A System of Writing, Maya Glyphs Illustration

Maya Empire for Kids
System of Writing


The Maya created a written language. Maya hieroglyphics are often referred to as "glyphs" for short. The Maya had about 800 symbols. Archaeologists have figured out what many of the symbols mean, but not all of them. Some glyphs were used as numbers. Some were used as sounds. Some were phrases or words. To read Maya glyphs, you read downward, left to right, in pairs.

The Maya used glyphs to create books about their gods, leaders, major happenings, and daily life. These books were made of soft bark and folded like a fan. A Maya book is called a codex. (The plural of codex is codices.) The Maya used both drawings and hieroglypic symbols to write in their books.

About 600 years after the Maya deserted their cities, the Spanish arrived in the area. The Spanish found many Maya books. The Spanish priests believed they were drawings of devils and hideous monsters. The Spanish burned every codex they found. Fortunately, they missed some.

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