Pre-columbian codices

The only currently deciphered complete writing system in the Americas is the Maya scroll. The Maya, along with several other cultures in Mesoamerica, constructed concertina-style books written on Amatl paper. Nearly all Mayan texts were destroyed by the Spanish during colonization on cultural and religious grounds. One of the few surviving examples is the Dresden Codex. Although only the Maya have been shown to have a writing system capable of conveying any concept that can be conveyed via speech (at about the same level as the modern Japanese writing system), other Mesoamerican cultures had more rudimentary ideographical writing systems which were contained in similar concertina-style books, one such example being the Aztec codices. 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 Chichen Itza.[1] This Maya codex is believed to be a copy of an original text of some three or four hundred years earlier.[2] It is the oldest book written in the Americas known to historians.[3] 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. Johann Christian Gotze, Director of the Royal Library at Dresden, purchased the codex from a private owner in Vienna in 1739. How it came to Vienna is unknown. It is speculated that it was sent by Hernan Cortes as a tribute to King Charles I of Spain in 1519. Charles had appointed Cortes governor and captain general of the newly conquered Mexican territory. The codex has been in Europe ever since. In 1810, Alexander von Humboldt published five pages from the Dresden Codex in his atlas Vues des Cordilleres et Monuments des Peuples Indigenes de l’Amerique.[4] The state library of Saxony, the Royal Library in Dresden, first published the codex in 1848.[5] It was not until 1853 that Charles Etienne Brasseur de Bourbourg identified the Dresden Codex as a Mayan manuscript.[6] In 1835, the codex was placed between glass panes in two parts measuring 1.85 metres (6.1 feet) and 1.77 metres (5.8 feet) in length. Between 1880 and 1900, Dresden librarian Ernst Wilhelm Forstemann succeeded in deciphering the calendar section including the Maya numerals used in the codex. These numbers are based on a vigesimal (base-20) numeral system, made up of three symbols: zero (shell shape), one (a dot) and five (a bar). Important milestones in the subsequent decoding of the non-calendar section were the assignment of gods to specific glyphs by Paul Schellhas in 1897 and Yuri Knorozov’s phonetic approach to deciphering in the 1950s.[7][8] Knorozov's work was based on the De Landa alphabet, developed by Diego de Landa around 1566. The library that held the codex was bombed and suffered serious damage during the firebombing of Dresden in World War II. The Dresden Codex was heavily water damaged. The codex was meticulously restored;[5] however, some of the pages were returned to the protective glass cabinet out of sequence. They have remained this way because the water damage caused some of the painted areas to adhere to the glass.