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The Genius of Armchair Scientist: How Yury Knorozov Unraveled the Mystery of Maya without Leaving Leningrad
March 22, 2018 12:48


On March 11, 2018, Mexico unveiled a monument to Yuri Knorozov, who deciphered the Mayan writing. His student Galina Ershova told about the great Soviet scientist and the riddle, over which the linguists racked their brains for more than a century. 
The writing of the American Maya looks like a comic strip without words rather than a familiar text. Scholars tried to decipher Mayan language from the first half of the 19th century. German researcher Paul Shelhas, at the end of his life even wrote an article entitled "Deciphering the Maya Letters is an Insoluble Problem”.
This article caught the eye of Yuri Knorozov, a student of the History Faculty of the Moscow State University. He was urged by the challenge: “Why insoluble problem? What is created by one human mind can not but be unraveled by another. In this view, unsolvable problems do not exist and can not exist in any area of ​​science!"
Bright Rogue
Passion for challenges and intransigence were in the character of Yuri Knorozov from his childhood. He was born on November 19, 1922 into the family of an engineer who, was sent from Petersburg to Kharkov to build railways, when under the tsar’s rule still.
As a child, Yuri played the violin, drew beautiful pictures, wrote romantic poems and relieved neighbours’ pains by laying-on-of-hands. At the same time, the wonder boy was known for troublesome behaviour at school.
In 1939, Yuri Knorozov entered the History Faculty of the Kharkov State University.
Officially, his theme was shamanism, but it was at this time that he went headlong into deciphering the Maya writing.
Deciphering Mayan Language
Simultaneously with Yuri Knorozov, the Mayan writing was attempted to be deciphered in the US. However, the head of the American School of Mayan Studies, Erik Thompson, took a false track in research and, above all, forbade everyone else to attempt deciphering.
At the university Yuri Knorozov translated “Report on Affairs in Yucatan” from Old Spanish into Russian. It is a book about the life of Maya during the Spanish conquest, written by the Franciscan monk Diego de Landa in 1566. It is believed that the author based his writings on the work by Gaspar Antonio Chi, a Native American with European education. Yuri Knorozov guessed that the alphabet of 29 characters in the “Report" was the key to decipher incomprehensible Mayan writing.
The young Russian researcher had three fairly long Mayan manuscripts in his hands.
Using the Landa alphabet as the key, Yuri Knorozov managed to read particular symbols.
After that, he divided the roots and other parts of the words, and then analysed how often the signs repeated and how they were combined. That enabled the scholar to identify the synsemantic words, as well as the principal and subordinate parts of the sentence.
At that stage, Yuri Knorozov no longer had difficulty in assuming the general meaning of the sentences. The deciphering of the Mayan language took him several years. When working at the Leningrad Museum of Ethnography of the Peoples of the USSR in the early 1950’s, the researcher finally completed deciphering. 
Rewarded Success 
In 1955 Yuri Knorozov defended his thesis on the Mayan writing. The young researcher was immediately awarded a doctorate, and came to be honored in the scientific world as a genius and hope of this country. Afterwards, Yuri Knorozov continued to work in the famous Kunstkamera Museum, where he remained until the end of his life.
In the 1960s, the scientific achievements by Yuri Knorozov were estimated in the USSR on a par with success in space exploration, but his fame annoyed him as distracting from the working process. 
And he did work non-stop! The scientist set numerous tasks to solve, such as reading numerous Maya texts, deciphering other writing systems, developing the brain-related theory of signalling and fascinating, whereas the main goal of his research was the system theory of the collective.
In 1995, Yuri Knorozov was awarded the Silver Order of the Aztec Eagle for exceptional services to Mexico.

The great scientist died alone at Leningrad (Petersburg) hospital on March 30, 1999.

 

 

 

 


Sources: http://tass.ru 

Author: Vera Ivanova

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