The Maya script, also known as Maya hieroglyphs, was the
writing system of the pre-Columbian Maya civilization of
Mesoamerica, presently the only deciphered Mesoamerican
writing system. The earliest inscriptions which are
identifiably Maya date to the 3rd century BCE and writing
was in continuous use until shortly after the arrival of
the Spanish conquistadores in the 16th century CE.
Maya writing used logograms complemented by a set of
syllabic glyphs, somewhat similar in function to modern
Japanese writing. Maya writing was called "hieroglyphics"
or "hieroglyphs" by early European explorers of the 18th
and 19th centuries who did not understand it but found its
general appearance reminiscent of Egyptian hieroglyphs, to
which however the Maya writing system is not at all
writing consisted of a highly elaborate set of glyphs,
which were laboriously painted on ceramics, walls or
bark-paper codices, carved in wood or stone, or molded in
stucco. Carved and molded glyphs were painted, but the
paint has not often survived.
About three-quarters or more of Maya writing can now be
read with varying degrees of certainty, enough to give a
comprehensive idea of its structure.
The Maya script individual symbols ("glyphs") could
represent either a word or a syllable; indeed, the same
glyph could often be used for both.