A man ahead of his time. Presentation oh the book “The last genius of the 20th century. Yury Knorozov: the destiny of a scientist"

Dr. Knorozov, an ethnographer and linguist of renown, who decoded the Mayan writings, proved that honor, courage and commitment are the qualities that exist regardless of any era or political system. The presentation of the book was held in the Institute of History and Archives on September 26.

This is the first, a complete and objective biography of Dr. Knorozov, based on documents and recollections of people who knew him, written by his pupil, Dr. Galina Yershova, currently Head of the Knorozov Mesoamerican Center of RSUH, historian and anthropologist.

Rector Bezborodov said: “This is an interesting, deep and courageous book, the author calls the life of Yuri Knorozov an ingenious heroic play. I am certain that this biography will prove to be both an educational material and a tale of an exemplary life”.

Mr. Fursenko, Aide to the President of the RF, said: “Loyalty and commitment are important qualities. Loyalty to one’s friends, teachers and commitment to one’s views. Dr. Yershova fully embodies these qualities. The discovery made by Dr. Knorozov did not bring fame to him personally, yet to Russia as a whole. Culture is sometimes more important than economy or politics as it is strategically more prolonged. We lived in the time of great people and we ought to be proud of it”.

Mr. Sergey Mironov, Chairmen of Spravedlivaya Rossiya Party, supported the installment of the cemeterial stele dedicated to Dr. Knorozov. It is made out of stone used for building Mayan pyramids and depicts the linguist holding his cat, whom he called his co-author. Mr. Mironov said: “As humanities define state ideology, we will hopefully see this kind of studies flourish. Without understanding of who we are and what kind of history we have had and will have, it is impossible to coexist, neither in the context of civilization nor nation. Dr. Yershova has contributed a lot toward this process”.

Dr. Yershova said: “Yuri Knorozov had begun his Mayan writing studies in his student years, during WWII. He couldn’t leave the country as for some time he had been on the occupied territory, he was denied access to graduate school and KGB was trying to get a hold of his discovery. The Head of the Kunstkamera Museum refused to finance an expedition to the Kuriles, sending one of his own instead, a much better equipped one. Knorozov had always been working in breakthrough fields and his research had made many people interested in its appropriation.

Still, his sense of humour never failed him, and, despite the hard knocks in life, he was always looking for like-minded people, those who would work with him and further his ideas. He understood that he would not be able to follow through with all his conjectures and it was important for him to find somebody to have them borne out.

He was a man ahead of his time. He fought to get computers used in linguistics as early as the 1950s. What we now call cognitive studies, in reality is his theory of communication. He considered it paramount to unite people for reaching specific goals and he lived for the sake of science, which was his one true goal.

This is what this book is about, about his unwavering loyalty to his country. The 1990s were not the best period for Russia and Knorozov saw his country as a bear being torn apart. He did not get to see its rebirth, yet he believed in it and expected it.

 His unique destiny teaches us how to use one’s own intellect to figure out what is going on rather than use someone else’s experience. As far as his own life philosophy, he used to say: “Why running around pyramids if I can unveil their secrets without leaving my office?” It was exactly what happened”.

A number of invited guests also spoke at the event, among them Madre Inés García, fundadora del Monasterio Ortodoxo de la Santísima Trinidad-Lavra in Guatemala, Rector of the Rafael Ayau Institute of Interdisciplinary Studies, and Dr. Edilberto Barrera Rubio, Director of the Efraín Calderon Lara Center for Social and Cultural Studies and a research fellow of the National Institute of Anthropology and History (Mexico), who was awarded the title of Doctor honoris causa.

The event concluded with the screening of the documentary “Faraway Lands” dedicated to Knorozov and the unveiling of the photo exhibition “The Last Genius of the 20th Century: Memory and Legacy”. The guests also visited the historical locations of the Institute, including the 19th century basement.


The Knorozov Mesoamerican Center of RSUH is the only one in Russia (and one of the few in Europe) focused on teaching and researching the history and culture of pre-Colombian America. Its creation was mainly due to the seminal discovery by Dr. Knorozov, Laureate of State Prize of the USSR, recipient of the Mexican order of Aztec Eagle, who, in 1952, decoded the hieroglyphic writings of the Mayans, being the first ever to translate original texts of the ancient civilization.

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