Anthropologists from Brown University have announced that an 800-year old Mayan text has been confirmed to be the oldest known surviving text from the Americas. After a detailed analysis of the manuscript’s construction, iconography, and scientific content, researchers then used carbon dating to conclusively determine the codex is authentic and older than all other known Mayan codexes.
The Grolier Codex, as the text is known, has had a storied history since its discovery in 1965 by looters. The text was then offered to a Mexican artifact collector, who eventually displayed it at the Grolier Club in New York. The codex’s authenticity was disputed several times before the text was eventually seized by the Mexican government who placed it in a private collection inside a museum in Mexico City.
Stephen Houston of Brown University, one of the lead researchers in this study, said that his team tried to approach the codex without any preconceived notions stemming from its colorful and heavily disputed past:
It became a kind of dogma that this was a fake. We decided to return and look at it very carefully, to check criticisms one at a time. Now we are issuing a definitive facsimile of the book. There can’t be the slightest doubt that the Grolier is genuine.
Much of the text has been lost to the ravages of time, and only ten pages survive today. The Grolier Codex contains a complete calendar that tracks the movement of Venus, various other astronomical charts and data, depictions of religious rites (including sacrificial rituals), and even political theory.
According to the authors, the gods represented aren’t the supreme Mayan gods, but instead are lesser deities:
[The gods in the codex are] workaday gods, deities who must be invoked for the simplest of life’s needs: sun, death, K’awiil — a lordly patron and personified lightning — even as they carry out the demands of the ‘star’ we call Venus.
The new research on the Grolier Codex has been published in the journal Maya Archaeology. The confirmation of the codex’s authenticity now makes it one of only four known Mayan codices that have survived the fall of Mayan civilization.