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Representation of Deities of the Maya Manuscripts Papers of the Peabody Museum of American Archaeology and Ethnology, Harvard University, Vol. 4, No. 1   By: (1859?-1945)

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Second Edition, Revised With 1 Plate of Figures and 65 Text Illustrations

Translated by Miss Selma Wesselhoeft and Miss A. M. Parker

Translation revised by the Author

Cambridge, Mass. Published by the Museum December, 1904.


In order to make more widely known and more easily accessible to American students the results of important researches on the Maya hieroglyphs, printed in the German language, the Peabody Museum Committee on Central American Research proposes to publish translations of certain papers which are not too lengthy or too extensively illustrated. The present paper by one of the most distinguished scholars in this field is the first of the series.

F. W. PUTNAM. Harvard University September, 1904.


Since the first edition of this pamphlet appeared in the year 1897, investigation in this department of science has made such marked progress, notwithstanding the slight amount of material, that a revision has now become desirable. It can be readily understood, that a new science, an investigation on virgin soil, such as the Maya study is, makes more rapid progress and develops more quickly than one pertaining to some old, much explored territory.

In addition to numerous separate treatises, special mention should be made of Ernst Förstemann's commentaries on the three Maya manuscripts (Kommentar zur Mayahandschrift der Königlichen öffentlichen Bibliothek zu Dresden, Dresden 1901, Kommentar zur Madrider Mayahandschrift, Danzig 1902, and Kommentar zur Pariser Mayahandschrift, Danzig 1903) which constitute a summary of the entire results of investigation in this field up to the present time.

The proposal made in the first edition of this pamphlet, that the Maya deities be designated by letters of the alphabet, has been very generally adopted by Americanists, especially by those in the United States of America. This circumstance, in particular, has seemed to make it desirable to prepare for publication a new edition, improved to accord with the present state of the science.

Warmest thanks are above all due to Mr. Bowditch, of Boston, who in the most disinterested manner, for the good of science, has made possible the publication of this new edition.

January, 1904. P. SCHELLHAS.


The three manuscripts which we possess of the ancient Maya peoples of Central America, the Dresden (Dr.), the Madrid (Tro. Cort.) and the Paris (Per.) manuscripts, all contain a series of pictorial representations of human figures, which, beyond question, should be regarded as figures of gods. Together with these are a number of animal figures, some with human bodies, dress and armor, which likewise have a mythologic significance.

The contents of the three manuscripts, which undoubtedly pertain to the calendar system and to the computation of time in their relation to the Maya pantheon and to certain religious and domestic functions, admit of the conclusion, that these figures of gods embody the essential part of the religious conceptions of the Maya peoples in a tolerably complete form. For here we have the entire ritual year, the whole chronology with its mythological relations and all accessories. In addition to this, essentially the same figures recur in all three manuscripts. Their number is not especially large. There are about fifteen figures of gods in human form and about half as many in animal form. At first we were inclined to believe that further researches would considerably increase the number of deities, but this assumption was incorrect. After years of study of the subject and repeated examination of the results of research, it may be regarded as positively proved, that the number of deities represented in the Maya manuscripts does not exceed substantially the limits mentioned above... Continue reading book >>

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