Mayan hieroglyphic system of writing was used by the Maya people of Mesoamerica from c. 300-200 BC until about the end of the 17th century, two hundred years after the Spanish conquest of Mexico. It was the only true writing system developed in the pre-Columbian Americas. Mayan inscriptions are found on stelae (standing stone slabs), stone lintels, sculpture, and pottery, as well as on the few surviving Mayan books, or codices. The Mayan system of writing contains more than 800 characters, including some that are hieroglyphic and other phonetic signs representing syllables. The hieroglyphic signs are pictorial—i.e., they are recognizable pictures of real objects—representing animals, people, and objects of daily life.
Books in Mayan hieroglyphs, called codices, existed before the Spanish conquest of Yucatán about 1540, but most works written in the script were destroyed as pagan by Spanish priests. Only four Mayan codices are known to survive: the Dresden Codex, probably dating from the 11th or 12th century, a copy of earlier texts of the 5th to 9th centuries AD; the Madrid Codex, dating from the 15th century; the Paris Codex, probably slightly older than the Madrid Codex; and the Grolier Codex, discovered in 1971 and dated to the 13th century. The codices were made of fig-bark paper folded like an accordion; their covers were of jaguar skin.