Friday, May 4, 2012

Dresden Codex

The most well known Mayan codex (accordion-folded book) is the Dresden Codex (also known as the Codex Dresensis). Lost and found again, this codex is a major source of information on Maya astronomy and the calendar system.

Archaeologists think the Dresden Codex hails from the Yucatan region of the Mayan world. They also think it’s the oldest of the four known codices, and was crafted sometime between the 1200s and the 1300s AD. Thompson says it was made in 1200 AD to 1250 AD, while Satterthwaite says it can’t be earlier than 1345 AD, but another man – Everson – says it was sometime in the 1200s.

Beyond its creation date, the truth about other aspects of the codex is also under consideration. It’s possible the codex was created by four scribes, and these scribes may’ve been copying an older book from around 755 AD.

Travel To Europe
At some point, someone took the codex from the Maya and it ended up in Europe. It’s not entirely clear how the codex made it there. One theory says that the Dresden Codex’s trip across the Atlantic occurred in 1519, when Hernán Cortés gave it to Emperor Charles V.

However it got to Europe, in 1739 a man named D. Johann Christian Goetze bought the codex while he was in Vienna. Goetze was the head of the Royal Library in Dresden (a city once part of Saxony, now part of modern Germany), and the codex became part of the library’s collection.

The codex remained a book in the Royal Library, where the upper left corners of its pages were damaged by water during World War II, during the bombing of Dresden. A man named Yuri Knorzov (a Russian soldier who became a famous scholar of the Maya) took the codex.

This codex possesses 39 “pages”, which are about 3.5 inches wide and about 8 inches tall. In total, when unfolded the Dresden Codex is about 11.5 feet long. It is possible that it had more pages that are now lost.

What does the Dresden Codex contain in its pages? That is still a matter of debate. Though archaeologists believe that it contains eclipse and other planetary cycle information, the details are not always clear. Things they think the codex contains include ritual calendars and divinations based on the sun, Venus and the moon. It is also possible that Mars' cycle is included in the Dresden Codex.


“The Ancient Maya”; Robert J. Sharer, Loa P. Traxler; 2006

"Maya Eclipses: Modern Astronomical Data, the Triple Tritos and the Double-Ztolkin"; William E. Beck, University of Central Florida; 2007

University of Arizona Libraries: Mayan Codex Facsimiles
Library of Congress: Exploring the Early Americas: Dresden Codex