New Maya Language – Redesigning an Ancient Script. The Maya were a civilisation of Indigenous peoples that populated Mesoamerica from around 500 b.C. They invented the concept of number zero and whose calendar measurements are the most accurate in the history of the civilised world. They created and used one of the most beautiful and intelligent logo and syllabo-graphic languages, still quite unknown to western hemispheres. The Maya scribes had a very privileged position in the socio-political system and were multi-talented – they were artists, sculptors, and calligraphers, and were also believed to be astronomers, mathematicians, historians and royal book keepers.
Ancestral Maya hieroglyphs were both ideographic and syllabographic. The pictoglyphs catalogue (of less than 100) is a unique interpretation of the Maya hieroglyphs with the aim of applying them to contemporary information and communication design. The New May a Language is a redesign of certain logographs that communicate concepts and sentences. The project parallels the principle of the Chinese-concept script where primary root or Lego-like glyph can be combined to create compound or more complex ideas. For example, ‘Stone’ + ‘Fire’ combined equal the ‘Lavastone’ New Maya Language pictoglyph.
The project started by developing narrative pictoglyphs for Joya de Cerén, an UNESCO World Heritage Archaeological Site in El Salvador, Central America, as my Central Saint Martins College of Art & Design, University of the Arts London master’s thesis case study (2004), and is still evolving to date. The archaeological site was apt because it was about common citizen’s way of living, about their eating habits, social relations, architecture and agriculture — very unlike the majestic religious temples usually found in the Mesoamerican region. The Maya script was not really accessible to the non-elite population, a problem that still persists in our modern times. It is actually a dead script only readable by a few in the academic world. The system is a universal visual language, which can also help surpass literacy challenges – specially in the developing world – while at the same time enhance community experience and learning in public locations or through a toy, or simply be appreciated as an art form.
The New Maya Language, 100-page hand-bound book, translated in four languages: English, Spanish, Maya, and visually, compiles and decodes the project.
The proposal brings a fresh perspective to Maya cultural identity and is a celebration of Mesoamerica’s Indigenous roots. An interpretation of the Maya logo alphabet becomes a viable path for developing cultural symbols that inspire future generations and preserve the sacred stones.