Diego de Landa’s book, Relación de las cosas de Yucatán does not exist!
Copyright 2015, Ric Hajovsky
Fray Diego de Landa Calderón (1524-1579) was a Franciscan priest born in Alcarreña de Cifuentes, Guadalajara, Spain, who traveled to Yucatan and became the asistente del guardián of Izamal in 1549. In 1552, he was promoted to guardián and in 1561 promoted again to provincial of the province of Yucatan. The following year, De Landa initiated an auto de fé in Maní, Yucatan, in which he famously gathered and burned all the Mayan codices he could get his hands on. The Mayas who were rounded up during the search for evidence that would incriminate them of the crime of continuing to secretly worship the old gods were all severally punished and tortured unmercifully. Many were killed out-right, died during the torture, or committed suicide to escape the torture. When the bishop of Yucatan, Francisco de Toral, heard of these proceedings, he complained about De Landa in a letter to the Spanish king, Felipe II. De Landa, in turn, travelled to Spain in 1563 to defend himself of the bishop’s accusations, which he did successfully and was subsequently acquitted of any wrongdoing. The torture was done in the name of God, after all.
While he was in Spain, De Landa wrote a document outlining his understanding and observations of the Maya culture. He may have planned on using it in his defense, or he may have planned on publishing it, but he ended up doing neither. By 1566, De Landa stopped working on the manuscript. During his stay in Spain, Fray Diego de Landa’s old antagonist, Bishop Francisco de Toral, died and De Landa found himself appointed as the new bishop of Yucatan in 1571. He no longer needed the document to defend his actions in the New World, and the King had recently issued a decree forbidding the publication of books about superstitions and the manner in which the Indians of the New World lived, so that was that.
De Landa carried the manuscript with him back to Yucatan in 1572 and deposited the work in the Franciscan convent in Mérida, Yucatán, for safe keeping, but at some later point the document disappeared. The last mention of the original manuscript was in the Relación de Chunchuchu y Tabi by Pedro García in January 20, 1581.
Although De Landa’s original manuscript was lost and never published, a scribe’s abridged copy of a portion of the original manuscript was discovered in 1862, in the Academia de la Historia, in the Royal Library of Madrid, by Abbé Charles-Étienne Brasseur de Bourbourg. This fragment represents an unknown percentage of the original manuscript. It was copied down in 1616 on 66 two-sided leaves plus a map and is the work of three different scribes. Sometime later, the 66 leaves and map were gathered together out of sequence and bound together by a bookbinder. It was then entitled Relación de las cosas de Yucatan, sacada de lo que escribió el Padre Frai Diego de Landa de la orden de San Francisco.
Above: A page from the scribes’ abstract of Diego de Landa’s Relación, as photographed in 1882 by Juan de la Dios de la Rada y Delgado.
In 1864, Brasseur de Bourbourg transcribed a portion of the Spanish text of the fragment of the copy of De Landa’s manuscript, adding titles and rearranging the order. He then added a French translation to it, which he had Arthus Bertrand publish in Paris as Relation des choses de las cosas de Yucatán de Diego de Landa.
Above: The front piece of the first edition of Relation des choses de las cosas de Yucatán de Diego de Landa.
Since 1864, portions of the fragment of the abstract have been published 14 more times, but few editions include all the text, or all the drawings. For example, William Gates published his version of the abstract in English in 1937, but without many of the original drawings and with the inclusion of many more drawings and notes that were not originally contained in the scribes’ abstract. This work was reprinted in 1978 by Dover Publications. In 1983, Ediciones Dante reprinted the 1938 version by Pérez Martínez, but this Dante version also lacks many of the abstract’s drawings and the pages have been re-shuffled.
The result of all this loss, redaction, copying and reshuffling is that the published versions of the texts that most people have come to believe are faithfully typeset copies of the original Diego de Landa manuscript are nothing of the sort. They are simply copied snippets of copied snippets, rearranged in various orders. The original Diego de Landa manuscript is nowhere to be found, as far as we know, no longer exists.
The monolith in middle of the esplanade on Avenida Melgar across from Pama honors the six men Mexico calls the Niños Heroés (child heroes). These men were army officer-candidates, who died defending the Chapultepec Castle national military college in Mexico City against the American forces during the Mexican-American War in 1847.
The college was analogous to the West Point Academy in the US. The six army cadets were part of the group of over 400 castle defenders. This number was composed of the army cadets and members of the military college’s faculty of officers totaling around 100 and another 300 or so Mexican Army regulars who were under the command of Lieutenant Colonel Felipe Xicoténcatl. (The ex-US minesweeper donated to the Mexican Navy and sunk off the shore of Cozumel for a wreck-dive site was named after this general.) General Nicolás Bravo had assigned Col. Xicoténcatl to hold the castle while General Antonio Lopéz de Santa Anna regrouped and prepared to defend Mexico City. When the Americans began the attack, General Bravo ordered the defenders to retreat, but the legend says six cadets refused to abandon their posts. The six were Lieutenant Juan de la Barrera (age 19) and cadets Agustín Melgar (age 19), Juan Escutia (age 20), Vicente Suárez (age 17), Francisco Márquez (age 14) and Fernando Montes de Oca (age 18). As can be seen by their ages, the term “child heroes” is a misnomer. Only Francisco Márquez was what could be considered an adolescent. All the rest were men, attending the nation’s most prestigious military academy as candidate officers.
According to legend, Juan Escutia wrapped himself in the Mexican flag and jumped off the castle wall to prevent the flag from falling into enemy hands. You just can’t make this stuff up (but, somebody did!). This is now taught as history to every Mexican schoolchild. The date the “boy” heroes died, September 13, is a Mexican National Holiday.
In 1947 the Mexican government excavated a mass grave at Chapultepec. A commission appointed by the president chose the six smallest skeletons and certified them as the official remains of the six fallen officer-candidates. They erected a monument commemorating them, and then their “officially-recognized” remains reinterred elsewhere.
The Mexican national military academy was at the top of the 200-foot-tall Chapultepec hill, and surrounded by a 12-foot-hgh stone wall. Its 400 defenders outnumbered the US Marines by nearly 2-to-1. They also had several cannons and howitzers plus the advantage of the high ground. The detachment of US Marines that fought in the battle sustained such a high casualty rate that afterwards, the buff-colored stripe that adorned the side of the Marine’s dress uniform trouser leg’s was ordered changed to a red stripe and is now known as the “Blood Stripe.” The Marines also memorialize this battle in the opening line (“From the halls of Montezuma…”) of their official hymn. American officers who participated in the battle and later became famous were Robert E. Lee, Winfield Scott, George Pickett (famous for “Pickett’s Charge” at Five Forks during the US Civil War), and Ulysses S. Grant.
The Maya did not Invent their Calendar, Writing, or Numbering System.
Copyright 2019, Ric Hajovsky
Today, it is de rigueur, to credit the Maya with all sorts of incredible achievements. However, “incredible” (as in “unbelievable”) is the key word here; most of the “firsts” attributed to the ancient Maya in Wikipedia and other popular websites are not true. For example: What we now call the “Mayan calendar,” was not invented by the Maya. It was invented by an earlier civilization that we now call the Zapotecs, some 2,500 years ago (around 500 BC).
Above: Zapotecs carved their long-count calendar 2,500 years ago on Stelas 12 and 13 at Monte Alban in Oaxaca.
The oldest known version of the Mayan calendar, on the other hand, is dated just 1,200 years ago (800 AD). That is 1,300 years after the Zapotecs already came up with it. The Zapotec and Mayan calendars were virtually the same; the 20 day-names and 13 numbers were both arrived at through the same “wheel-within-wheel” mechanism utilizing a 260-day sacred calendar and a 365-day solar calendar.
Above: The earliest example of the Mayan calendar was found at Xultún, Guatemala. It is only about 1,200 years old.
The Epi-Olmec were among the first New World civilizations to invent the concept of zero, another invention that is often mistakenly attributed to the Maya. Many other cultural aspects of the Epi-Olmec civilization predated the Maya use of them, such as sacrificial bloodletting, rubber production, and the use of a ceremonial ball court, and the “dot and bar” numbering system, to name a few. Several of the gods that were later revered in the Maya culture first appeared as Epi-Olmec gods, such as a feathered serpent, the corn god, and the god of rain.
Mayan Writing System
The Maya did not come up with their system of writing independently as commonly believed; their system was adaptation of earlier Mesoamerican writing systems, like those developed by the Olmecs, Epi-Olmecs, and Zapotecs. An Olmec inscription found in 2006 dates to between 1000 BC and 900 BC. That is 300 to 700 years before the Maya system first appeared in 300 BC. The Zapotecs of Monte Alban also developed a writing system prior to the Maya and the oldest examples of that writing date to 500 BC, or 200 years prior to the first Maya inscription.
Above: The Cascajal block is etched with the earliest known example of Olmec writing.
The Mayan writing system (often called hieroglyphs from a superficial resemblance to the Ancient Egyptian writing) was a combination of phonetic symbols (glyphs standing for sounds) and logograms (glyphs standing for concepts). This logo-syllabic writing system has more than a thousand different glyphs, although a few are variations of the same sign or meaning and many appear only rarely or are confined to particular localities. At any one time in history, no more than around 500 glyphs were in use. Around 200 of them (including variations) had a phonetic or syllabic interpretation.
While one letter of our alphabet can represent only one sound, Maya writers could select from many different glyphs to represent the same sound. For example, there are at least five different glyphs that could be chosen to represent the syllable ba. However, the meaning of a given text also could be represented by a combination of glyphs which literally represent real objects or actions and which can also indicate adjectives, prepositions, plurals, and number, in addition to the phonetic glyphs which represent sounds.
Above: A representational glyph meaning “Balam” (tiger).
Above: Phonetic glyphs that read as “Balam” (tiger) when combined.
Above: Glyphs were arranged in blocks. The blocks of glyphs were read left to right, top to bottom. However, there are many different ways of constructing the block.
The blocks were placed in double columns. The text (made up of many blocks of glyphs) is read by starting from the top left, horizontally across two blocks, and then moving down to the nest row below. In very short texts the glyph blocks are placed in a single row and are read from top to bottom in vertical texts or left to right in horizontal texts. Sentences are structured verb-object-subject. Adverbs can be placed before the verb.
Above: Glyph text blocks are read left to right, top to bottom.
Example of Yucatec Maya (Màaya t’àan) translated into modern Latin text:Tuláakal wíinik ku síijil jáalk’ab yetel keet u tsiikul yetel Najmal Sijnalil.
English Translation: All men are born free and equal in dignity and rights.
Maya Numbering System
The Maya didn’t discover mathematics before anyone else, either; they adapted it from earlier Mesoamerican cultures, like the Olmec. For example, there are examples of Olmec dot/bar/glyph numbers dating from 650 BC, over 350 years prior to the earliest known Mayan glyph. The Epi-Olmecs also came up with the concept of “zero” long before the Maya.
The Olmec/Maya numeral system is a vigesimal system, meaning it has a base of 20, unlike our system that has a base of 10. We apparently based our numbering system on counting on our fingers (base of ten). The Olmec and Maya, with their base of twenty, must have based theirs on counting on both their fingers and toes! The Olmec/Maya numerals are made up of three symbols; zero (a shell shape), one (a dot) and five (a bar). The symbols were arranged in a column, read from the top down.
This system works up to nineteen, but rather than twenty being four bars, they started a new count above the first one. Numbers after 19 were written vertically in powers of twenty. Zero is represented by a shell. So, 20 is a single dot above a shell, 21 is a dot over a dot, 22 is a dot over 2 dots, and so on.
Thirty-three would be written as one dot (representing 20) above three dots (representing 3), which are in turn atop two bars (each representing 5).
When you get to 400 (or 202), another row is started on top of the stack. The number 429 is written with one dot above one dot above four dots and a bar, or (1×202) + (1×201) + 9 = 429.
The next level in the stack would be 8,000 (203 or 8000) and then 160,000 (204 or 160,000) and so on.
The Maya had a second number system, used for dating buildings and to use on calendars, etc. This would analogous to our practice of writing out a number in letters (nineteen) instead of digits (19) and was not used in calculations. This system contained the numbers 0 through 19. In this “head” notation each of the numerals, 0, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, and 13 is expressed by a drawing of a distinctive type of head; each type has its own essential characteristic, by means of which it can be distinguished from all of the others.
Above 13 and up to but not including 20, the head numerals are expressed by a unique characteristic of the head for 10 to the heads for 3 to 9, inclusive.
However, Mayan glyph writing was a highly individualized art form and each scribe had wide latitude on how he actually drew a particular glyph. It would be similar to the idea that if a drawing of a raccoon stood for the number 15, it didn’t really matter how you drew the raccoon, only that it would be recognized as one. Thus, there are an infinite number of ways to draw the same glyph that represents only one meaning.