuri Knorosov, and with contemporary Maya scholars including Michael Coe, author of the book "Breaking the Maya Code."
The film also explores the groundbreaking work that Knorosov undertook in later years on the origin and migration of the Mayan people. And it includes footage from Knorosov's trips to Mexico and Guatemala shortly before his death, where he was awarded the highest honors that each country can bestow on a foreigner, and when he saw the Mayan ruins in person for the first time.
"Yuri Knorosov's work on the decipherment of the Maya script demonstrated the basic phonetic structure of the script against the views of all contemporary experts. This fascinating film shows many details of Knorosov's life and the development of his unconventional ideas." —David H. Kelly, Professor Emeritus, Dept. of Archaeology, University of Calgary
2001 Award of Merit in Film, Latin American Studies Association
Special Jury Prize, 2001 Guanajuato Film Festival (Mexico)
Best Editing & Visual Effects, 2000 Pantalla de Cristal Festival (Mexico)