Histoire des nations civilisées du Mexique et de l’Amérique Centrale (1857)

cabezas olmecas
Olmec heads; artifacts of Proto Mayan Culture

In Histoire des nations civilisées du Mexique et de l’Amérique Centrale (1857), Charles Étienne Brasseur de Bourbourg claimed Votan was an ancient Phoenician legislateur who had migrated from the Middle East to the Maya area, defeated a race called the Quiname, built the city of Palenque, and established an empire called Xibalba that was postulated by Brasseur de Bourbourg to have once covered all of Mexico and part of the United States.

Charles Étienne Brasseur de Bourbourg Maya Language Bishop Landa Yucatan

Charles Étienne Brasseur de Bourbourg

After 1852 he returned four times to America, on one occasion as chaplain of the French legation at Mexico City, on another as ecclesiastical administrator for the Indians of Rabinal, Guatemala, and finally as a French government envoy charged with scientific missions. He studied on the spot the primitive Mexican civilizations, collected important material on the geography, antiquities, and ethnology of Mexico and Central America, edited numerous curious texts such as the Manuscrit Troano . . . , and published works which, like the Lettres . . . , but especially the Histoire des nations . . . , assured him of a fine reputation as a scholar of America. In 1869, in an article in the Revue des questions historiques, Henry de Charencey placed Brasseur de Bourbourg “in the first rank among the learned men who have most contributed to reviving among us a liking for American studies.”

Abbé Charles-Étienne Brasseur de Bourbourg French writer, ethnographer, historian and archaeologist.

Coverpage of Brasseur de Bourbourg’s original 1857 work, “Histoire du Mexique”

[The different travel accounts sent by Abbé Brasseur de Bourbourg to the minister of education and religion from Mexico, Central America, and Spain are found in Archives Nationales (Paris), F17, 2942. Biographical details are found in Brasseur de Bourbourg, Histoire des nations civilisées . . . , and it provides the main biographical source for Justin Winsor, Narrative and critical history of America (8v., Boston, 1884–89), I, 170–72; The Catholic encyclopedia; Dictionnaire d’histoire et de géographie ecclésiastique (16v. parus, Paris, 1912– ); La grande encyclopédie(31v., Paris, [n.d.]).  p.s.]

The key difference between the Mayan script and other logosyllabic Mesoamerican writing systems that allowed for its linguistically more precise decipherment was a large corpus of inscriptions and its continued use into the Colonial period. In 1862, abbé Charles Étienne Brasseur de Bourbourg discovered Bishop Diego de Landa’s redacted manuscript Relación de las Cosas de Yucatan (Tozzer 1941), which contained a rudimentary Mayan “alphabet.” Following this discovery and his equally important find of a section of the Madrid Codex {link to famsi, and ritual pages}, Brasseur de Bourbourg attempted a phonetic approach to glyphic decipherment, which met with decided failure because of his misunderstanding of the basic consent vowel (CV) syllabic structure of the script. His failed attempt had dire consequences for phonetism in general because it indicated to many researchers that either Landa’s alphabet was a sham or that the script itself was primarily symbolic or ideographic.

alfabeto maya de landa

De Landa’s alphabet

It seems that Landa, or at least those responsible for the redaction of his longer treatise on the Yucatan, did not fully understand the principles of Mayan writing. The multiple signs for what he thought were single letters confounded his conception of writing. We now clearly comprehend this confusion as being the result of a miscommunication between users of two different scripts—one alphabetic the other logosyllabic.  http://learningobjects.wesleyan.edu/palenque/glyphs/


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