Life Lessons from Movies

Breaking the Maya Code

In Documentary, Movies on July 31, 2015 at 11:15 AM

Breaking the Maya Code (2008) is a documentary written and directed by David Lebrun, based on the book by Michael Coe, about the researchers – including Constantine Rafinesque, Ernst Förstemann, Eric ThompsonTatiana Proskouriakoff, Heinrich Berlin, Cyrus Thomas, Yuri Valentinovich Knorosov, Merle Greene Robertson, Linda Schele, Peter Mathews, Floyd Lounsbury, Alberto Ruz, Elizabeth Benson, David H. Kelley, David Stuart and Justin Kerr – who were involved in a 200 year struggle to decipher the writing system of the Ancient Maya, a 4,000 year-old Mesoamerican civilization.

Life Lesson:

It takes many different kinds of people to solve a complex problem.

Movie Scene:

Michael Coe: “Ernst Förstemann is a perfect example of how somebody does not have to put on a pith helmet and carry a machete to make great discoveries. Förstemann did this sitting in a dusty office in a dusty library. He traveled in his mind and managed to reach the mind of the Maya.”

Narrator: “The Maya had invented the concept of zero, and they arranged their numbers in columns to designate place notation. Our decimal system counts by tens and powers of ten. Förstemann realized that the Maya used a base 20 system, counting by 20s and powers of 20. With this system, they could express and manipulate extremely large numbers. Having grasped their mathematics, Förstemann discovered Maya astronomy. He proved that one section of the Dresden [codex] is an incredibly precise record and prediction table of eclipses, accurate to within 7 minutes over 32 years. Another section he identified as tables tracking the cycles of the planet Venus, with an error of only 2 hours over 400 years.”


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