The Maya Codices Database Project

This website and the Maya Codices Database were compiled with funding from the National Endowment for the Humanities, through grants RZ-20724-01 (July 2002 to December 2002) and RZ-50311-04 (July 2004 to December 2006). We gratefully acknowledge their financial support.

Project team:

  • Project Directors: Drs. Gabrielle Vail,  Christine Hernández
  • Technical Architect: William (Ty) Giltinan
  • Consultants: Drs. Anthony F. Aveni, Victoria R. Bricker, and Martha J. Macri
  • Research Assistants: Sherri Buete, Destiny Lyals, Kathleen Moore, Lyssabeth Pedersen, Jason Richardson, Lynn Robinson, and William Werner 
  • Coding of the data contained in the Maya codices is an on-going project under the direction of Dr. Gabrielle Vail. The website and database would not exist without the hard work and dedication of our technical architect, William (Ty) Giltinan. His assistance over the past 15 years has been invaluable. We are also grateful to Dra. Paz Cabello Carro and the staff at the Museo de América in Madrid for access to the Tro-Cortesianus screenfold; to M. Thierry Delcourt and his staff at the Bibliothèque Nationale de France for kindly allowing us to work with the Paris Codex; and to Prof. Dr. Thomas Bürger, General Director of the Sächsische Landesbibliothek - Staats- und Universitätsbibliothek Dresden, for facilitating our examination of the Dresden Codex.

    Prehispanic Maya culture can be investigated from several perspectives, including analysis of archaeological sites and associated artifacts; documents from the period of European contact which discuss the indigenous culture; and texts written by the Maya themselves, which occur on monumental sculpture and ceramic vessels dating from the Classic period (c. A.D. 250-900), and in screenfold books (called codices) believed to date to the Late Postclassic period (c. A.D. 1200-1521). This study focuses on the four remaining Maya hieroglyphic codices, the Dresden, Grolier, Madrid (or Tro-Cortesianus), and Paris codices.

    The Madrid Codex is the longest of the existing Maya hieroglyphic manuscripts, containing over 250 separate “almanacs” that place events of both a sacred and secular nature within the 260-day Mesoamerican ritual calendar. These almanacs integrate calendrical data with pictures and glyphic texts to provide users (priests and daykeepers) with information about particular days in the sacred calendar. Unlike the other Maya codices, the Madrid Codex is concerned quite specifically with the activities of daily life (planting, hunting, tending one’s crops, etc.). The glyphic texts refer to specific activities, deities, offerings, and ritual and astronomical events.

    Information concerning the iconography, hieroglyphic texts, and calendrical structure of the Madrid Codex was originally stored in three separate databases developed beginning in 1993 by members of the project staff, with financial support from the National Endowment for the Humanities, the National Science Foundation (grant SBR9710961), and Dumbarton Oaks (in the form of a residential fellowship). Phase I of the project (NEH grant RZ-20724-01) involved integrating the three databases and making them available on-line. The purpose of posting our database on the Internet is to (1) provide access to our primary data and interpretations about the calendrics, iconography, and glyphic texts of the Maya codices, and (2) offer users the ability to run searches and queries of the data, thereby making it possible for them to address questions of relevance to their own research.

    The project staff recently completed incorporating data from the other Maya codices into the on-line database, meaning that the full corpus is now represented. As another component of this project, we are publishing an analysis of the Dresden and Madrid codices that updates earlier studies of these manuscripts (click here for additional information). Exciting new lines of inquiry have become available in the past two decades, including the analysis of seasonal and astronomical texts and images that have only recently been identified or deciphered; comparisons with the Borgia group of codices from central Mexico; and a methodology for grouping almanacs thematically and by overlapping patterns of dates. Moreover, many of the glyphic texts can now be read, which allows us to explore the relationship between texts and images in ways not previously available. Our ultimate goal is to unlock the structure, function, and content of divinatory codices in general, thereby bringing the study of Maya and other Mesoamerican manuscripts to a new level of sophistication.

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