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The Bark Beater – An Ancient Maya Tool

11 May 2012 No Comment

Bark beaters are tools developed by the Maya, very much like a meat tenderizer, used to make bark cloth.

Other uses include the production of paper, clothing, bedding, mosquito nets and dance masks as well as plastering walls. Bark beaters were made of limestone, wood, ground stone, and even sea shells and their size and shape vary depending on their use.  Some bark beaters had long handles and others had an encircling groove around the sides so that they would fit in one hand. This simple, multi-use utilitarian tool was not exclusively invented or used by the Maya since many civilizations and people around the globe and over time have used similar tools. Bark beaters were however important to the Maya for daily use and in present times are important for archaeologists to better understand the great Maya civilization.

Aside from their use in plastering and decorating the magnificent temples and castles erected in the Maya world, the production of paper left behind are some of the most important insights and achievements of the Maya by means of codices. Codices differ from scrolls in that  they were bound together and folded in accordion  fashion as opposed to being rolled up.  Though countless codices were lost during the European colonization process and due to the harsh weather of the tropics (intense humidity) four important codices from the post classic era have been preserved and extensively studied. The Madrid, Dresden and Paris codices are named after their present location and the Grollier Codex, which was privately acquired, is named after the Grollier club where it had been for quite some time.

The Dresden Codex is found in the Sächsische Landesbibliothek, state library in Dresden, Germany and is an important work of art containing detailed descriptions of rituals, almanacs and astrology. Probably the most intriguing part of the Dresden Codex is the six page section dedicated to the location of Venus and the Venus cycle. Not only was the Venus cycle exhibit incredible accuracy but it also held a special significance to the Maya as it determined the appropriate time to declare war and  the appropriate moment for coronations.

The Madrid Codex is found at the Museo de America, Madrid, Spain. This codex was the product of a single scribe and sent back to court by Hernán Cortés himself.

The Paris Codex is housed by the Bibliothèque Nationale in Paris, France. This codex has prophecies for tuns and katuns as well as the Maya zodiac.

The Grollier Codex is the most controversial of the Maya codices as it has been the target of fraud accusations and was recently privately acquired.

The bark beater might be a very rudimentary tool but it made it possible to create paper and was one of the preferred choices to record important information by the Maya.


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