This segment demonstrates both how new evidence can transform the ways historians interpret the past and how history and memory can be recalled and represented in ways alien to most westernized scholars. It looks first at historical interpretations of the Maya, who were once believed to be a peace-loving rural people. This interpretation, however, was based only on material evidence at Mayan ruins and on the opinions of a few scholars, and it did not take into account the meanings in Mayan glyphs.
Once scholars were able to decipher Mayan glyphs — beginning in the 1970s — historical interpretations of the Maya shifted dramatically. Today, historians view the ancient Maya as a bellicose urban people. They were ruled by deified kings obsessed with lineage and conquest, who resided in densely populated cities supported by sophisticated farming that included extensive canals and raised-field agriculture. This change in historical interpretation was made possible through the study of Mayan written language — even though it was centuries old — and the change has revolutionized this field of historical study.