Simon Martin (Mayanist)

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Simon Martin
Alma materInstitute of Archaeology, UCL
(PhD 2014) Royal College of Art London (MA 1987)
Known forEpigraphic study of Maya dynastic and political history, religion, art, and iconography
Scientific career
FieldsMayanist scholar (epigraphy, history)
InstitutionsPenn Museum, University of Pennsylvania, UCL Institute of Archaeology

Simon Martin is a British epigrapher, historian, writer and Mayanist scholar. He is best known for his contributions to the study and decipherment of the Maya script, the writing system used by the pre-Columbian Maya civilisation of Mesoamerica. As one of the leading epigraphers active in contemporary Mayanist research, Martin has specialised in the study of the political interactions and dynastic histories of Classic-era Maya polities. Since 2003 Martin has held positions at the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology where he is currently an Associate Curator and Keeper in the American Section, while teaching select courses as an Adjunct Associate Professor in the Department of Anthropology at the University of Pennsylvania.[1]

Early life and career[edit]

Simon Martin entered the field of Mayanist research with a professional background in graphic design. He attended the Royal College of Art in London during the 1980s, completing his Master's in Communication Arts in 1987.[2] As a professional designer he worked in televisual media into the mid-1990s, for production companies designing visual elements and programmed content for TV, film and commercials.[3]

Martin had been fascinated by the Maya civilisation since childhood. After a period spent in independent study and research, in the late 1980s Martin began attending Mesoamericanist conferences and Maya hieroglyphics workshops. In parallel with his work in the design profession Martin corresponded with scholars active in Maya research, and travelled to Central America to visit some of the Maya archaeological sites.[3]

His reading proficiency and knowledge of Maya inscriptions was soon recognised in the field, and by the mid-1990s Martin was operating as an honorary research fellow at UCL's Institute of Archaeology.[4] He gained his doctorate at the same institution in 2014.

Martin secured a residential fellowship grant from Washington D.C.'s Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection in pre-Columbian studies for the 1996/97 academic year.[5] The fellowship allowed Martin to later move into Mayanist research as his full-time profession.[3]

In 2003 Martin took up a position as the research specialist in Maya epigraphy at the University of Pennsylvania's Penn Museum, from where he has continued to conduct field reconnaissances to the Maya lowlands, write research papers and act as scholarly consultant for several museum exhibitions of Maya art and artefacts.[6] He co-curated the "Maya 2012: Lords of Time" in 2012 at Penn Museum, and in 2019 completed the full re-installtion of its Mexico and Central America Gallery. For the academic year 2019-2020 he was awarded the Jay I. Kislak Chair for the Study of the History and Cultures of the Early Americas at the Library of Congress. In 2020 he published the book Ancient Maya Politics: A Political Anthropology of the Classic Period 150-900 CE (Cambridge University Press), an extended re-analysis of the political data in the inscriptions and proposals for the underlying mechanisms at work.


In the early 1990s Martin was at the forefront of epigraphic research that would challenge some prevailing views on the nature of Maya lowland states and their political interactions during the Mid- to Late-Classic period.[7] Archaeologists and epigraphers had generally conceived the Maya lowlands region of this era as a mosaic of dozens of polities or city-states, each controlling only a small surrounding territory and acting more or less independently of the others. These states were engaged in alternating episodes of warfare and alliance with one another, but such interactions had been assessed as primarily local and transient in nature. However, evidence for the hierarchical ranking of kings overturned this concept and replaced it with a model in which a few dominant kingdoms exercised control over others in wide-ranging and enduring elite networks.


  1. ^ "Research – American section". Research at Penn Museum. Penn Museum. n.d. Retrieved 4 November 2008.
  2. ^ Inomata & Houston (2001, p.279); West (2004)
  3. ^ a b c West (2004)
  4. ^ Apenzeller (1994, p.733); Inomata & Houston (2001, p.279)
  5. ^ "Current and Former Fellows". Research. Dumbarton Oaks. n.d. Archived from the original on 23 October 2008. Retrieved 6 November 2008.
  6. ^ See West (2004) for record of interview with Martin on his work at Penn Museum. See also his entry at: "Research – American section". Research at Penn Museum. Penn Museum. n.d. Retrieved 4 November 2008.
  7. ^ Appenzeller (1994, p.733)


Appenzeller, Tim (4 November 1994). "Clashing Maya Superpowers Emerge From a New Analysis" (PDF online facsimile). Science. Washington, DC: American Association for the Advancement of Science. 266 (5186): 733–734. doi:10.1126/science.266.5186.733. ISSN 0036-8075. OCLC 1644869. PMID 17730387.[permanent dead link]
Demarest, Arthur A. (2006). The Petexbatun Regional Archaeological Project: A Multidisciplinary Study of the Maya Collapse. Vanderbilt Institute of Mesoamerican Archaeology series, vol. 1. Nashville, TN: Vanderbilt University Press. ISBN 978-0-8265-1520-9. OCLC 63178772.
Fahsen, Federico (2002). "Rescuing the Origins of Dos Pilas Dynasty: A Salvage of Hieroglyphic Stairway #2, Structure L5-49". The Foundation Granting Department: Reports Submitted to FAMSI. Foundation for the Advancement of Mesoamerican Studies, Inc. (FAMSI). Retrieved 5 November 2008.
Inomata, Takeshi; Stephen D. Houston (eds.) (2001). Royal Courts of the Ancient Maya, vol. 1: Theories, Themes, and Comparisons. Boulder, CO: Westview Press. ISBN 0-8133-3640-6. OCLC 44914323.CS1 maint: extra text: authors list (link)
Martin, Simon (Fall 2005). "Of Snakes and Bats: Shifting Identities at Calakmul" (PDF online reproduction by PARI Online Publications; repaginated from the print version). The PARI Journal. San Francisco, CA: Pre-Columbian Art Research Institute. 6 (2): 5–13. ISSN 1531-5398. OCLC 44780248.
Martin, Simon; Nikolai Grube (November–December 1995). "Maya Superstates: How A Few Powerful Kingdoms Vied for Control of the Maya Lowlands during the Classic Period (A.D. 300–900)". Archaeology. Vol. 48 no. 6. New York: Archaeological Institute of America. pp. 41–46. ISSN 0003-8113. OCLC 91776603.
Martin, Simon; Nikolai Grube (2000). Chronicle of the Maya Kings and Queens: Deciphering the Dynasties of the Ancient Maya. London and New York: Thames & Hudson. ISBN 0-500-05103-8. OCLC 47358325.
Miller, Mary; Simon Martin (2004). Courtly Art of the Ancient Maya. London: Thames & Hudson. ISBN 0-500-05129-1. OCLC 54799516.
Salisbury, David; Mimi Koumenalis; Barbara Moffett (19 September 2002). "Newly revealed hieroglyphs tell story of superpower conflict in the Maya world" (PDF). Exploration: the online research journal of Vanderbilt University. Nashville, TN: Vanderbilt University Office of Science and Research Communications. OCLC 50324967. Archived from the original (PDF online publication) on 2 November 2014. Retrieved 3 March 2008.
Schuster, Angela M.H. (September–October 1997). "The Search for Site Q" (online edition). Archaeology. Vol. 50 no. 5. New York: Archaeological Institute of America. pp. 42–45. ISSN 0003-8113. OCLC 200568756.
West, Judy (November 2004). "Cracking the code of an ancient culture". Penn Current. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania: 3. Archived from the original on 7 June 2010. Retrieved 4 November 2008.

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