Object: Dresden Codex Copy


E/1985/2/1
Copy of Dresden Codex
Jorge Enrique Bonilla Mendez (this copy)
Maya (original)
Yucatan, Mexico (original)
ca. 11th -13th century (original) / ca. 1960s (this copy)
Materials: Wood, paper, & ink

This object is a handmade copy of the Dresden Codex, made by Guatemalan artist Jorge Enrique Bonilla Mendez in the 1960’s. The original Dresden Codex is one of the oldest known books written in the Americas and may have been a copy of an even earlier text dating back to 700-900 CE. Considered to be the most complete of the Mayan codices still in existence, it contains ancient Mayan almanacs, astronomical observations, astrological tables, ritual schedules, and calendars. The 74 page book know referred to as the Dresden Codex is named for the European city in which it was kept from the 1700’s onward. Little is known about how the so-called Dresden Codex made it to Europe, but it may have been one of a group of ancient texts collected by Hernán (or Hernando) Cortés in the early 1500’s. The first known record of its existence came in 1739 when it was purchased (in three pieces) from an unknown private collector by Johann Christian Götze, the Director of the Royal Library at Dresden. Next, in 1810 Alexander von Humboldt published a portion of the text (the first modern reproduction) in his Vues des cordilleres et monuments des peuples indigenous de l’Amerique. In 1829 Constantine Rafinesque-Schmaltz was the first to identify it as a Mayan codex, and in 1880 Ernst Forstemann was able to correctly reassemble the three sections of text. Translation and interpretation of the text has continued to this day, including a much hyped end of the world prediction loosely (and most would say incorrectly) based on Mayan calendars like those found in the Dresden Codex.

The following video excerpt describes the ongoing process of translating ancient Mayan texts. [Kathryn S. (Barr) McCloud]

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