General Aztecs Maya Tocuaro Kids Contact 1 Mar 2021/6 Grass
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U-tube clay drum from Mayan Codex Dresden and modern copy


The idea of performing music on (a) ‘U’-Tube may be a lot older than you thought! At least 800 years older... (Written/compiled by Ian Mursell/Mexicolore)

U-tube clay drum from Mayan Codex Dresden
U-tube clay drum from Mayan Codex Dresden (Click on image to enlarge)

On the left in the main picture is a fragment (from page 34) of the ‘Dresden’ Codex, one of only 3 original Mayan codices - many say the most beautiful and most complete - to have survived the Spanish Conquest and its aftermath (plus a fourth fragment). Its history is largely unknown (it turned up in Dresden, Germany, in 1739) and it was only recognised to be Mayan in 1829. It contains highly accurate and important data on the Venus cycle and was probably still in use as an astronomical almanac when the Spanish conquered Mexico in 1521. It has been dated to 1200-1250 CE.

Hidden amongst its references and predictions for time and agriculture, favorable days, as well as texts about sickness, medicine, and seemingly, conjunctions of constellations, planets and the Moon, we come across this little figure of a musician playing a U-shaped instrument, roughly similar to the modern skin-dovered clay reproduction drum on the right.

Below left is another example from the bottom of the same page of the Codex.

We may never know the context of the music, but you can get a tiny idea of the sound that the instrument makes by clicking on the button below.

Picture sources

Codex image scanned from our copy of the ADEVA facsimile edition, Graz, Austria, 1975 (page 34 was one of several pages in the codex damaged by the bombing of Dresden in World War II - this page is reconstructed in the accompanying ADEVA booklet from the Ernst Förstemann reproduction made in 1890-92).

Photo of modern instrument by Ian Mursell

Click to hear the sound of the U-tube

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Here's what others have said:

Mexicolore replies: Groovy!