Yuri Knorozov: how a Soviet scientist managed to decode the Mayan writing

Biography 02/02/20 Yuri Knorozov: how a Soviet scientist managed to decode the Mayan writing

In Mexico there is a monument to the Soviet scientist Yuri Knorozov. This is a sculpture depicting severe human holding the cat. No ordinary monument. And why in Mexico? Why a cat?

Yuri Knorozov: the path of genius

Yuri Valentinovich Knorozov was born in 1922 in Kharkov, in the family of engineer. In 1948 he graduated from the historical faculty of Moscow University. Interested in the history of the Ancient East, shamanic practices, Ethnography and linguistics. Since 1953 and till the end of his life worked at the Institute of Ethnography named after N. N. Maclay.

In the history of science Knorozov came as a man, who managed to read the writings of the Maya, a mysterious people who lived before Columbus on the territory of Mesoamerica. This theme scientist became interested in his student years. In 1952, he published his first article on the decipherment of Mayan writing. In 1955 he defended his doctoral thesis, but were not at that time Ph. D. degree. At the same time its synthesis publication on the decipherment of Mayan writing. For his work on this subject Knorozov was awarded the State prize of the USSR. He also was awarded the Grand gold medal of the President (Guatemala) and the order of the Aztec eagle (Mexico). In Mexico and Guatemala, and the scientist has been only after the collapse of the Soviet Union. Knorozov died in 1999 in Saint-Petersburg.

Maya Writing: how to decrypt

the Mayans were settled throughout Mesoamerica. The earliest records, which are used in their system of signs that belong to the III century BC, and the latest – already to the era of Columbus. To understand them and the Europeans have tried, since the eighteenth century, but their efforts were unsuccessful. The researchers mistakenly believed the Mayan set of characters, not understanding its structure and features. 50 godes of the XX century the school of bayanistov was headed by a prominent American scholar Eric Thompson. Not achieve any results, he announced the writing of Indian tribes unreadable, because, in his opinion, there was in it no system, only individual characters – their for each case and unrelated to each other.

Knorozov made the main work of his life article in one of the European journals, which was called “deciphering the Mayan writing – an insoluble problem”. Yuri V. sincerely believed that for a true scientist there are no unsolvable problems in the field of science. And he proved it by revealing the mystery of the mysterious monuments of ancient literature of the Indians.

He managed what could not be anyone, because he used he created a method of positional statistics analysis of texts. He studied the copies of the Mayan manuscripts, kept in the Lenin library, and came to the conclusion that the Mayan was not the hieroglyphic, and not alphabetical, but syllabic. This conclusion was made on the basis of calculation and rigorous consideration of recurring characters. In a Knorozov was the book who lived in the sixteenth century Bishop Diego de Landa’s “account of the Affairs of Yucatan”, in which a learned Bishop has recorded some signs of Mayan writing, explained he still lived at that time, the bearers of this culture. Based on its analysis and information from the book de Landa, Knorozov managed to decode 75% of the signs of the Maya writing.

And then the cat?

Knorozov was a man of rather reserved and restrained. By and large, in addition to science it is of little interest. Friends recalled his home time study the Maya language: room, reminiscent of a pencil case, all full of books.

But he had another passion: cats. Knorozov was very fond of these animals, they knew the names of all the cats his friends, and at a meeting invariably concerned about their health. The most famous pictures Knorozov depicted with his beloved Siamese cat Snake (home name – Asya). He, jokingly, called her co-author, because watching Asya teaches her kitten to catch mice, gave him the idea, which later formed the basis of his brilliant article “To questions about the classification of the alarm”.

the fact that he Knorozov deciphering the Maya writing was considered just one example of his theory of communication. From the point of view of a scientist, communication (both oral and written communication) based on signals “promises” and signals “obtaining the promises”. And since Asya was related to the development of this idea, Yuri Valentinovich wanted to specify it as his collaborator. But this, of course, considered an eccentricity of genius, and, of course, Asya sponsors never got that Knorozov was very angry.

the Myths around the name of the scholar

Knorozov was the man in the highest degree extraordinary, like all geniuses. And it is not surprising that with his personality associated with many myths.

One of them Knorozov spread himself: he was being ironic, that was the interpreter, as a child suffered a severe blow to the head during a ball game. He almost went blind. But the vision returned, and with it manifested the dormant ability to read the cipher.

they say that Knorozov got the book “the Message about the Affairs of Yucatan” and “codes of the Maya” from the burning library in Berlin in may 1945. It’s a perfect invention, because in 1945, Yuri Knorozov served as a telephone operator in Moscow. To the front it did not take for health reasons. However, these rare books he really was. How, now do not say.

Another legend says that the report Knorozov on dissertations lasted only three minutes, after which the entire Council voted unanimously to award him a doctorate. In this case the truth was simply that the title of doctor of science he received, bypassing the PhD stage, thanks to the enormous research talent and academic merit. Report on the protection of was, although the young scientist was trying to give up his point, stating quite boldly that containthe content of his work is so well known to all those present. The situation was saved by the supervisors Knorozov, who managed to avoid scandal and to encourage the applicant to order.

Olga Melnikova

© Russian Seven

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