20th European Maya Conference: Bonn, Germany

The Maya in a Digital World

8 – 13 December 2015

The 20th European Maya Conference is hosted by the Department for the Anthropology at the University of Bonn, Germany, from December 8th to 13th, 2015. The conference combines three and a half days of workshops (December 8th-11th) and a two-day symposium (December 12th-13th).

Programme for Workshop and Symposium

The symposium will focus on the role and use of digital research methods in the field of Maya Studies. The Department for the Anthropology of the Americas currently hosts several projects with an emphasis in the Digital Humanities of Maya writing and linguistics. We would like to invite our colleagues to join us in Bonn to present and discuss recent developments of digital data collection and data analysis in Maya research. Topics that will be covered include theoretical and practical aspects of

  • methods in computational archaeology including GIS, survey techniques (e.g. LiDAR), 3D-analysis etc.
  • the development of applications that support corpus-building and analysis of Maya writing and Mayan languages
  • the digitization of archival materials and harvesting of historical data, and
  • the use of digital tools and methods in ethnographic and anthropological research

The debate will also touch upon ethical issues, including the questions who owns what data and in which way digital research methods can become tools of decolonialisation that can bridge dialogues — between foreign and local researchers, between researchers and their “research subjects”, and within Maya communities. In this context, we would also like to explore the impact of the digital age on contemporary Maya societies and discuss the role of digital media such as Youtube, Facebook and Twitter in education, politics and identity building in the modern Maya world.

List of Speakers (in alphabetical order)

  • Marco Block-Berlitz (University of Applied Sciences Dresden), Benjamin Ducke (German Archaeological Institute), Estela Martinez Mora (Instituto Nacional de Antropologia e Historia, Mexico City), Peter Kroefges (Universidad Autonoma de San Luis Potosi), Raul Rojas (Free University Berlin) & Paulina Suchowska-Ducke (Adam Mickiewicz University Poznań, Poland)
  • Erik Boot (Independent Researcher) & Joel Skidmore (Precolumbia Mesoweb Press, USA)
  • Carl D. Callaway (La Trobe University, Melbourne) & Paul Johnson (Independent Researcher)
  • Ignacio Cases, Christopher D. Manning (Stanford University) & Alfonso Lacadena (Universidad Complutense de Madrid)
  • Allen J. Christenson (Brigham Young University)
  • Mary Clarke (Boston University)
  • Chance Coughenour, Dieter Fritsch (University of Stuttgart) & Kai Delvendahl, Juan Aguilar, Nikolai Grube (University of Bonn)
  • Barbara Fash & Alexandre Tokovinine (Harvard University)
  • Lolmay Pedro García Matzar (Academia de las Lenguas Mayas)
  • Daniel Gatica-Perez (Idiap and Ecole Polytechnique Federale de Lausanne)
  • Laura Gilabert Sansalvador, Andrea Peiró Vitoria (Universidad Politécnica de Valencia) & Andrea Aliperta (Università degli Studi di Firenze)
  • Nikolai Grube, Christian Prager, Elisabeth Wagner, Katja Diederichs (University of Bonn), Sven Gronemeyer (University of Bonn & La Trobe University, Melbourne), Maximilian Brodhun & Franziska Diehr (Göttingen State and University Library)
  • Christophe Helmke (University of Copenhagen), Claire Ebert (Pennsylvania State University), Jaime Awe (Northern Arizona University) & Julie Hoggarth (Baylor University)
  • Harri Kettunen (Helsinki University)
  • Danny Law (University of Texas at Austin)
  • Megan E. O’Neil, Charlotte Eng, John Hirx, Diana Magaloni Kerpel, Yosi Pozeilov & Frank Preusser (Los Angeles County Museum of Art)
  • Carlos Pallán Gayol (University of Bonn) & Milan Kováč (Comenius University)
  • Frauke Sachse (University of Bonn) & Michael Dürr (Free University Berlin)
  • Alexander V. Safronov (Lomonosov Moscow State University)
  • Jennifer von Schwerin & Markus Reindel (Commission for Archaeology of Non-European Cultures, German Archaeological Institute)
  • Laura Stelson (University of Bonn) & George Bruseker (FORTH Institute of Computer Science, Greece)
  • Terance L. Winemiller (Auburn University at Montgomery) & Virginia Ochoa-Winemiller (New Jersey City University)
  • Jarosław Źrałka & Wiesław Koszkul (University of Cracow)

Opening Lecture (Tuesday, 8 December)

Marc Zender (Tulane University)

The opening lecture serves as a brief introduction to Maya hieroglyphic writing as well as provides participants with the latest developments and discoveries in epigraphy.

Traditionally, the opening lecture is the first event of the EMC. It serves as an introduction to Maya hieroglyphic writing and provides participants with a general overview of the history of the decipherment. Note that this year the opening lecture will take place Tuesday afternoon and workshops will begin on Wednesday morning. Ensure that you arrive for registration on Tuesday.

Introduction to Maya Writing
Tutors: Christian Prager (University of Bonn), Ramzy Barrois (Ecole du Louvre, Paris), & Céline Tamignaux (Free University, Brussels)

Thanks to the incredible imagination and ingenuity of Maya scribes, Maya hieroglyphic writing is one of the most complex writing systems in the world; it is visually fascinating, grammatically sophisticated, but creative and playful at the same time. Its decipherment took more than two hundred years, and in fact still continues to this day. It allows reading the history of the ancient Maya in they own words, and has also completely changed our view of many aspects of their culture.

This workshop offers an intensive introduction to the study of Maya hieroglyphs. It includes short lectures about the basic principles of reading the script, mathematics and calendrical information. The majority of time will be dedicated to working on Maya texts from Piedras Negras, when the participants will be deciphering Maya hieroglyphs on their own with the assistance of tutors. We will look at snapshots of the lives of royal court members, discovering their interactions and the society they lived in through texts coming from the center of the Maya area (present day Guatemala and Mexico).

No previous knowledge of Maya culture or their writing system is required, and while the workshop in general will be run in English, explanations can be also provided individually in French, Spanish, and German.

After this three day workshop, participants will be able to understand the basic structure of Maya texts, recognize and read calendrical information, and know where to look for verbs and nominal phrases, such as names and titles of Maya kings and queens.

This is an intermediate workshop open to those who have basic knowledge of Maya writing: some calendrical knowledge and the ability to structure hieroglyphic inscriptions and understand their syntactic components are prerequisites to fruitful participation on this workshop level. This intermediate workshops will be taught in English.

In the Heart of the Maya World: 800 Years of Dynastic History of Tikal, Guatemala
Tutors: Nikolai Grube (University of Bonn), Dmitri Beliaev (Knorosov Center for Mesoamerican Studies, Xcaret & Russian State University for the Humanities, Moscow) & Carlos Pallán Gayol (University of Bonn)

A behemoth among ancient Maya sites, Tikal is not only known for its impressive architecture, huge urban settlement and far-reaching political influence but also for its sheer number of hieroglyphic texts recorded on several different media, including scores of public stone monuments, wooden lintels, ceramic vessels and finely incised carved bones. Tikal’s texts connect in different moments to several other lowland sites and the long-term excavation program carried out by the University of Pennsylvania Museum Tikal Project allows for several correlations between the epigraphic and archaeological data. Being in the center of the Maya world, Tikal’s history is deeply connected with the histories of other Maya dynasties. The history of Tikal thus provides important tools for the understanding of historical processes all over the central Maya lowlands.

This workshop will focus on Tikal’s dynastic history —with over 33 rulers the longest in the Maya world—and will highlight the doings of Tikal’s most powerful kings and their vast influence across the lowlands, including their mentions on a number of texts from several other sites. Participants will gain first-hand insight into Tikal’s long history, from the Early Classic dynastic founders Yax Ehb’ Xook, “Foliated Jaguar” and “Animal Headdress” to the 378 AD Entrada events related to Teotihuacan —involving rulers and chieftains such as Chak Tok Ich’aak I, Sihyaj K’ahk’, Yax Nu’n Ahiin I, his father, “Spearthrower Owl” and Sihyaj Chan K’awiil II —all the way into the generational confrontations against its nemesis of Calakmul led by Jasaw Chan K’awiil I and Yik’in Chan K’awiil, as well as Tikal’s last days under Terminal Classic kings such as Yax Nu’n Ahiin II, “Dark Sun” and Jasaw Chan K’awiil II.

Advanced participants with well founded knowledge of Maya writing are offered a special Advanced Workshop to give them the opportunity to expand their proficiency of Classic Maya Writing and to provide them with insight into very special aspects of Classic Maya culture – though with specific focus on epigraphy, language and iconography.

Abbreviational Conventions of Classic Maya Writing
Tutors: Marc Zender (Tulane University, New Orleans), Alfonso Lacadena (Universidad Complutense, Madrid) & Albert Davletshin (Russian State University for the Humanities)

We’re all familiar with abbreviations in written English and other European languages—taking for granted such common conventions as Dr. (for Doctor) and POTUS (for President of the United States). These conventions are inherited from the Romans, who used them in written Latin on monuments, coins, and manuscripts two thousand years ago, and very similar conventions can be found in all of the world’s writing systems, including Egyptian hieroglyphs, Mycenaean Linear B, and Germanic Runes. Maya hieroglyphic writing is no exception, but it turns out that there are significant challenges to the investigation of abbreviational conventions in a writing system that is still actively being deciphered. How do we identify abbreviations in Maya writing? That is, how do we know the difference between what is written and what is intended? And how do we distinguish intentional abbreviations from mere structural ‘lack of fit’ between a logosyllabic writing system and the language it records? And, finally, what are the implications of these abbreviations for the ongoing decipherment? We will answer these and other questions in a team-taught seminar-style workshop, turning from mini-lectures to hands-on work with the texts to discussions of our findings.

As we will discover, Maya writing often omits word-final consonants and the first consonant of a cluster when they belong to a class of weak consonants—i.e., ʔ, h, j, l, m, n, w and y. Another common convention is haplography, in which a given sign is recorded only once when it should be represented twice, as in ka-wa for ka[ka]w and AJAW-le for ajawle[l]. We can recognize haplography in Maya writing because it alternates with double writing (e.g., ka-ka-wa and AJAW-le-le) and with a diacritical marker that apparently signals the presence of duplicate consonants (e.g., ²ka-wa and AJAW-²le), sometimes appearing with logograms that are C1 VC1 in shape (e.g., ²K’AHK’, ²TZUTZ). Maya writing also frequently elides key suffixes in the presence of logograms, such that BAJ alternates with ba-la-ja (bajlaj), OCH with o-chi (ochi), and IX with IX-ki (ixik). These complex conventions now cast doubt on several widely-accepted decipherments, but they also suggest procedures that should help up to minimize the confounding influences of abbreviation in the future.

We are offering a Special Workshop this year that is open to participants on all levels. Some prior knowledge about Mesoamerican art and writing will be useful, but is not a prerequisite.

From Silver Chloride to Bits and Bytes: Digital Documentation Methods
Tutors: Alexandre Tokovinine (Harvard University, Cambridge MA), Sven Gronemeyer (University of Bonn & La Trobe University, Melbourne) & Elisabeth Wagner (University of Bonn) – supported by Chance Coughenour (University of Stuttgart) and Dirk Rieke-Zapp (AICON 3D Systems)

The documentation of archaeological artefacts – also in the Maya area – benefited much from the invention of photography. Early pioneers to use such techniques were important explorers like Alfred P. Maudslay or Teobert Maler. For more than a century, the photographic documentation of monuments and hieroglyphic inscriptions with photographic plates and later diapositives and negative films was the standard method. The development of digital cameras was yet another pivotal point in the archaeological documentation process. And most recently, 3D scanners on the basis of laser and structured light techniques even allow the generation of spatial models.

The focus of this workshop is laid on the documentation process using a 3D structured light scanner with a Breuckmann SmartScan model. Participants will learn the theory behind the technology, its advantages, restrictions, and typical use cases. Furthermore, we will do hands-on work by scanning a variety of objects from the Bonn Pre-Columbian Collection. The objective is to convey practial experience for the scanning process, but also the post-processing of the 3D data with special software. This includes the assemblage of the raw data, merging, hole filling, the use of virtual lighting, and different shading algorithms, as well as the Morphological Residue Model (MRM) for edge detection. By this, participants will learn how to best prepare a mesh to tease out the maximum of detail and information necessary for epigraphic work.

The workshop will also tangle hints and tricks for digital photography using a Nikon D800 and a best practice overview to make digital line drawings of inscriptions on a Wacom 24″ drawing tablet. We will also touch other digital methods to document artefacts, e.g. photogrammetry, and provide an overview of the pros and contras for each technology and its usability in the field. Because we do a lot of practical work, the admission to the workshop is very restricted. No previous knowledge of Maya writing is required to attend, but recommended.


jun. Prof. Dr. Frauke Sachse, Prof. Dr. Nikolai Grube, Dr. Christian Prager, and Dr. Sven Gronemeyer of the University of Bonn