Maya Writing

The Maya developed a highly complex system of writing, using pictographs and phonetic or syllabic elements. A complete discussion of their writing system is beyond the scope of this paper. Their writing was highly sophisticated, probably only members of the higher classes were able to read their symbols. The Maya carved these symbols into stone, but the most common place for writing was probably the highly perishable books they made from bark paper, coated with lime to make a fresh white surface. These "books" were screen-folded and bound with wood and deer hide. They are called codices, codex is singular. Because of their perishable nature and zealous Spanish book burning, only four codices remain today.

The contents of the codices must have varied, but some of them were evidently similar to astronomic almanacs. We have examples of a Venus table, eclipse tables in a codex in Dresden. There is a codex in Paris that seems to contain some kind of Maya Zodiac, but if it is and how it must have worked are still unknown. Another major example of Maya almanacs are present in the Madrid Codex. The fourth codex is called the Grolier and was authenticated as late as 1983. These codices probably contained much of the information used by priests or the noble class to determine dates of importance or seasonal interest. We can only speculate as to whether or not the Maya developed poetry or drama that was committed to paper. The codices probably kept track of dynastic information as well.


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Updated: July 22 2005