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Ancient Texts: The Mayan Codexes
Posted In: Ancient Civilizations  2/28/12
By: Yona Williams

The culture of the Maya is considered highly advanced when compared with other civilizations of its time. For instance, they used a written hieroglyphic language to communicate with one another. The hieroglyphics were carved into stone monuments, as well as placed on pieces of bone or painted on pottery. They used bark paper to write keep records and write books. Mayan texts provide the most valuable source of information regarding the ancient civilization.

They highlight the religious rituals, astronomy, and divination that was so influential in the beliefs of the Mayas. Since many of their writings were considered pagan religious content, the Spanish destroyed most of them. However, three primary codices were able to survive the test of time. Today, the works are named for the cities that are in possession of the writings – Dresden, Madrid and Paris.

The Mayan Codexes

The Dresden Codex was the first to be found and is considered the most complete out of the three. It is here that you will find highly accurate tables of Venus and the moon, which describes a method of predicting solar eclipses. It is estimated that the Dresden Codex was made between 1000 and 1200 AD, and was most likely still in use when the conquistadors came to the region. There are references and predictions related to time and agriculture. It mentions favorable days for predictions. Some of the text touches upon sickness and medicine. There is also a page concentrated on a flood, a prophecy or maybe a reference to the rainy seasons that were quite important to the Maya.

The Paris Codex

The Paris Codex is the second text found of the Mayans. It was located in a garbage basket by a French scholar named Léon de Rosny. Wrapped in a piece of paper on which the Spanish words "Peres" and the Nahuatl "tzeltal" were written, someone at the Paris Imperial Library actually tossed it in the trash. Once it was rediscovered, Rosny identified the document as a Maya codex and it was given the name Peresianus Codex (which meant Paris Codex). The artistic quality of the codex is not as good as the other two, and it is in worse condition. It is only part of the original record.

The Paris Codex makes references to the questions of ritual. There are dedications to gods and ceremonies mentioned in the form of katuns – a hieroglyph that details rituals and prophecies. The reverse of the pages show predictive almanacs, ceremonies for the New Year, and a zodiac divided into 364 days. Researchers have been unable to pinpoint an exact origin and date for when the codex was written. Some believe that it dates back to the 13th-century, while some feel it is older than the Dresden Codex. Today, you will find this artifact at the National Library of Paris.


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