The Maya numeral system is a vigesimal (base-twenty) positional numeral system used by the Pre-Columbian Maya civilization.
The numerals are made up of three symbols; zero (shell shape, with the plastron uppermost), one (a dot) and five (a bar). For example, thirteen is written as three dots in a horizontal row above two horizontal lines stacked above each other.
Numbers after 19 were written vertically in powers of twenty. For example, thirty-three would be written as one dot above three dots, which are in turn atop two lines. The first dot represents "one twenty" or "1×20", which is added to three dots and two bars, or thirteen. Therefore, (1×20) + 13 = 33. Upon reaching 202 or 400, another row is started. The number 429 would be written as one dot above one dot above four dots and a bar, or (1×202) + (1×201) + 9 = 429. The powers of twenty are numerals, just as the Hindu-Arabic numeral system uses powers of tens.
Other than the bar and dot notation, Maya numerals can be illustrated by face type glyphs or pictures. The face glyph for a number represents the deity associated with the number. These face number glyphs were rarely used, and are mostly seen on some of the most elaborate monumental carving.
The Dresden Codex, also known as the Codex Dresdensis, is a pre-Columbian Maya book of the eleventh or twelfth century of the Yucatecan Maya in Chichén Itzá. This Maya codex is believed to be a copy of an original text of some three or four hundred years earlier. It is the oldest book written in the Americas known to historians. Of the hundreds of books that were used in Mesoamerica before the Spanish conquest, it is one of only 15 that have survived to the present day.
The Dresden Codex consists of 39 sheets, inscribed on both sides, with an overall length of 3.56 metres (11.7 feet). Originally, the manuscript had been folded in accordion folds. Today, it is exhibited in two parts, each of them approximately 1.8 metres (5.9 feet) long, at the museum of the Saxon State Library in Dresden, Germany. The document has played a key role in the decipherment of Mayan hieroglyphs.
Johann Christian Götze, Director of the Royal Library
TinEye Advisory You can find this photo on TinEye.com, but the quiz will be a lot more fun if you solve the puzzle on your own.
1. Madrid Codex. It is the longest known surviving Maya codex.
2. The Museo Arqueolgico Nacional, Spain.
3. The content of the Madrid Codex mainly consists of almanacs and horoscopes that were used to help Maya priests in the performance of their ceremonies and divinatory rituals.
Comments from Our Readers
I don't typically do well with this type of quiz. I am proud of myself as I stuck with it. I was pretty sure it was Mayan, but couldn't find quite the right head pieces in the Dresden Codex. I knew the numbering system was correct with the bars and dots. The Paris one was not quite right either.
Finally, I found it in the Madrid codices. Then, I went on to look at the Grolier (named for a club in which in was first shown in New York, 1972) codices. Pretty neat that these are named after the cities (except Grolier) in which they can be found today. The Grolier one is questionable and very poor condition as compared to the others.
This is a fascinating subject. Much to be learned and deciphered, but lots of good information available. Exploration tells me that the quiz image shows page 41 of the Madrid Codex (www.famsi.org/mayawriting/codices/pdf/madrid_rosny_bb.pdf) Its main images are to do with hunting and there are also numbers given by bars (=5) and dots (=1). The Mayan numbering system was base 20 and they had two calendars, one of 260 days and another of 365 (www-history.mcs.st-and.ac.uk/HistTopics/Mayan_mathematics.html). There is a great site (www.mayacodices.org/getstart.asp) where it is possible to search the meanings of glyphs in all four codices. In the case of the quiz image, a frame near top left is described a "A hunter uses a rope to truss a captured deer". Using the site search I could investigate more frames on this image, but I'll leave that to others. The coding on the site is still in progress.
I was initially diverted by the fact that the quiz image appeared to be of a document with two distinct holes. I've now decided that this isn't the case. The image originates from Wikipedia Commons, courtesy of Simon Burchell
(commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/User:Simon_Burchell/Museo_de_Am%C3%A9rica). There you can see a sequence of photographs of the museum's facsimile copy. And several show what look like curious holes. They aren't. They are reflections of the museum's lighting in the protective casing of the facsimile. But this is only apparent when looking at the image set, rather than a single image.
My first impression of this image was of a Mayan codex. Since there are only four which survive, it was a matter of determining which one the image came from. Looked at the Dresden codex first. No matching images. Looked at the Paris codex next. No matching images. Googled images for the Madrid codex and found the image. Info for images obtained from templeilluminatus.com.
I was sure it had something to do with the Maya. I did a little googling and this is what I found.
several sad things about the Mayan civilization, before and after the New Spain times. I don't know if we'll ever solve half its mysteries.
I learned the Mayan numeric system in grade school. I don't think the system in Mexico does so nowadays, and surely the American schools never did. It's been quite useful and a piece of knowledge that should be general and universal, not on the verge of extinction.
N.B. I learned to add and subtract on an abacus when I was in first grade. It's odd now that I look back at it. But I am glad that I did. Besides helping me learn math, knowledge of the abacus should be general and universal, and not on the verge of extinction either.
Besides, if you travel to the Far East and eat in a restaurant, they usually calculate your bill on an abacus and then check the math with a calculator.
It is amazing looking at the number of everyday items that we take for granted and realize that they have been around for many, many years!!!!!!!!!
What does this say about saving early computers? Cell phones? What will computers and cell phones look like in fifty years or so?
It was a bit of a struggle at first trying to figure out which of the four codices this came from and I had to do quite a bit of Googling before finally figuring it out. So, yes one can really lose respect for the Spanish and others who either stood by or directly participated in the destruction of ancient artifacts. One such case which comes to mind from recent years is Iraq and the destruction of the country's cultural heritage during the 10-year US-led war. The troops in Iraq were "ordered" by the powers that be to stand by and permit the ransacking of the National Museum in Iraq, which was the greatest collection of archaeological and historical artifacts in the Middle East. The museum was picked clean by looters and irreplaceable artifacts were stolen or destroyed and some of them dated 5,000 years. This is heartbreaking and totally unacceptable especially in this day and age! So, I truly do understand your comment about losing respect for the Spanish.
In terms of my (p.s.) to you regarding Leonardo, it was "tongue in cheek" as when I Googled The Madrid Codex at one point I saw reference to the Codex Madrid (Leonardo), and I found it odd that the names were so similar. Turns out that Leonardo created 2 codices or manuscripts that were discovered in the Biblioteca Nacional de Espana in Madrid in 1966. The first one was finished in late 1400's and the second was finished in the early 1500's. So, in answer to your question.....I'd have to say that no, Leonardo was never in Central America in the 1500's. The codices were brought to Spain by Pompeo Leoni, who was a sculptor in the court of Philip II. Interestingly enough these codices changed hands a few times over the years and at one point were owned by Juan de Espina, who was described as "a gentleman who lives alone in a mansion in Madrid; his servants are wooden automata'. What a strange description of a man! That statement in and of itself demands some research. LOL
Anyway, this was an interesting quiz and because of it I learned about all kinds of Mayan codices and as an extra bonus, I learned of the Codex Madrid (Leonardo).
I will check out the link to the glyphs. Thank you for that.
I consider [the loss of the Mayan library] a tragedy on the level of the destruction of the library in Alexandria.
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I recognized the mayan numbers on the image, so I first searched for Maya stelae (in Spanish) without success. Then I realized the images were too neat to have been sculpted, so I switched languages and wording. "preserved mayan painting" did give me another image that looked similar in context and style. That led me to the Wikipedia article about Mayan art, and scrolling down I found that leading image and it said "Madrid Codex". Googling it directly provided all the info, and scrolling in the image section I found this part, as well as the translator for the whole codex. And the fact that it is in Madrid explains why I had never seen it before, since I've visited a fairly good amount of Mayan places as well as the National Museum of Anthropology in Mexico.
The Madrid Codex (also known as the Tro-Cortesianus Codex or the Troano Codex) is one of three surviving pre-Columbian Maya books dating to the Postclassic Period of Mesoamerican chronology (c. 900–1521 AD). The Madrid Codex is held by the Museo de América in Madrid and is considered to be the most important piece in its collection. However, the original is not on display due to its fragility; a faithful copy is displayed in its stead.
The Codex was made from a long strip of amate paper that was folded up accordion- style. This paper was then coated with a thin layer of fine stucco, which was used as the painting surface. The complete document consists of 56 sheets painted on both sides to produce a total of 112 pages. The Troano is the larger part, consisting of 70 pages comprising pages 22–56 and 78–112. It takes its name from Juan Tro y Ortolano, its original owner. The remaining 42 pages were originally known as the Cortesianus Codex, and include pages 1–21 and 57–77. Each page measures roughly 23.2 by 12.2 centimetres (9.1 by 4.8 in).
The Madrid Codex is the longest of the surviving Maya codices. The content of the Madrid Codex mainly consists of almanacs and horoscopes that were used to help
Click on thumbnail to see a detailed images of the pages of the Madrid Codex.
Maya priests in the performance of their ceremonies and divinatory rituals. The codex also contains astronomical tables, although less than are found in the other two surviving Maya codices. Some of the content is likely to have been copied from older Maya books. Included in the codex is a description of the New Year ceremony.
The Codex is stylistically uniform, leading Coe and Kerr to suggest that it was the work of a single scribe. Closer analysis of glyphic elements suggests that a number of scribes were involved in its production, perhaps as many as eight or nine, who produced consecutive sections of the manuscript. The religious content of the codex makes it likely that the scribes themselves were members of the priesthood. It is likely that the codex was passed down from priest to priest and that each priest that received the book added a section in their own hand.
The images in the Madrid Codex depict rituals such as human sacrifice and invoking rainfall as well as
everyday activities such as beekeeping, hunting, warfare and weaving.
The Codex was discovered in Spain in the 1860s; it was divided into two parts of differing sizes that were found in different locations. The Codex receives its alternate name of the Tro-Cortesianus Codex after the two parts that were separately discovered. Early Mayanist scholar Léon de Rosny realised that both fragments were part of the same book. The larger fragment, the Troano Codex, was published with an erroneous translation in 1869–1870 by French scholar Charles Étienne Brasseur de Bourbourg, who found it in the possession of Juan de Tro y Ortolano in Madrid in 1866 and first identified it as a Maya book. Ownership of the Troano Codex passed to the Museo Arqueológico Nacional ("National Archaeological Museum") in 1888.
Madrid resident Juan de Palacios tried to sell the smaller fragment, the Cortesianus Codex, in 1867. The Museo Arqueológico Nacional acquired the Cortesianus Codex
from book-collector José Ignacio Miró in 1872. Miró claimed to have recently purchased the codex in Extremadura. Extremadura is the province from which Francisco de Montejo and many of his conquistadors came, as did Hernán Cortés, the conqueror of Mexico. It is therefore possible that one of these conquistadors brought the codex to Spain; the director of the Museo Arqueológico Nacional named the Cortesianus Codex after Hernán Cortés, supposing that he himself had brought the codex to Spain.
Maya codices (singular codex) are folding books stemming from the pre-Columbian Maya civilization, written in Maya hieroglyphic script on Mesoamerican bark cloth, made from the inner bark of certain trees, the main being the wild fig tree or amate (Ficus glabrata). Paper of this sort, generally known by the Nahuatl word āmatl /ˈaːmat͡ɬ/, was named by the Mayas huun. The folding books are the products of professional scribes working under the patronage of deities such as the Tonsured Maize God and the Howler Monkey Gods. The Maya developed their huun-paper around the 5th century, which is roughly the same time that the codex became predominant over the scroll in the Roman world. However, Maya paper was more durable and a better writing surface than papyrus. The codices have been named for the cities where they eventually settled. The Dresden codex is generally considered the most important of the few that survive.
Our knowledge of ancient Maya thought must represent only a tiny fraction of the whole picture, for of the thousands of books in which the full extent of their learning and ritual was recorded, only four have survived to modern times (as though all that posterity knew of ourselves were to be based upon three prayer books and Pilgrim's Progress). —Michael D. Coe
at Dresden, purchased the codex from a private owner in Vienna in 1739. It was described, at the time of acquisition, as a "Mexican book." How it came to Vienna is unknown. It is speculated that it was sent by Hernán Cortés as a tribute to King Charles I of Spain in 1519. Charles had appointed Cortés governor and captain general of the newly conquered Mexican territory. The codex has been in Europe ever since.
The Paris Codex (also known as the Codex Peresianus and Codex Pérez) is one of three surviving generally accepted pre-Columbian Maya books dating to the Postclassic Period of Mesoamerican chronology (c. 900–1521 AD). The document is very poorly preserved and has suffered considerable damage to the page edges, resulting in the loss of some of the text. The codex largely relates to a cycle of thirteen 20-year k'atuns and includes details of Maya astronomical signs.
The Paris Codex is generally considered to
have been painted in western Yucatán, probably at Mayapan. It has been tentatively dated to around 1450, in the Late Postclassic period (AD 1200–1525). More recently an earlier date of 1185 has been suggested, placing the document in the Early Postclassic (AD 900-1200). However, the astronomical and calendrical information within the codex are consistent with a Classic period cycle from AD 731 to 987 indicating that the codex may be a copy of a much earlier document.
The Paris Codex is currently held at the Bibliothèque Nationale de France in Paris, in the Département des Manuscrits, catalogued as Mexicain 386.
The content of the codex is mainly ritual in nature, and one side of the codex contains the patron deities and associated rituals for a cycle of thirteen k'atuns (a 20-year Maya
calendrical cycle). One fragment contains animals that represent astronomical signs along the ecliptic including a scorpion and a peccary; fragments of this Maya "zodiac" are depicted on two pages of the codex. Some pages of the codex are marked with annotations made with Latin characters.
On one side of the codex the general format of each page largely follows the same arrangement, with a standing figure on the left hand side and a seated figure on the right hand side. Each page also contains the ajaw day glyph combined with a numerical coefficient, in each case representing a date marking the final day of a calendrical cycle. In spite of the poor state of preservation of the document, enough text has survived to demonstrate that in the case of the Paris Codex, the main series of dates correspond to k'atun-endings, allowing for the reconstruction of some of the lost date glyphs in the text. The seated figures are each associated with a sidereal glyph indicating that they represent the ruling deity of each k'atun.
The reverse of the codex is more varied in nature and includes a section dedicated to a calendrical cycle ruled by Chaac, the god of rain. A set of two pages illustrates the days of the tzolk'in 260-day cycle that correspond to the beginning of the solar year over a period of 52 years (a cycle of the Calendar Round). The final two pages of the codex depict a series of thirteen animals that represent the so-called "zodiac".