An interview with Dr. Mark Van Stone

In this interview, conducted on May 12, 2012, by ALI’s Rick Pettigrew at the 2012 edition of The Archaeology Channel International Film and Video Festival, Dr. Van Stone explains what is known about the Maya calendar and how Maya dates are calibrated with the calendar used in the modern world.  He pays special attention to the predictions by some that the world would end in 2012, the so-called “end” of the Maya calendar.  One of the leading specialists in Maya hieroglyphics and calligraphy, he makes reference to his 2010 book, 2012: Science and Prophecy of the Ancient Maya, which carefully details the facts about the Maya calendrical system and dispenses with the notion that the Maya calendar actually has an end.  He puts this all into the bigger context of the complex Maya intellectual world, their ability to conceive of astronomically large numbers, and the very recent decipherment of the Maya writing system.

The Interview:


About Mark Van Stone:


Dr. Van Stone received his undergraduate degree in Physics in 1973 and worked in the gamma-ray astronomy laboratory at the University of New Hampshire, until lured away to self-employment as a calligrapher and carver.  In the world of calligraphy and type design, he established himself as an expert in paleography and the evolution of written forms, teaching and lecturing widely on the subject for the next twenty years.

A lifelong autodidact, he constantly seized opportunities to study in the reading rooms and storerooms of libraries and museums great and small throughout the world.  A stint as a clay animator at Will Vinton Studios and study with netsuke carver Saito Bishu Sensei in Kawaguchi, Japan, focused his sculptural skills as well as his understanding of the cultures of animation, film-making, and Japan.  A Guggenheim Fellowship took him around the world, studying and photographing manuscripts and inscriptions of many nations, including medieval Europe and the Islamic world, the classical world of Rome and Greece, the Far East of Southeast Asia and Japan, and the hieroglyphs of Egypt and Mesoamerica.  His unique approach to understanding a script is learning to write and carve it.

There is something one learns by actually making such an artwork that one can learn in no other way. Mark’s unique combination of scientific training, passion for beauty and calligraphic expertise has bestowed profound insight into the script technique of all these diverse traditions.  This expertise has led to some peculiar jobs, such as producing movie props like the “Pirate’s Code Book” for the Pirates of the Caribbean films.

In the 1980s he began to focus on the most complex, beautiful, and little understood script, Maya hieroglyphs, and entered the University of Texas graduate school under the renowned Linda Schele in 1994.  He earned his MA in 1996 and his Ph.D. in 2005.  During this time, he co-authored Reading the Maya Glyphs with Michael Coe, now the standard introduction to the topic.  He appeared on-camera as the “writing hand” of Gaspar Chi, Bishop Landa and various Maya scribes in Breaking the Maya Code, the stunning documentary film that took top honors at TAC Festival 2009.  He is presently Professor of Art History at Southwestern College and in 2010 published a new book, 2012: Science and Prophecy of the Ancient Maya.  His dual background in science and art is essential to his unique understanding of Maya calligraphy and of the development of all writing systems.  His insight into Maya literature gives him a rare ability to interpret the Maya calendar in an authoritative and trustworthy manner and his presentation style is truly engaging.

2012: Science & Prophecy of the Ancient Maya, by Dr. Mark Van Stone (book; Amazon.com)

The Archaeology Channel International Film and Video Festival 2012

Dr. Mark Van Stone

Maya Hieroglyphic Writing (Foundation for the Advancement of Mesoamerican Studies)

Mayan Hieroglyphic Script and Languages (Omniglot)