Friday, December 20, 2013

Eduard Seler

Eduard Seler was a deep scholar of Mesoamerica who was born in the mid-1800s and lived into the early 1920s. Seler is known for his research and writings on the native cultures of the Americas. His most noted connection to the ancient Maya world is his decipherment of five glyphs.

Birth and Education
Eduard Georg Seler came into this world December 5, 1849, in a place known as Crossen an der Order, located in what was then Prussia -- the second youngest of four children. He went to Joachimsthalsche Gymnasium (in Berlin) from 1863 until 1869, on a scholarship given to teachers' children (Seler's father, Gottlieb Robert Seler, was a teacher). He then went to the university of Breslau, but only for a year as he was in the Franco-Prussian War from 1870 until 1871 (these were the years of the Franco-Prussian War).

Still in 1871, Seler went to the University of Berlin, and in 1875 he passed an exam called the Oberlehrer. In 1876 he took a position at Berlin's Dorothen-stadtischen Realgymnasium where he taught both math and natural science. He had to stop about four years later because of illness.

Seler moved to Trieste, where he took up learning linguistics, and during this time also seems to have started to learn about pre-Columbian archaeology and ethnography. He got a doctorate in 1887 from the University of Leipzig.

From 1904 until the year he died, Seler was the director of the Königlichen Museum Für Völkerkunde's American Division, located in Berlin.

One Mesoamerica in General
In terms of identifying the continuum of Mesoamerican ideology, Seler pointed out how "Mexican" cultures (like the Aztec) shared some ideas with the Maya. His essays on Mesoamerica, when put together make up five volumes.

Seler learned different Mesoamerican languages, including Nahuatl. He found a patron in a man named Duc de Loubat, who gave him money to visit Mesoamerica, and also published Seler's work with color photos.

On the Maya Specifically
Although Seler had much knowledge on Mesoamerica, he did not greatly contribute to the decipherment of the Maya writing system. Seler did not believe that the ancient Maya writing system actually was a writing system. In fact, he and another man, Cyrus Thomas, published papers back and forth at each other in Science (a magazine) from 1892 until 1893, arguing their positions.

Although he was wrong about the Maya writing system, Seler did discover one thing: the glyphs for the world colors. These are the colors connected to the world directions -- with one color being connected to one direction.

Seler died in November 1922 in his home in Berlin. His body was cremated and placed inside an urn in the Aztec style. This urn was then put in a mausoleum in Steglitz that belonged to his wife's family. Later, his wife died and her remains were also placed in the mausoleum.

"Breaking the Maya Code"; Michael D. Coe; 1992

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