Some Mesoamerican civilizations recorded their history and beliefs in pictorial images and hieroglyphic writing on strips of pounded fig bark or on deerskin. Before being painted with natural pigments, the long strips of bark or deerskin were laid out and coated with a fine white stucco. Color was applied, and then the sections were folded, fan-fashion, like the facsimile of the Féjérvary Mayer Codex (above).

Only four Mayan codices survived the Spanish conquest. Three of them are now in libraries in Dresden, Madrid and Paris. The fourth codex, written by the Toltec-Maya Indians, is now called the Grolier Codex because it was first exhibited in 1971 at the Grolier Club in New York. This codex belonged to a private collector in Mexico and apparently was found in a wooden box in a cave near Tortuguero, Chiapas, sometime within the past 20 years.

The Grolier codex (array of pages, above) describes the various cycles of the planet Venus and rituals associated with these cycles.

The paucity of surviving Mayan codices may be attributed in part to the religious zeal of the 16th-century Bishop of Yucatan, Fray Diego de Landa, who tried to obliterate all traces of Maya religion. On July 12, 1562, Landa directed the destruction of a priceless collection of Maya codices discovered in the Yucatan town of Mani. He ordered the burning of these books because, as he later wrote, they “contain(ed) nothing in which was not to be seen superstitions and lies of the devil … ” However, to his credit, Landa wrote numerous descriptions of Mayan sites; his book Relación de las cosas de Yucatan, is an excellent source of information about the life and beliefs of the Maya.