Pages 15 to 20 of the Paris Codex


The pre-Columbian Maya civilization of Mesoamerica’s Post-Classic period (c. 900-1520 A.D.) made use of their sophisticated writing system, skills in mathematics, and astronomical tracking to create calendars for significant events and rituals. This exhibit will explore three codices made between the 11th and 15th centuries, referred to as the Paris Codex, Madrid (or Tro-Cortesianus) Codex, Dresden Codex. They are three of four known extant folding book-style codices from the aftermath of the Spanish colonization and conquest of Mesoamerica beginning in the 16th century, where priests destroyed the majority of important Mayan records.

These accordion-folded documents were written in inks of carbon (for black), hematite (for red), and other materials in Yucatec Mayan script on huun-paper made from fig tree bark. Professional scribes (priests) would create these documents in dedication to a god or multiple gods, as writing was perceived as a divine gift and practice. They function as almanacs that use a combination of writing, dates, charts, diagrams, and visual representations of gods and ritual practices to deliver astronomical and calendrical information.

The key topics of this collection are  calendrical structure of daily life and rituals, and astronomy in both practice and religious sense. Their use of almanacs and writings are instruments to document past events, current events, future predictions, and calculations based on astronomical or religious events. We can see the use of these writings with their 52-year calendar that guided religious life (A.D. 1250-1520). The most commonly referenced pages are found in the Dresden Codex, that relate the synodic and sidereal cycles of Mars (two intervals, one consisting of 702 days with a retrograde loop and a second shorter interval without) with the 260 day ritual calendar (tzolk’in). 

These codices are a detailed schedule to their daily and religious life. We can also understand their thought process when designing these complicated connections between the stars and everything else.