The Maya Codices

The Maya are the only pre-columbian civilisation of Mesoamerica to have developped a highly sophisticated hieroglyphic writing found on their monuments, stelae, various carvings, ceramics and codices. Their codices are colourful books made from the bark of a fig tree stripped in sheets coated with lime. Their pages are assembled together and folded in accordeon style. The Maya often covered the codices in jaguar pelt, which shows their supreme value during the classic period.

SScribe with Codex and Jaguar Pelt

Scribe with Codex and Jaguar Pelt

At the time of the Spanish Conquest the Franciscan inquisitor Diego de Landa gathered all the Maya codices he could find and conducted an autodafé in 1562 in the town of Mani, Yucatan. Many long and precious records of Maya timekeeping and knowledge were destroyed into flames in a matter of moments as incomprehensible works of the devil.

There are currently four main known Mayan codices that have survived, bearing the name of the town where they were found or ended up.

The Dresden Codex

Dresden Codex

Dresden Codex

The Paris Codex
Probably of late pre-conquest origin, the Paris codex contains 11 leaves (22 pages) which are the remains of a longer manuscript and fairly damaged in parts. Even though its execution is not as refined as the Dresden codex its content has been valued especially regarding the evidence of a Maya Zodiac.

Pages 23 and 24 of the Paris codex show 13 animals or constellations hanging from the sky band in a sequence that is also appearing in a text from a Chichen Itza monument. Unfortunately some parts are missing and therefore not decipherable.

Paris Codex Showing Constellations Animals

Paris Codex Showing Constellations Animals

The Paris codex also contains sequences of katuns and tuns, which are respective cycles of 7,200 days = approx 20 years and 360 days.

Other parts reveal the usual Tzolkin series, the New Year ceremonies as well as sequence of Year Bearers which are the four regular Tzolkin signs starting the Maya solar year of 365 days called Haab.

The Madrid Codex
Likely to have been written shortly after the conquest, this is the longest codex counting 111 pages. It was quickly executed compared to the Dresden codex. It contains the New Year rites, the 260 day Tzolkin series with occupations such as beekeeping, hunting and trade. Some pages concern the four sacred directions and their corresponding deities.

The Grolier Codex
Named after the Grolier Club in New York where it was first displayed, this codex has a very simple and coarse drawing style with a very distinctive influence from central Mexico. It may date from early post classic period around the 13th century even though its poor execution and recent discovery in the 1970’s render its authenticity questionable. It consists of 10 pages which are probably only a part of a copied astronomical manuscript as only half of the movements in the Venus cycle are recorded.

Speak Your Mind