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Epi-Olmec Hieroglyphic Writing and Its Decipherment

John S. Justeson, University at Albany, State University of New York/University of South Carolina, Fellow 2010–2011

My fellowship year was devoted primarily to writing a book on the decipherment of the epi-Olmec hieroglyphic texts, co-authored with Terrence Kaufman. By the beginning of the fellowship, we had drafts for the more detailed and specialized material, so the bulk of my work was devoted to background material and to a central chapter designed to enable nonspecialists to understand and critically evaluate the methodology and results of the decipherment.

Twenty-nine years ago, I was one of only two Pre-Columbian fellows, and the pre-Columbian library fit into one smallish room. The growth in the library's Pre-Columbian holdings was a major asset for this year's research. More broadly, the expansion of the Pre-Columbian fellowship program has meant a critical mass of scholars with enough shared knowledge and perspective that we have benefitted from sharing our fellowship year, notwithstanding areal, topical and disciplinary differences. I also benefited concretely from problem-oriented discussions with fellows in the other programs, which will contribute directly to my training of graduate students in anthropology.

From nearly the beginning of the academic year I enjoyed a fruitful collaboration with the Smithsonian Institution's staff; this has led to two research papers. Most was devoted to studies of the Tuxtla Statuette, in collaboration with Jane Walsh. I closed the year with a presentation in the Smithsonian's Recovering Voices series on endangered languages and indigenous knowledge; preparing for this and several other talks contributed to my structuring of the general chapters of the book.