Simon Martin (Mayanist)

Simon Martin
Residence United Kingdom
United States
Citizenship British
Fields Mayanist scholar (epigraphy, history)
Institutions Penn Museum, University of Pennsylvania, UCL Institute of Archaeology
Alma mater Institute of Archaeology, UCL
(PhD 2014) Royal College of Art London (MA 1987)
Known for Epigraphic study of Maya dynastic and political history, religion, art, and iconography

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. A former honorary research fellow at the Institute of Archaeology at University College London, as of 2016 Martin holds a position at the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology where he is an Associate Curator and Keeper in the American Section.[1]

Early life and career

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 proficency 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]


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. 1 2 3 West (2004)
  4. Apenzeller (1994, p.733); Inomata & Houston (2001, p.279)
  5. "Current and Former Fellows". Research. Dumbarton Oaks. n.d. 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. 
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. 
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 online publication). Exploration: the online research journal of Vanderbilt University. Nashville, TN: Vanderbilt University Office of Science and Research Communications. OCLC 50324967. 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. Retrieved 4 November 2008. 
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