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The Hidden Maya: A New Understanding of Maya Glyphs Paperback – June 1, 1998

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Editorial Reviews

From Library Journal

These two works press beyond the boundaries of conventional scholarship to explore the alternative world view offered by Maya culture. Brennan, an artist and longtime student of prehistoric rock inspirations throughout North America and Mexico, examines the hand signs shown in Maya glyphs and art work in search of an interpretation of the Maya system of writing, which has long interested interested and puzzled scholars He contends that the Maya used a sophisticated gesture language similar to that of the Plains Indian groups of North America. Many useful illustrations and compelling examples support Brennan's theory. While the conclusions drawn are equal parts scholarship and hypothesis, this thorough and detailed study of the relationships among writing, art, symbolism, and meaning fascinates. The Maya Long Count calendar, a complex system for measuring time, was developed around 2000 years ago, possibly at the pre-Maya site of Izapa in southern Mexico. Jenkins, an independent researcher, presents a wealth of information about Maya astronomy, mythology, and caledrics in support of his analysis of the Long Count calendar end-date, scheduled to occur on December 21, 2012. Providing evidence that the end-date corresponds with a rare alignment of our solar system, Jenkins contends that the Maya were aware of this celestial event and believed that it portended a dramatic rebirth for humanity. Good illustrations, maps, and an extensive bibliography complement this detailed work. Ultimately, however, Jenkins' well-researched and interesting interpretation remains speculative. [For more on Maya culture, see Linda Schele and Jorge Perez de Lara's Hidden Faces of the Maya, reviewed on p. 87.?Ed.]?Elizabeth Salt, Otterbein Coll. Lib., Westeville, P.L.
-?Elizabeth Salt, Otterbein Coll. Lib., Westeville, P.L.
Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc.


The use of handsigns in art and sculpture is prevalent in many spiritual traditions, but the Maya were especially prolific in their use of handsigns or manographs in the glyphs decorating their artifacts. In "The Hidden Maya," author Martin Brennan reveals that these manographs are the keys to the very core of Maya thought.

Brennan explains how hand gestures played an intrinsic role in the development of writing, and how, with a variety of dialects in the Maya lands of Central America, a commonly understood sign language developed into a complex artistic language with both mundane and esoteric meanings. Indeed, contrary to scholarly opinion it would appear that the North American Plains Indians borrowed their sophisticated sign language system from the south--a realization that drew Brennan to the Maya in the first place.

This detailed, well-illustrated journey into the hidden realms of the Maya is also testament to the intrinsic role of hand/finger manipulation in the evolution of the human brain and the development of civilization. -- Nexus Magazine


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Bear & Company (June 1, 1998)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 187918124X
  • ISBN-13: 978-1879181243
  • Product Dimensions: 7 x 0.6 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #933,064 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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12 of 12 people found the following review helpful By Joan C Wrenn on October 5, 2002
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This book is a real gem, on a par with scholarly studies of Maya art and epigraphy, with an unexpected bonus in the interpretation of the hand gestures found so plentifully in Maya monuments, inscriptions and paintings. Brennan, who has studied Native American sign language, describes a remarkable correspondence in the hand gestures of the Maya, which came to me as a revelation, but not a surprise. Although Maya scribes clearly brought an accurate and detailed understanding of their world and culture to their art, the ubiquitous and painstakingly detailed deptictions of hands in both scenes and glyphs had always intrigued me. These could not possibly be an accident.
The text carefully explains Brennan's thesis in a non-stop array of sparkling detail, although a full understanding of his thesis might require some prior knowledge of Maya epigraphy. As an amateur Mayanist who has participated in gatherings of Maya epigraphers and toured Maya country with the best of them, I can see that Brennan follows current epigraphical readings closely, unless he has good reason to differ. Relating scenes on Maya funerary vases to episodes in the Popul Vuh, Brennan shows how the hand gestures in the scenes supplement, complement and sometimes form part of the story, and how the hand signs in the verb glyphs are derived from and portray the gestures of a sign language that was once shared by Mesoamerican and Southwest cultures.
In addition, Brennan approaches his subject from a refreshingly spiritual perspective, showing how the subject matter of Maya art depicts their deep spiritual understandings of life and death, and the mythological episodes that are the foundation for Maya art.
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20 of 23 people found the following review helpful By Thomas F. Ogara on October 18, 2001
Format: Paperback
I approach this review with some diffidence. Mr.Brennan, who claims to be an expert on several fields, including writing systems and indian sign language, makes several claims that struck me as strange, even outlandish. However, I am not in any sense an expert on the Maya, so I am uncertain whether what he states is mainstream among Mayanists or not.
I almost didn't get past the introduction. Mr. Brennan made some comments on the Chinese writing system which seemed erroneous to me, and that is a subject about which I do know something. His claim that there are 80,000 Chinese characters is an anecdotal figure, not usually cited by experts, and the largest dictionary ever compiled has only 40,000. He also said that Japanese use only 1200 characters, whereas the Joyo Kanji list is 1,945 characters. As Mr. Brennan spent some time in Japan studying the writing system I would expect him to know that. Mr. Brennan also seems convinced that the indians of Mesoamerica left us a record of the appearance of the Crab Nebula in Orion - a statement that he seems to back up with the flimsiest evidence.
Upon receiving the book I discovered that it is published by a New Age publisher, something which I didn't know when I purchased it. While I have nothing against much New Age material, I am skeptical about accepting it as having a scholarly imprimatur, and therefore I must admit I was uncertain about Mr. Brennan's expertise. Several of his observations seemed unsettling to me.
One was the concept, frequently reiterated, that the Maya had a full blown tradition of drama in which they acted out their myths. He also says that a lot of Maya painting, particularly on ceremonial vessels, were depictions of these dramas.
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Hello readers. I have studied Martin's book very diligently for the last couple of years as I was attempting to understand the art of the Maya and how it spoke to us today and in particular about the calendar, its ending and beginning. Then saw this listed here as understanding Maya Glyphs which makes it sound like it is related to the 20 day signs or what we call the Maya Glyphs which it is not. It is rather a deep Martin Brennen interpretation of Maya art and hand signs in particular as they relate to the meanings of the storys and concepts represented in the particular drawings from funeral vases, paintings, petroglyphs etc. Be prepared for an interesting experience but if you are looking for definitions and explanations of the 20 day signs, try Kenneth Johnson's work, Maya Astrology. Enjoy these deep learnings.
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