Thanks to the always interesting Hyperallergic website, today I learned about a manuscript known as the Codex Mendoza which has been digitized and put online in high resolution. Totally unfamiliar with Mexican codices, I was grateful to see that the http://codice.manuvo.com site has a succinct explanation of what they are and what their significance is.
Mexican codices are pictorial and iconic documents that pre-Hispanic cultures (primarily the Mexicas, Mayas, and Mixtecs) used to preserve and transmit their knowledge. They were produced on different types of surfaces, mainly on deerskin or bark paper. Gordon Brotherston (1992) describes the essential characteristics of codices as non-phonetic, although some might record concept-sounds, such as those produced by the Mayas. They are highly flexible in terms of presentation, for they can be structured as a chronicle told through historical events, a map, or a tribute list. This holistic integration of writing, images, and mathematics, clearly breaks with Western notions of writing.
One of the principal characteristics of codices, according to Brotherston, is that the knowledge contained in most of them is not actually recorded in a language that represents a language, as in the case of modern languages. Codices are part of a different communication system that also invoked oral tradition and other semantic elements no longer used today. They are composed of images and icons that work in tandem with the memory, voice, and knowledge of individuals able to read them:
The illustrations in the codex are beautiful in their own right, above and beyond their educational value. The Hyperallergic article is a good introduction to this document and worth checking out before heading over to the Codex Mendoza site. Read it here: http://hyperallergic.com/177110/a-historic-manuscript-on-aztec-life-is-virtually-repatriated/