The Grolier Codex: Yes, it is Mayan and it is the oldest in the Americas

The Grolier Codex. Photo: INAH
The Grolier Codex. Photo: INAH

Some 54 years after it was sold by looters, an ancient Maya pictographic text is finally validated as authentic.

The National Institute of History and Anthropology (INAH) said the calendar-style text was made between 1021 and 1154 A.D. and is the oldest known pre-Hispanic document.

The 10 surviving pages of the tree-bark folding book will now be known as the Mexico Maya Codex.

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It had been known as the Grolier Codex, named for a New York City club that first exhibited it in 1971. A Mexican collector named Josue Saenz bought it in 1964 and returned the book to Mexican authorities in 1974.

The text contains a series of observations and predictions related to the the planet Venus’ movement.

The codex may have originally had 20 pages, but some were lost after centuries in a cave in southern Chiapas.

The fact that it was looted and had a simpler design than other surviving texts had caused doubts. But a series of chemical tests proved the authenticity of the pages and the pre-Hispanic inks used to write it. Its simplicity was chalked up to the time it was written.

“Its style differs from other Maya codex that are known and proven authentic,” the institute said in a statement. About three other later Maya “books” survived an attempt by Spanish conquistadors to destroy Mayan artifacts in the 1500s.

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But the institute said Thursday that because the book was written so early, it had been created in an era of relative poverty compared to the other works.

“For a long time, critics of the codex said the style wasn’t Mayan and that it was ‘the ugliest’ of them in terms of figures and color,” said institute researcher Sofia Martinez del Campo, speaking to The Associated Press. “But the austerity of the work is explained by its epoch, when things are scarce one uses what one has at hand.”

The codex will be incorporated into the Memory of the World program by virtue of an appointment granted by UNESCO.

This affirms a 2015 study headed by the Yale archaeologist Michael Coe, who declared it one of the oldest documents in the Americas, written in first half of the thirteenth century. It is, in fact, the very oldest text, researchers now say.

The “The Mayan Codex of Mexico” exhibition will be held within the framework of the XXIX International Book Fair of Anthropology and History from Sept. 27 to Oct. 7 at the National Museum of Anthropology.

A facsimile of the codex will be on view.

Source: AP, Punto Medio

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