Saturday September 14, 2002
Gabrielle Vail, New College of Florida


    The hieroglyphic Maya codices represent a primary source of information
about Late Postclassic Maya ritual practices.  Almanacs contained in these
manuscripts include dates in the 260-day tzolk'in calendar but generally
lack explicit textual references to larger cycles of time, such as the
365-day haab' or the Long Count.  For this reason, almanacs have
traditionally been interpreted as endlessly repeating 260-day instruments.

    In a model developed last year, Vail demonstrated that 5 x 52-day and 10
x 26-day almanacs contain an embedded structure allowing them to be used to
schedule events in the 52-year Calendar Round.  The idea that Maya almanacs
could be structured in terms of the 52-year calendar marks a radical
departure from previous interpretations that they represent 260-day
repeating cycles.  Nevertheless, the presence of haab' dates in several
almanacs in the Madrid Codex suggests that certain almanacs were indeed
intended to be used in this manner.  References to these dates explicitly
mark the associated almanacs as Calendar Round instruments.

    This model may be extrapolated to other almanacs in the Maya codices that
(1) include repetitive iconography in each frame and (2) can be associated
with ethnohistoric descriptions of haab' rituals.  Examples include almanacs
concerned with carving deity images (an activity associated with Mol or Ch'
en according to ethnohistoric accounts); those that picture fire-drilling,
weaving new cloth, and other activities related to the Maya New Year's
ceremonies; and those that refer to the Ok Nah ritual discussed in Landa's
Relación de las cosas de Yucatan.

    Gabrielle Vail (Ph.D. 1996, Tulane University) teaches
hieroglyphic workshops and seminars at New College of Florida.  Her research
focuses on the Postclassic Maya codices, including their iconographic and
astronomical content, and a linguistic analysis of their texts.  She
received a grant from NEH in July 2001 to prepare an on-line database and
commentary of the Madrid Codex.  A poster and demo of the database were
presented at the recent Society for American Archaeology meetings in Denver,
and plans call to have it available on-line this summer.  Vail is the
co-editor of Papers on the Madrid Codex (MARI, 1997) and of a forthcoming
volume (co-edited with Anthony Aveni) Decoding a Postclassic Maya Document:
New Approaches to the Study of the Madrid Codex.

back to home page