One of the most important and scarce legacies of the Mayan civilization are the 3 preserved codices, according to some mayistas They are 4. These codices are books written in pre-Hispanic times, an authentic treasure of Humanity.

The Mayan codices they were made on deer skin and in amate paper, made with the vegetable fibers of the tree. It is more a textile support than paper. They were made by hand and the dyes were vegetable. They have a rectangular shape, are folded like an accordion and are small in size. This gives us to understand that they were for individual use.


What do the Mayan codices tell us?

The writings mainly collected the astronomical knowledge: numerical calendar, the gods and their ceremonies set in the calendar, prophecies, lunar calendars, planting, astronomical ... authentic jewels of Mayan knowledge. Writings that give us real support, a direct window to what was the Mayan civilization. The graphic representations have no waste, what a beautiful thing full of information.

Dresden Codex. Source

How many Mayan codices are there?

Only 4 Maya codices have arrived in acceptable conditions: Dresden Codex, the Codex of Madrid and Codex of Paris, which bear the name of the city where they are located, and the Grolier Codex, discovered in Mexico at 1965.

The codices, like most records of Mayan writing, it develops during Classical period, which includes the 250 aC to the year 900 d. C. It was the period of maximum splendor of the Mayan civilization, of the great lineages, battles, art, advances, discoveries, developments. In this epoch comes the apogee of Mayan knowledge. The base of the knowledge of what is transmitted in the codices is molded in this epoch.


Why are so few Mayan codices preserved?

The causes are several and all add up in this poor legacy. The Mayan civilization suffers a collapse at the end of the Classic Period, from 700 AD onwards. Some 150 years of prolonged crisis made this great civilization impoverish and face its decline towards the year 1500 AD Art, studies, refinements, science, care for beauty ... it was not the same again, it was not he repeated living again under that cultural and intellectual splendor. A thousand and infinite stories that will have happened the codices who survived, those who did not stay in abandoned cities, during those 650 years that passed until the arrival of the Spanish colonizer. The tropical climate of the Mayan lands did not help in the conservation of the codices, which are already of a material fragile and perishable.

Archaeological zone Yaxchilan, Chiapas
Dresden Codex. Source
Dresden Codex. Source

When the colonizer reaches the Yucatan Peninsula In 1547 a living Mayan culture derived from a civilization in ruins for a few decades was found. The Spanish evangelist in his arduous race to save the Gentile souls of the Mayans annihilated a great part of the Mayan culture, plagued by heresies and diabolical acts. Throughout the entire Mayan territory he destroyed what he considered diabolical, practically everything. Few codices were saved. Only in the sadly known Auto of faith de Peanut they destroyed themselves "5.000 idols of different shapes and dimensions, 13 large stones used as altars, 22 small stones carved, 27 rolls with signs and hieroglyphics, tons of books and 197 vessels of all sizes ".

Codex of Madrid exhibited in the Museum of America of Madrid
Codex of Madrid exhibited in the Museum of America of Madrid. Source

Unfortunately the destruction was not only on this side of the pond. The Mayan Codices that were rescued and taken to Europe they suffered the disasters of the destruction of the Second World War, which devastated entire cities. The wars they cause too much irreparable damage. Also the same tiempo that everything erodes and the little interest or knowledge of all those involved in the chain of preservation of the Mayan culture, from which we could have learned much more. The interest in Mayan civilization developed in the 19th century.

FAMSI (foundation for the advancement of Mesoamerican studies) has excellent links to each of the Mayan codices: Dresden Codex, Codex of Madrid, Codex of Paris y Grolier Codex.

A host of vicissitudes along the way have marked the fate of these 4 codices. These have allowed to deepen the knowledge of the Maya, being the Mayan writings of greater intellectuality. They are of immeasurable value for the human being, to continue learning from our brief steps in this life.

Good way,

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Sandra Salvadó Training photographer, traveler by vocation and certified tourism guide by the Government of Mexico. We promote natural wonders and contemporary Mayan culture. Great fan of pre-Hispanic history. Author of the blog and co-founder of The Shortest Path Travel, agency that guides you through alternative paths in Mayan lands. Social and sustainable tourism in the Yucatan Peninsula and Chiapas.
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