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Monday, June 3, 2013

Maya codices - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Maya codices

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Page 9 of the Dresden Codex (from the 1880 Förstemann edition)
Maya codices (singular codex) are folding books stemming from the pre-Columbian Maya civilization, written in Maya hieroglyphic script on Mesoamerican bark cloth, made from the inner bark of certain trees, the main being the wild fig tree or Amate (Ficus glabrata). Paper, generally known by the Nahuatl word amatl, was named by the Mayas huun. The folding books are the products of professional scribes working under the patronage of deities such as the Tonsured Maize God and the Howler Monkey Gods. The Maya developed their huun-paper around the 5th century,[1] the same era that the Romans did, but their paper was more durable and a better writing surface than papyrus.[2] The codices have been named for the cities where they eventually settled. The Dresden codex is generally considered the most important of the few that survive.


There were many such books in existence at the time of the Spanish conquest of Yucatán in the 16th century, but they were destroyed in bulk by the Conquistadors and priests soon after. In particular, all those in Yucatán were ordered destroyed by Bishop Diego de Landa in July of 1562. Such codices were primary written records of Maya civilization, together with the many inscriptions on stone monuments and stelae that survived. However, their range of subject matter in all likelihood embraced more topics than those recorded in stone and buildings, and was more like what is found on painted ceramics (the so-called 'ceramic codex'). Alonso de Zorita wrote that in 1540 he saw numerous such books in the Guatemalan highlands that “...recorded their history for more than eight hundred years back, and that were interpreted for me by very ancient Indians.” (Zorita 1963, 271-2). Fr. Bartolomé de las Casas lamented that when found, such books were destroyed: "These books were seen by our clergy, and even I saw part of those that were burned by the monks, apparently because they thought [they] might harm the Indians in matters concerning religion, since at that time they were at the beginning of their conversion." The last codices destroyed were those of Tayasal, Guatemala in 1697, the last city conquered in America.[3] With their destruction, the opportunity for insight into some key areas of Maya life has been greatly diminished.
There are only three codices whose authenticity is beyond doubt. These are:
  • The Madrid Codex, also known as the Tro-Cortesianus Codex;
  • The Dresden Codex also known as the Codex Dresdensis;
  • The Paris Codex, also known as the Peresianus Codex.
The authenticity of the so-called Grolier Codex, also known as the Grolier Fragment, has been disputed (see below).

Dresden Codex

Main article: Dresden Codex
The Dresden Codex (Codex Dresdensis) is held in the Sächsische Landesbibliothek (SLUB), the state library in Dresden, Germany. It is the most elaborate of the codices, and also a highly important work of art. Many sections are ritualistic (including so-called 'almanacs'), others are of an astrological nature (eclipses, the Venus cycles). The codex is written on a long sheet of paper that is 'screen-folded' to make a book of 39 leaves, written on both sides. It was probably written just before the Spanish conquest. Somehow it made its way to Europe and was bought by the royal library of the court of Saxony in Dresden in 1739. The only exact replica, including the huun, made by a German artist is displayed at the Museo Nacional de Arqueología in Guatemala City, since October, 2007.
Venus Cycle
The Venus cycle was an important calendar for the Maya, and much information in regard to this is found in the Dresden codex. The Maya courts employed skilled astronomers, who could calculate the Venus cycle with extraordinary accuracy. There are six pages in the Dresden Codex devoted to the accurate calculation of the location of Venus. The Maya were able to achieve such accuracy by careful observation over many centuries. The Venus cycle was especially important because the Maya believed it was associated with war and used it to divine appropriate times (electional astrology) for coronations and war. Maya rulers planned for wars to begin when Venus rose. The Maya may have also tracked the movements of other planets, including Mars, Mercury, and Jupiter.

Madrid Codex

Although of inferior workmanship, the Madrid Codex (Codex Tro-Cortesianus) is even more varied than the Dresden Codex and is the product of a single scribe. This codex was likely written after Spanish arrival, and was the result of hastily absorbed imagery and text from several sources. It is in the Museo de América in Madrid, Spain, where it may have been sent back to the Royal Court by Hernán Cortés. There are 112 pages, which got split up into two separate sections, known as the Troano Codex and the Cortesianus Codex. These were re-united in 1888. This Codex's provenance has been suggested to be Tayasal, the last Maya city to be conquered in 1697.

Paris Codex

The Paris Codex (also or formerly the Codex Peresianus) contains prophecies for tuns and katuns (see Maya Calendar), as well as a Maya zodiac, and is thus, in both respects, akin to the Books of Chilam Balam. The codex first appears in 1832 as an acquisition of France's Bibliothèque Impériale (later the Bibliothèque Nationale, or National Library) in Paris. Three years later the first reproduction drawing of it was prepared for Lord Kingsborough, by his Lombardian artist Agostino Aglio. The original drawing is now lost, but a copy survives among some of Kingsborough's unpublished proof sheets, held in collection at the Newberry Library, Chicago.[4]
Although occasionally referred to over the next quarter-century, its permanent "rediscovery" is attributed to the French orientalist León de Rosny, who in 1859 recovered the codex from a basket of old papers sequestered in a chimney corner at the Bibliothèque Nationale where it had lain discarded and apparently forgotten.[5] As a result, it is in very poor condition. It was found wrapped in a paper with the word Pérez written on it, possibly a reference to the Jose Pérez who had published two brief descriptions of the then-anonymous codex in 1859.[6] De Rosny initially gave it the name Codex Peresianus ("Codex Pérez") after its identifying wrapper, but in due course the codex would be more generally known as the Paris Codex.[6] De Rosny published a facsimile edition of the codex in 1864.[7] It remains in the possession of the Bibliothèque Nationale.

Grolier Codex

While the three codices above were known to scholars since the 19th century, the Grolier Codex only surfaced in the 1970s. The codex, said to have been found in a cave, is really a fragment of 11 pages. It is currently in a museum in Mexico, but is not on display to the public (scanned photos of it are available on the web). Each page shows a hero or god, facing to the left. At the top of each page is a number, and down the left of each page is what appears to be a list of dates. The workmanship is particularly poor. The pages are much less detailed than in the other codices, and hardly provide any information which is not already in the Dresden Codex. Save for its arthistorical value, in a narrow sense, the scientific value of this 'codex' is nil. As a matter of fact, it has been argued to be a forgery (see below).

Other Maya codices

Given the rarity and importance of these books, rumors of finding new ones often develop interest. Archaeological excavations of Maya sites have turned up a number of rectangular lumps of plaster and paint flakes, most commonly in elite tombs. These lumps are the remains of codices where all the organic material has rotted away. A few of the more coherent of these lumps have been preserved, with the slim hope that some technique to be developed by future generations of archaeologists may be able to recover some information from these remains of ancient pages. The oldest Maya codices known have been found by archaeologists as mortuary offerings with burials in excavations in Uaxactun, Guaytán in San Agustín Acasaguastlán, and Nebaj in El Quiché, Guatemala, at Altun Ha in Belize and at Copán in Honduras. The six examples of Maya books discovered in excavations date to the Early Classic (Uaxactún and Altun Ha), Late Classic (Nebaj, Copán), and Early Postclassic (Guaytán) periods and, unfortunately, all have been changed by the pressure and humidity during their many years in the ground, eliminating the organic backing and reducing all into unopenable masses or collections of very small flakes and bits of the original lime sizing and multicolor painting. The result unfortunately, is that it may never be possible to read them. (Whiting 207-208)

Darkbird18 is staying on point about the Maya 2012 Event and the Long Count Calendar. There is another artifact that have come to my attention; the Maya Codex! These are the last of the Maya writing that were not destroy by the Spanish Conquers. The remaining four(4) Codex's my have some very important keys to the Maya Long Count Calendar and what it means; read this information to add some more information to the 2012 Maya prize and just maybe you can find the answers to the 2012 Event. 

Maya codices - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia


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