The Mayan Written Word

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  • Title: The Mayan Written Word: History, Controversy, and Library Connections
  • Author(s): Jessica Bower
  • Publisher: Common Ground Research Networks
  • Collection: Common Ground Research Networks
  • Series: Books, Publishing & Libraries
  • Journal Title: The International Journal of the Book
  • Keywords: The Book, Libraries, Special Collections
  • Volume: 14
  • Issue: 3
  • Year: 2016
  • ISSN: 1447-9516 (Print)
  • DOI:
  • Citation: Bower, Jessica. 2016. "The Mayan Written Word: History, Controversy, and Library Connections." The International Journal of the Book 14 (3): 15-25. doi:10.18848/1447-9516/CGP/v14i03/15-25.
  • Extent: 11 pages


The ancient Mayans were an extensively literate culture, yet there are few Mayan books, or codices, that have survived into the modern era. What has endured is the writing found on Mayan temples and tombs and in a handful of remaining Mayan codices. This article is a history of specific Mayan codices: the Paris Codex, the Madrid Codex, and the Dresden Codex, including a discussion of the controversial Grolier Codex and its rediscovery. Included in this article is an overview of the ancient Maya, describing their culture and history, a background on the Mayan language and writing system, and a short history of Mayan book and papermaking. The microhistory of the Mayan texts lends to a discussion of the significance and value of historical documents in libraries, and the usefulness of facsimile reproductions in libraries and research institute collections. This article also includes a discussion of how libraries have contributed to the history and preservation of the Mayan codices.