Yuri Valentinovich Knorozov was a Soviet linguist, who deciphered the Maya script.
Yuri Valentinovich Knorozov was born in the village Pivdenne near Kharkiv. His parents were intellectuals. As a child, Yuri was interested in human sciences and art, wrote poetry and played the violin. After school, Knorozov left Kharkiv for Moscow where he commenced undergraduate studies in the Department of Ethnology at Moscow State University’s department of History. HeinitiallyspecialisedinEgyptology. Here, he was also engaged in the history of the Ancient East and linguistics.
Knorozov’s study plans were soon interrupted by the outbreak of World War II hostilities along the Eastern Front in mid-1941. From 1943 to 1945 Knorozov served his term in the second world war in the Red Army as an artillery spotter.
At the closing stages of the war in May 1945, Knorozov and his unit supported the push of the Red Army vanguard into Berlin. It was here, sometime in the aftermath of the Battle of Berlin, that Knorozov is supposed to have by chance retrieved a book which would spark his later interest in and association with deciphering the Maya script.
In the autumn of 1945 after World War II, Knorozov returned to Moscow State University to complete his undergraduate courses at the Department of Ethnography. He displayed a particular interest and aptitude for the study of ancient languages and writing systems, especially hieroglyphs, and he also read in medieval Japanese and Arabic literature.
Knorozov spent several months as a member of a field expedition to the Central Asian Soviet republics of the Uzbek and Turkmen SSRs (what had formerly been the Khorezm PSR).
Knorozov’s scientific adviser recommended him to write a dissertation on deciphering of the Mayaglyphs.
For the first time in the history of linguistics, the 30-year-old scientist was able to read the Mayan texts. His key research was published in 1952 and brought Knorozov world fame. In 1963, the scientist’s monograph ‘The Writing of the Maya Indians’ was published.
In 1975, Knorozov was awarded the USSR State Prize. In 1995 he received the Order of the Aztec Eagle for exceptional services to Mexico.
Yuri Valentinovich Knorozov died on 31 March 1999 in Saint Petersburg
Translated by Elizaveta Ovchinnikova