March 12, 2011 Marc Zender, PhD: "Reading Maya Art"

            Maya Art is a rare and complex combination of linear elegance and naturalism, blended with a densely-coded, language-based symbolism. Decorated objects, ranging from painted vases and carved ornaments to towering stone monuments and building façades, bear the traces of a symbol system that, while fascinating, can make an understanding of these images elusive to the uninitiated. In this talk, Marc drew on the fruits of his recent book, co-written with Andrea Stone, presenting several hieroglyphs that are also the building blocks of much of Maya art. These symbols touch on key facets of the Maya world, from the natural environment -- animals, plants, geography, and the heavens -- to the mental landscape of gods, myths, and ritual. Attendees learned how to identify these signs, to "read" their linguistic and symbolic meaning, and to appreciate the novel and inventive ways they appear in art. As well as providing an introduction to Maya art, the presentation also explored the entwined nature of writing and art, and offered some new and exciting interpretations.
            Marc Zender received his Ph.D. in Archaeology from the University of Calgary in 2004.  He is presently associate curator and lecturer at the Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology, Harvard University. Marc is also associate editor of The PARI Journal and co-maintainer of Mesoweb, with Joel Skidmore, a major internet resource for the study of Mesoamerican cultures. Marc's research interests include anthropological/historical linguistics and comparative writing systems, particularly Mayan and Aztec writing, and he is project epigrapher for the Proyecto Arqueológico de Comalcalco, directed by Ricardo Armijo Torres.  Additionally, Marc has undertaken linguistic, epigraphic and archaeological fieldwork in much of the Maya area, most recently in Copan, Honduras, where he assists Dr. William Fash in teaching the Harvard Field School.  Marc has published numerous articles on Maya decipherment, and his new book Reading Maya Art: A Hieroglyphic Guide to Ancient Maya Painting and Sculpture , co-written with Andrea Stone, is available from Thames & Hudson.
            You can order Marc's book here: and at other websites.

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