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  • A fragment of the pre-hispanic Mayan Codex of Mexico, previously known as the Grolier Codex.

    A fragment of the pre-hispanic Mayan Codex of Mexico, previously known as the Grolier Codex. | Photo: INAH/EFE

Published 31 August 2018

Previously known as the Grolier codex, the manuscript's authenticity has been confirmed by experts and the document is believed to date from 1021 A.D.

The Mayan Codex of Mexico has been ratified as the most ancient pre-hispanic readable manuscript on the American continent after an exhaustive investigation confirmed the document's authenticity.

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“The studies pointed out that the codex is pre-hispanic, with an antiquity estimated by radiocarbon dating between the years 1021 and 1154 of our age (the Early Post-Classic period), and had a useful life of about 104 years,” the National Institute of History and Anthropology (INAH) declared in a press release on Thursday.

The announcement was made by Diego Prieto, INAH director, before the beginning of a symposium titled 'The Mayan Codex of Mexico, Before Grolier.' Prieto said the investigation was headed by Baltazar Brito and Sofia Martinez del Campo, respectively from the National Library of Anthropology and History (BNAH) and the INAH national coordinator of museums and exhibits.

Controversy had surrounded the authenticity of the manuscript due to two main reasons: it was obtained in a looting, leaving no archeological records of its original context, and its style is different from other known Mayan manuscripts proven authentic.

Physical anthropologist Josefina Bautista, who took part in the investigations, said human figures in the manuscript belong to the Maya-Tolteca style of the Early Post-Classic period, not to the Mayan Naturalism of the Late Classic of the Dresde Codex to which it had been previously compared.

The Mayan Codex of Mexico "is authentic and represents the most ancient prehispanic readable manuscript of the American continent," said Diego Prieto, INAH's director. Photo | EFE

 

“It’s comprehensible because the Early Post-Classic was a time of crisis in Mesoamerica as a consequence of the fall of Teotihuacan around 650 A.D., in which small communities led by warriors stood up and took to the Mayan areas the Toltec style of current Mexico’s center,” said Bautista.  

The codex had previously been deemed fake because the style “wasn’t Mayan” and it was “uglier” regarding its lines and colors. “If you live in scarcity, you use what you have at hand,” Bautista said.

She also talked about the content of the manuscript and highlighted a divination calendar about “Venus’s cycle,” related to good crops and weather prediction for times of scarcity.

The manuscript had been in the hands of Josue Saenz, a private collector, who then donated it to the National Museum of Anthropology (MNA).

“In 1964 I was phoned by an individual who said he inherited a book with drawings of the ancient from his grandfather, and he thought I could be interested as he found out I liked old things,” wrote Saenz in a letter to the MNA director, Ignacio Bernal, on April 1, 1974.

The codex had been previously exhibited in the Grolier Club in New York, hence its previous name, but it has remained since then in the hands of Mexico’s anthropology institutions.

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Many of the prehispanic manuscripts were destroyed in the 16th century on the orders of Diego de Landa, a Catholic cleric who considered them heretic, and many others were lost in the context of wars, according to BNAH’s Brito.

Besides the Mayan Codex of Mexico, there are only three other known pre-hispanic codex: Madrid, Drede and Paris, named after the cities where they’re kept.

Martinez del Campo said the manuscript was subject to different examinations, including dating, materials, entomology, iconography, electronic microscopy, chemical-mineralogical characterization, morphometry, chronology, style and symbolism, besides being photographed in detail, always making conservation a priority.

The 10 sheets of the codex measure about 12.5 cm long and it's believed they were part of a 20-sheet manuscript. The studies also revealed it had more colors than the remaining, such as black, red, Mayan blue and others deriving from the cochineal, and is covered by an asphalt resinue that was reserved for ritual objects.

It will be showcased at the National Museum of Anthropology in Mexico City from September 27 until the end of October.


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