Ancient Mysteries Unexplained Animal Figures In The Maya Codices

Animal Figures In The Maya Codices

Animal Figures In The Maya Codices
Catalog # SKU1452
Publisher TGS Publishing
Weight 1.10 lbs
Author Name Alfred M. Tozzer & Glover M. Allen
ISBN 10: 0000000000
ISBN 13: 0000000000000


Animal Figures
In The
Maya Codices

By Alfred M. Tozzer, Ph.D.
Glover M. Allen, Ph.D.

The various peoples inhabiting Mexico and Central America in early pre-Columbian times were accustomed to record various events, especially in regard to their calendar and the religious ceremonials in relation to it, on long strips of skin or bark. These were usually painted on both sides and folded together like a screen. Several of these codices are still in existence from the Nahua and Zapotec areas in Mexico, but only three have come down to us from the Maya region which is included in the peninsula of Yucatan, the states of Tabasco and Chiapas in Mexico, and portions of Guatemala and Honduras.


These three manuscripts are the Dresden Codex in the Royal Public Library at Dresden, the Tro-Cortesianus (formerly considered to have been two, the Troano and the Cortesianus) in the National Archaeological Museum at Madrid, and the Peresianus in the National Library at Paris. These pre-Columbian manuscripts have all been published in facsimile.

These remains of a once extensive literature show evidence not only of considerable intellectual attainments on the part of their authors but also of a high degree of artistic skill in the drawings and hieroglyphics. The frequent occurrence in these manuscripts of representations of animals showing various degrees of elaboration and conventionalization has led us to undertake the task of identifying these figures as far as possible and studying the uses and significance of the several species, a field practically untouched.* Förstemann in his various commentaries on the Maya codices (1902, 1903, 1906), Brinton (1895), and deRosny (1876) have only commented briefly upon this side of the study of the manuscripts. Seler (1904a) and some others have written short papers on special animals. During the preparation of this paper there has appeared a brief account by Stempell (1908) of the animals in the Maya codices. The author has, however, omitted a number of species and, as we believe, misidentified others. In making our identifications we have given the reasons for our determinations in some detail and have stated the characteristics employed to denote the several species.

We have not limited ourselves entirely to the Maya manuscripts as we have drawn upon the vast amount of material available in the stone carvings, the stucco figures, and the frescoes found throughout the Maya area. This material has by no means been exhausted in the present paper. In addition to the figures from the Maya codices and a comparatively few from other sources in the Maya region, we have introduced for comparison in a number of cases figures from a few of the ancient manuscripts of the Nahuas and the Zapotecs to the north. The calendar of these two peoples is fundamentally the same as that of the Mayas. The year is made up in the same way being composed of eighteen months of twenty days each with five days additional at the end of the year. There is therefore a more or less close connection as regards subject matter in all the pre-Columbian codices of Mexico and Central America but the manner of presentation differs among the different peoples of this region.

The entire body of the animal may be represented realistically or the head alone may be shown. The animal head is frequently attached to a human body. The animal may appear conventionalized to a greater or less extent and the head in turn may change in the same way until only a single characteristic of the animal remains by which to identify it as, for example, the spots of the jaguar or the feathering around the eye of the macaw. In the case of the glyphs, a term employed to designate the regular and usually square characters appearing in lines or columns throughout the codices and inscriptions, we find both the realistic drawing and that where conventionalism has come in.


The Maya codices are made up, for the most part, of the records of the sacred period of two hundred and sixty days, a period called in Nahuatl, tonalamatl, and other numerical calculations. The tonalamatl was used for purposes of divination in order to find out whether good or bad fortune was in store for an individual. It is not necessary at this place to go into the different means taken to record this period of time or its methods of use. It may be well, however, to explain the usual distribution of the pictures in the codices, including those of animals, in connection with the representation of the tonalamatl. A normal period is shown in Dresden 6c-7c. A column of five day signs occurs in the middle of 6c with a single red dot over it. To the right of this column stretches a horizontal line of numbers consisting of alternate groups of black and red lines and dots. Under each pair of red and black numbers there is usually a human form and over each pair a group of four glyphs belonging to the figure below. Schellhas (1904) has classified the various figures of gods appearing in these vignettes of the tonalamatl and lettered them. References throughout the paper will be made to the gods by letters and the reader is referred to Schellhas' paper. Animal figures often take the place of these gods as in the second picture in Dresden 7c where the screech owl is shown with human body. The greater number of animal figures in the codices occur in some connection with these tonalamatls.


Where figures are shown with human body and animal head standing alone in the place usually occupied by one of the various deities in the tonalamatl, there can be little doubt that they have a mythological meaning and are to be taken, either as gods themselves, or as representing certain of the gods. All of the animals are by no means shown in this position. The screech owl, or Moan bird (as in Dresden 10a) appears most frequently in this way. The king vulture (Dresden 8a), the dog (Dresden 7a), and the parrot (Dresden 40b) come next in descending importance. The animals represented as copulating (as in Dresden 13c) might also be considered as mythological animals as well as the full drawings of the jaguar (Dresden 8a) and the other animals when they occur alone in the regular vignette of the tonalamatl. The four priests in Dresden 25a-28a should also be regarded as representing, in all probability, the dog as a mythological animal. The idea of worshipping animals as gods in themselves is strengthened by noting the ease with which the Maya people worshipped the horse which was left behind by Cortes in his march from Mexico across to Honduras (Villagutierre, 1701, pp. 100-101).


Animals frequently have a part to play in relation to the constellations. Throughout the codices and, to a less degree, in the stone carvings, we find what have usually been considered to be glyphs for several of the constellations. Numerous calculations in the codices make it clear that the Mayas had a good knowledge of astronomy. These glyphs are usually oblong in shape and three or more are arranged together end to end. We have called these the constellation bands. Various attempts have been made to identify these signs of the various constellations. Animals frequently are pictured below these bands. The dog with fire brands in his paws and often attached to his tail is shown in several places coming head downward from one of these bands (as in Dresden 36a). The peccary is also shown in the same position although the fire brands do not appear (Dresden 68a). A figure with macaw head occurs once standing beneath one of these bands with fire brands in his hands (Dresden 40b). The serpent (as in Dresden 36a), the lizard-crocodile-like animal in Dresden 74, the turtle (Tro-Cortesianus 71a), the vulture (Dresden 38b), the turkey (Tro-Cortesianus 10b), and the deer (Tro-Cortesianus 47a) all appear in connection with these constellation bands. It is impossible at this time to decide upon the part these various animals play in relation to distinct constellations. In addition to the animals named, several of the gods, especially god B, are found below these bands. One of these signs, the one identified by Förstemann as standing for Saturn, is composed of the head of the crocodile more or less conventionalized.

Softcover, 8" x 10.5", 150+ pages


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