Oldest Surviving Maya Codex Declared Authentic

According to CBC News, a thousand-year-old Maya text has been authenticated by scholars at Mexico’s National Institute of History and Anthropology (Instituto Nacional de Antropología e Historia, or INAH).

The pictographic calendar-style text was made between 1021 and 1154 CE, and is the oldest known pre-Hispanic manuscript from the Americas. It was made from three layers of amate paper (bark paper). Only 10 pages of a conjectured set of at least 20 sheets currently survive.

INAH Mexico Maya Codex Photo 10

The document’s authenticity was questioned on the basis of two main concerns: missing archaeological records of its original context (due to it having been looted and traded), and its differing style compared to other authenticated Mayan codices.

According to Sofia Martínez del Campo from the National Coordination of Museums and Exhibitions (Coordinación Nacional de Museos y Exposiciones del instituto, or CNME, at INAH), quoted in the INAH announcement, the current analysis included making a detailed photographic record, as well as examining the dating, materials, entomology, iconography, chemical-mineralogical characterization, morphometry, chronology, style, and symbolism, among others.

INAH Mexico Maya Codex Photo 5

The specialists found the presence of Maya blue color (azul maya) and pigments based on cochineal dye as well as leftover drops of a chapopote resin. (Britannica says: “[…] chapopote [was a] a native asphalt commonly applied to clay figurines as a decoration; occasionally, chapopote entirely covers the figures, while in other examples it is used to decorate only the face, mouth, or eyes.”)

INAH Alba Barrios-Laboratorios Analysis

In addition, INAH announced that the folding book will no longer be known by its previous name (Grolier); instead, the work will be known as Mexico Maya Codex (Códice Maya de México).

INAH Mexico Maya Codex Photo 9

The Mexico Maya Codex will be shown to the public for one month, from September 27 to the end of October, 2018, as part of the International Book Fair of Anthropology and History (Feria Internacional del Libro de Antropología e Historia, or FILAH).

Also during the FILAH book fair the book El Códice Maya de México (The Mexico Maya Codex) will be released. It will include a facsimile edition of the pre-Hispanic text in addition to academic and scientific articles.

Only three other pre-Hispanic codices are known, called Madrid, Dresden, and Paris (for the cities where they are kept).

Visit the INAH announcement in Spanish for more details and a link to the announcement video.

Found via N. K. Jemisin on Twitter.

Apparently someone somewhere deemed an earlier analysis (reported e.g. by the Smithsonian.com in September of 2016) not conclusive enough, even though that one also authenticated the Mexico Maya Codex. (My Spanish isn’t good enough to spot any specific reasoning for the 2018 study in the INAH announcement.)

In any case, getting more information on traditional Maya religion and life before Europeans destroyed it can only be a good thing in my book—if you’ll pardon the pun. 🙂

Images of individual pages by Martirene Alcántara; laboratory analysis by Alba Barrios-Laboratorios, INAH; all via INAH.

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