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Disputed Maya Codex Is Authentic, Scholars Say
March 12, 2021 – 07:17 pm
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Disputed Maya Codex Is Authentic, Scholars SayThe authenticity of the Grolier Codex has been disputed for the last four decades. A group of researchers who revisited the rare Maya text now argue that there's no way it could be a forgery.

If the 800-year-old Grolier Codex is indeed authentic, it would be the oldest known paper manuscript from the Americas, and one of just four Maya codices that are known today.

The fragmentary codex is made up of 10 painted pages full of Maya hieroglyphs, depictions of deities and a calendar that tracks the movement of the planet Venus, which was important for keeping religious rituals. [Photos: Maya Mural Depicts Royal Advisors]

The calendar spans 104 years, meaning the codex could have been used by at least three generations of calendar priests or "day-keepers, " the authors of the new study wrote. For the Maya, Venus was an omen for unfortunate events, and the different cycles of the planet were linked to particular gods—most of whom are depicted in the Grolier Codex as dangerous, holding weapons like spears, darts and knives used for beheading.

Shady provenance

When it surfaced in the 1970s, the codex was eyed as a possible forgery. Those suspicions arose in part because of the manuscript's shady collecting history; it was not discovered by archaeologists, but looters, who sold it to a Mexican private collector JosuéSáenz in the late 1960s.

Sáenz presented what many scholars thought was an outlandish story about how he had acquired the manuscript. He said he was taken in a light plane to a remote airstrip in an undisclosed location in the Mexican state of Chiapas. There, the looters allegedly showed him the codex —along with other Maya artifacts, including a wooden mask and a child's sandal—and told him that the objects had been found in a cave.

According to the research consortium Trafficking Culture, Sáenz allowed archaeologist Michael Coe to display the text at theGrolier Club in New York (hence the name of the codex) where it gained international attention. It then apparently sat for years in the basement of the Mexican National Museum of Anthropology.

Evidence of authenticity

Coe, Houston and two other researchers have just published their 50-page reassessment of Grolier Codex in the journal Maya Archaeology.

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