When the Spanish conquistadors arrived in what is now modern day Mexico and central America, they encountered the Mayan civilization. The Maya were a remarkably intelligent people, knowledgeable astronomers, architects of stone step pyramid cities, and creators of a complex symbol-based written language. They were also a culture deeply rooted in ritual, who offered human sacrifices to their gods. The Spaniards quickly went to work converting the Maya to Catholicism.
Their books where all but destroyed by priests and their written language became lost in time. It wasn't until the mid-1800s that the work to decode the Maya script began in earnest. It was an effort that would take until modern times to finally crack.
In AAAS Fellow Michael Coe's book Breaking the Maya Code, the professor emeritus of anthropology at Yale University takes readers on the scientific detective story to decipher the ancient hieroglyphic script of the Maya.
In this reading he focuses on the contributions of Russian scholar Tat'yana Proskuriakova, who in the 1950s and 60s discovered that the writing on the monumental stela and other buildings was historical, dealing with the birth, accession, and death dates for the Maya rulers. With further analyzation, she was able to demonstrate a sequence of seven rulers who ruled over a span of two hundred years.