After he became an orphan with no relatives close by, a local Paiute man invited him in a matter-of-fact way, "Come, be my son." La Van readily accepted.Over the course of a lifetime, La Van became thoroughly immersed in the culture and language of his adoptive people and eventually developed a sophisticated system for deciphering Native American petroglyphs.Although La Van was baptized into the LDS church as a child, other members of his family were not active members.
As he grew up, La Van served as an air traffic controller in the Air Force during the Korean war where he was very active in the servicemen's LDS branch.
This study was to prove crucial for what would become his life's work, deciphering the meanings of the rock writings.
La Van Martineau's rock writing work is of particular interest to linguists because it appears to confirm the existence of strictly ideographic writing systems lacking any phonetic (sound) components.
Sign language consisted of a few hundred gestures that could be combined together to communicate complex ideas between the various Native American tribes.
Their spoken languages were so very different as to preclude any verbal communication, but the sign language was universal from the Paiutes of Utah, to the Pawnees of Nebraska or the Iroquois in New York.