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Dresden Codex

The Dresden Codex is named after the city where it is kept, namely Dresden, Germany. It is a manuscript thought to be the oldest from pre-contact Americas, possibly produced at the beginning of the 13th century. It is believed to be a copy of an original text that was composed between about 700 to 900 CE, hence the conclusion that it may possibly be the oldest known book from the Americas. The surviving copy may have been one of a number of pre-Columbian works sent to Europe by Hernán Cortés in 1519.

Composed of seventy-four fig bark pages, sewn together to produce an eleven foot document, it originally contained two protective wooden covers bearing engraved jaguar motifs. It is one of the few surviving Maya manuscripts, and is interpreted as a comprehensive source of Maya calendar information and is a Rosetta stone of sorts for the Maya glyph writing system.

The Dresden Codex was written by eight different scribes, using both sides of each page. This conclusion arises from the particular form of the writing style, the glyphs chosen, and the subjects focused on. Examples of these pages follow.

Dresden Codex - Great Flood

  • Introduction: Invocation of the Gods, and preparation of prophecies and the Great Flood.
Dresden Codex - Planet Venus Tables
  • Astronomy: tables for the Planet Venus.

Dresden Codex - planet Mars tables

  • Astronomy: tables for the Planet Mars

Dresden Codex - manifestations of the Rain God duo

  • Astronomy: serpent numbers; the columns of the universe; manifestations of the Rain God.
Dresden Codex - New Year rituals
  • Religious practice: rituals at the beginning of the New Year.

Dresden Codex - Food offerings to Chac

  • Religious Practice: food offerings to the Rain God (Chac).

Dresden Codex - Food offerings to the Rain God - 2

  • Religious practice: food offerings to the Rain God (Chac).

Dresden Codex - Food offerings to the Rain God - 3

  • Religious practice: food offerings to the Rain God (Chac).

Dresden Codex - Eclipse Tables

  • Astronomy: eclipse tables.

Dresden Codex - The Moon Goddess

  • Religious practice: the Moon Goddess; illness and birth.
The basic colors used in the Dresden Codex are derived from vegetable dyes, with red, black and the Maya blue hues dominating. It first surfaces in recorded history in 1739 when it was purchased from a private collection in Vienna by the (then) Royal Library of Dresden (now: Sächsische Landesbibliothek).
The manuscript has been published in various facsimile and reproduction formats beginning with Alexander von Humboldt’s inclusion of a few codex pages in one of his books in the early 1800s. Today we have access to online versions:

The pages and detailed images below are from the William Gates
1932 The Dresden Maya Codex manuscript (Maya Society Publishing, Baltimore).

Gates edition of Dresden Codex (1932) - Pictograph - 1

Gates edition of Dresden Codex (1932) - Pictograph - 2

Gates edition of Dresden Codex (1932) - Pictograph - 3

Gates edition of Dresden Codex (1932) - Pictograph - 4

Gates edition of Dresden Codex (1932) - Pictograph - 5

For a more comprehensive examination of part of the Codex, see: The First Twenty-Three Pages of the Dresden Codex: The Divination Pages, by Edwin L. Barnhart in following link (pdf document): DresdenCodex Edwin L. Barnhart.

Categories: Maya Maya Society

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