Table of Contents. One of the ablest of living ethnologists has classified the means of recording knowledge under two general headings—Thought-writing and Sound-writing. The superiority of picture-writing over the mere depicting of an occurrence is that it analyzes the thought and expresses separately its component parts, whereas the picture presents it as a whole. The representations familiar among the North American Indians are usually mere pictures, while most of the records of the Aztec communities are in picture-writing.

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It is therefore oflFered to the public more as a tentative work than with the expectation that all my conclusions will stand the test of criticism. This fact I mention as an apology for the comparatively few works referred to in the paper. I have studied the Manuscript somewhat in the same way the child undertakes to solve an illustrated rebus, assuming as a standpoint the status of the semi-civilized Indian, and endeavoring, as far as possible, to proceed upon the same plane of thought.

But these lines, as I believe, were few and limited, relating chiefly to architect- ure, sculpture, painting, and the computation of time. As an examination of the Manuscript soon satisfied me that it was, to a great extent, a kind of religious calendar, I found it necessary first to dis- cuss the Maya chronological system in order to make use of the numerous dates found in the work — a fact that will explain why so many pages of the first part of the paper are devoted to this subject.

The results of my investigations are summed up at the close of this preface. I find the work consists of two parts: first, a calendar giving the dates of religious festivals running through a long period of time, in all probability a grand cycle of three hundred and twelve years, together with brief formulas; second, an illustration of the habits, customs, and employ- ments of the people.

One omission in my paper will be observed by those who are familiar with the subject, that is, the failure on my part to notice and account for, in the Maya chronological system, the surplus days of the bissextile years. This omission on my part has been intentional.

I can find no plan by which to insert them in the series, numbering them as the others, without interfering with that order which is essential to the system itself. I have therefore proceeded upon the assumption that they are added as uncounted days, and hence interfere in no way with the regular order.

If I am mistaken in this conclusion, considerable modification in my tabular aiTangement of the years may be necessary, even though the general plan be correct. A very serious di'awback to the attempt to explain the written char- acters or hieroglyphics has been the lack on my part of a knowledge of the Maya language. Such a knowledge I do not claim; therefore, in this part of the work, the best I could do was to quote from the lexicons, as there given, such words as I found it necessary to refer to.

V questioned. But after seriously considering this point, I concluded ft best to give to the world the result of my investigations with these explanations, as I felt confident I had made some progress in deciphering this mysterious Manuscript. Brinton, of Philadelphia, for the valuable notice of the Maya Manuscripts which he has contributed as an introduction to my paper.

These may be briefly summed up as follows: 1st. That the work was. That the very large number of day columns and numerals, which form fully one-half of what may be called the written portion, are simply dates which appear to run through one entire grand cycle of years, fixing the time when festivals should be held and other religious observances take place.

But even here we see the religious element pervading everything. That the work appertained to and was prepared for a people liv- ing in the interior of the country, away from the sea-shore.

This is inferred from the fact that nothing is found in it relating to fishermen, or their vessels. Digitized by Google But tliero are reasons for believing that it pertained to a companituely well- wooded section. Tlie dress of the males appears to have consisted of a strip of cloth probably cotton , passed once or twice around the loins, with one end hanging down behind and the other in front, or a small flap in front and the ends behind.

That of the females consisted of a skirt fastened at the waist and hanging down to the ankles, A kind of Ijroad anklets and wrist- lets appear also to have been quite common with the better class, but the feet were always bare. The women parted tlieir hair in the middle, that of the matrons or married women not being allowed to hang down, while that of the younger or unmarried ones was allowed to hang in long locks behind.

Mats alone neem to liave been used as seats. Vii In planting their corn maize it was dibbled in with a curved stick, five grains to a hill being the established number. While at this work they wore a peculiar head-covering, apparently a kind of matting. The other cultivated plants noticed in the work appear to be cacao, cotton, and a leguminous species, probably a climbing bean, as it is supported by a stake. Their crops were also subject to injury by severe droughts, accompanied by great heat.

Their chief mechanical work, as I judge from this Manuscript, was the manufacture of idols, some being made of clay and others carved of wood Two implements used in making their wooden images appear, from the figures, to have been of metal, one a hatchet, the other sharp-pointed and shaped much like a pair of shears. Spears and arrows if such they be, for there is no figure of a bow in the entire work , or darts, are the only implements of warfare shown.

The spears or darts seem to have been often thrown by means of a kind of hook, and guided by a piece of wood with a notch at the end. The taking of life, apparently of a slave, is indicated in one place, but whether as a sacrificial offering is uncertain.

It is evidently not in the manner described by the early writers, as in this case it is by decapitation with a machete or hatchet, the arms being bound behind the back, and what is presumed to be a yoke fixed on the back of the head. This is the only thing in the Manuscript, except holding captives by the hair, as in the Mexican Codices, which can possibly be construed to indicate human sacri- fice.

In the Dresden Codex human sacrifice in the usual way — by opening the breast — is clearly indicated. We learn from the figures in the Manuscript that the cross in some of its forms was in use among this people as a religious emblem, and also that the bird was in some cases brought into connection with it, as at Palenque. In regard to the written characters I have reached the following conclusions: That, although the movement of the figures is from the right to the left, and the plates should be taken in this way, at least by pairs, yet, ds a general rule, the characters are in columns, to be read from the top down- wards, columns following each other from left to right; that when they are in lines they are to be read from left to right and by lines from the top downwards, but that lines are used only where it is not convenient to place the characters in columns.

The correctness of this conclusion is, I think, susceptible of demonstration by what is found in the Manuscript. That there is no fixed rule. The few which I have been able to decipher satisfactorily appear to have the parts generally arranged in an order nearly or quite the reverse of that in which the characters themselves are placed.

That the characters, while to a certain extent phonetic, are not true alphabetic signs, but syllabic. Nor will even this definition hold true of them all, as some appear to be ideographic and others simply abbrevi- ated pictorial representations. Most of the characters are compound, arid the parts more or less abbreviated, and, as the writing is certainly the work of the priests, we may correctly term it hieratic.

Landa's alphabet, I think, is the result of an attempt on his part to pick out of the compound characters their simple elements, which he erroneously supposed represented letters. The day characters are found in the Manu- script substantially as given by this author, but appear to have been derived from an earlier age, and to have lost in part their original signification. No month characters are found, in this work, though common in the Dresden Codex. That the work the original, if the one now in existence be a copy was probably written about the middle or latter half of the fourteenth century.

The tribe appears to have been at the time in a peaceable, quiet, and comparatively happy con- dition, which will carry us back to a time preceding the fall of Mayapan, and before the introduction of Aztec soldiers by the Cocomes. I think we find conclusive evidence in the work that the Ahau or Katun was a period of 24 years, and the great cycle of ; also, that the series commenced with a Cauac instead of a Kan year, as has been usually supposed.

Lastly, I add that I think Brasseur was right in supposing that this work originated in that section of the peninsula known as Peten. Brinton xvii The graphic system and ancient records of the Mayas xvii 1. Introductory xvii 2. Descriptions by Spanish writers - xix 3. References from native sources xxvii 4. The existing Codices xxx 5. Efforts at interpretation xxxiv Chapter I. Relacion, pp. Face Page. PiATB I. Ban's Plate of the Palenqne Tablet Page. XV Page. One of the ablest of living ethnologists has classified the means of recording knowledge under two general headings — Thought-writing and Sound- writing.

The superiority of picture-writing over the mere depicting of an occur- rence is that it analyzes the thought and expresses separately its component parts, whereas the picture presents it as a whole. The representations familiar among the North American Indians are usually mere pictures, while most of the records of the Aztec communities are in picture-writing. The genealogical development of Sound-writing begins by the substi- tution of the sign of one idea for that of another whose sound is nearly or quite the same.

Such was the early graphic system of Egypt, and such substantially to-day is that of the Chinese. Above this stands syllabic writing, as that of the Japanese, and the semi-syllabic signs of the old Semitic alphabet; while, as the perfected result of these various attempts, we reach at last the invention of a true alphabet, in which a definite figure corresponds to a definite elementary sound. It is a primary question in American archaeology. This question is as yet unanswered.

All agree, however, that the highest evolution took place among the Nahuatl-speaking tribes of Mexico and the Maya race of Yucatan. I do not go too far in saying that it is proved that the Aztecs used to a certain extent a phonetic system of writing, one in which the figures refer not to the thought, but to the sound of the thought as expressed in spoken lan- guage.

This has been demonstrated by the researches of M. Aubin, and, of late, by the studies of Senor Orozco y Berra. In the earlier the plan is that of the rebus in combination with ideograms, which latter are nothing more than the elements of picture-writing. Ex- amples of this plan are the familiar 'tribute rolls'' and the names of towns and kings, as shown in several of the codices published by Lord Kings- borough.


Madrid Codex (Maya)

However, the original is not on display due to its fragility; an accurate reproduction 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. It takes its name from Juan Tro y Ortolano. The remaining 42 pages were originally known as the Cortesianus Codex, and include pages 1—21 and 57—


A Study of the Manuscript Troano/Introduction






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