This is a museum about the visual word. It demonstrates that the Mayan way of communication is completely different to anything else in the world. There are 31 different dialects and it shows in chart form how and where they evolved. It also demonstrates how the sound has changed over time.
The Mayan language started off being written in hieroglyphic form but with a completely different set of symbols to Egyptian. However when the Spanish invaded this was banned. So all Mayan practices had to conducted in secret or with the Latin language. As a result of this it meant that the ability to read and write was mostly lost until recently. The museum charts the work of anthropologists, enthographers and linguists from around the world but particularly Dresden, Madrid, and St Petersburg in there battle to understand this mysterious code. It was cracked but it took until the 1950s for this to happen. The Mayan language is now written universally in Latin and the hieroglyphs are left as part of there cultural heritage.
The reasoning for this is that the mayans used a vigesimal system which meant that they counted in 20s. This is quite a feat but remember there was no electricity in those days so no internet, television, radio, phones, computers to distract them.
For other number systems see here Alternative number systems.
The Mayan mathematical system was unique using dots and dashes to add all numbers together. They invented zero long before the Arabic zero. The Romans with their numerals never had the concept of zero. The Mayan knowledge of mathematics, physics and astronomy was comparable to the Ancient Greeks.
The Mayan calendar system was also unique in that it had 18 months of 20 days and 1 month of 5 days to create 365 days. The extra days were celebratory. They each had there own name and these were only repeated every 52 years. The date is written in 5 parts. The first 3 in numerals then you get words to represent where you are in that particular cycle.
The Mayan calendar system is similar to the Aztec calendar system so you can get easily confused as they are equally big numbers that seems rather abstract at once glance. You have to have a systematic and mathematical mind to grasp it. A bit like the old system of pounds, shillings and pence was once commonplace but now seems so awkward and obsolete.
There isn’t much in the museum itself anymore as it’s been open for 60 years now. It’s been moved to a new location further north but what is left is still intriguing. The artefacts themselves, the stories and the knowledge contained within. By the way this is in Spanish but you can get an English book if you left them hold your ID for the duration of your stay. It takes about a hour to look at it all.