For Immediate Release

Visible Language Series Lecture: The Living Sign: Maya Hieroglyphs and Vitalized Writing

(Cambridge, January 24, 2011) Many writing systems—whatever their origins—developed and retained a highly abstract quality throughout most of their existence. In a few cases, however, scripts gloried in "hieroglyphic" or iconic forms that bore a close relationship to the world that surrounded their makers. The most celebrated example is ancient Egyptian writing in its full pictorial mode. This talk focuses on another, the Maya glyphs that flourished from the centuries before the Common Era to a century or so after the Spanish conquest. This writing has a distinct "ontology" (theory of being) which melds pictures and sound into a seamless and dynamic whole.

The Peabody Museum of Archaeology & Ethnology presents the illustrated talk, "The Living Sign: Maya Hieroglyphs and Vitalized Writing" on Thursday, February 24, 2011 at Harvard's Geological Lecture Hall (24 Oxford St.). It is part of the Peabody Museum's year-long Visible Language lecture series. A public reception will follow at the Peabody Museum.

The speaker is Stephen Houston, Dupee Family Professor of Social Sciences, Brown University.

About the Peabody Museum
The Peabody Museum is among the oldest archaeological and ethnographic museums in the world with one of the finest collections of human cultural history found anywhere. It is home to superb materials from Africa, ancient Europe, North America, Mesoamerica, Oceania, and South America in particular. In addition to its archaeological and ethnographic holdings, the Museum’s photographic archives, one of the largest of its kind, hold more than 500,000 historical photographs, dating from the mid-nineteenth century to the present and chronicling anthropology, archaeology, and world culture.

Hours and location: 9 A.M. to 5 P.M., seven days a week. The Museum is closed on Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, and New Year’s Day. The Peabody Museum is located at 11 Divinity Avenue in Cambridge, Massachusetts. The Museum is a short walk from the Harvard Square MBTA station. Admission is $9 for adults, $7 for students and seniors, $6 for children, 3–18. Free with Harvard ID or Museum membership. The Museum is free to Massachusetts residents Sundays, 9 A.M. to noon, year round, and Wednesdays from 3 P.M. to 5 P.M. (September to May). Admission includes admission to the Harvard Museum of Natural History. For more information call 617-496-1027 or go online to:

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Media Contact:

Faith Sutter
Communications Coordinator
Peabody Museum
Tel: 617-495-3397

Full-figure glyph of bird deity, Late Classic period, Tonina, Chiapas, Mexico. Photo by Stephen Houston.

High resolution image available on request.

Thursday, February 24: "The Living Sign: Maya Hieroglyphs and Vitalized Writing"

Stephen Houston, Dupee Family Professor of Social Sciences, Brown University

5:30 PM Geological Lecture Hall, 24 Oxford St., Cambridge, followed by a public reception at the Peabody Museum, 11 Divinity Ave., Cambridge


Information: 617-496-1027 or

See more about the Visible Language series.