Cutting-Edge Scanning Tech Unlocks Secrets of Ancient Mexican Codex

Cutting-Edge Scanning Tech Unlocks Secrets of Ancient Mexican Codex

A group of researchers used hyperspectral imaging on a 16th Century Mexican codex known as the Codex Selden and the findings were an immense surprise. The high-tech imaging technique revealed a hidden layer of older pictograms from before the Spanish Conquest.

Scientists now hope that the newly-found images could help them better understand how life in what is today Mexico was before the Europeans’ arrival at the continent.

Study authors noted that the new imaging technique enabled them to have a look at the mysterious pictograms without damaging the upper, more recent layer. The team thinks that it probably have just discovered one of the rarest scrolls in the world.

The Codex Selden is made of a 16.4-foot-long strip of deer hide with handwritten contents. The book is one of the rarest artifacts that has survived the Spanish Conquest. Apparently, it documents ancient Mexican’s history and mythology.

Unlike other codices, the Codex Selden has a concertina-like appearance. Scholar John Selden donated the item to Oxford’s Bodleian library more than three centuries ago. Scientists estimate that it dates back to around year 1560.

Study investigators said that the ancient images now hide under a thick layer of gypsum and chalk. This layer  preserved them very well. Researchers estimate that the cartoon-like illustrations are much older than the manuscript on top.

Complex writing system

In the world, there are only 20 ancient documents dating from or prior to the Spanish conquistadors on the continent. Scholars noted that ancient population on the continent used a complex system of pictograms, symbols, and colors. The handwriting system recorded centuries of religious practices and historical events including wars, conquests, birth of noble families, and so on.

According to a conquistador who witnessed the destruction of the ancient scrolls, locals were distraught  “to an amazing degree, and which caused them much affliction” when they saw their cultural heritage on fire.

The Bodleian library hosts the largest collection of ancient manuscripts from the conquistador era in the world. After a recent addition, it now has six manuscripts. Bodleian researchers and scholars from the Netherlands are currently analyzing the 16th century codex.

They wrote in a recent paper that the newfound imagery is completely new and of unknown origin. The research team hopes that the pictograms could help archaeologists unlock the history of the digging sites in southern Mexico.

The Codex Selden

On a closer look, a single page from the codex holds more than 20 human-like figures in standing or sitting position. Researchers said that the images are very similar to those unearthed in the Oaxaca region of today’s Mexico which contain images or royalty members of both sexes and their councils.

In the new scroll, researchers have so far managed to identify what may be warriors, red-headed women from the ruling class, and symbols that may suggest the location of rivers. But archeologists are puzzled by a particular symbol depicting a flint knife and a twisted cord. The symbol appears repeatedly in many Mixtec manuscripts.

There have been previous attempts to scan the Codex Selden without ruining it but with no success. Several x-ray examinations have so far produced nothing.

Researchers will report the findings this month in the Journal of Archaeological Science: Reports.
Image Source: Wikimedia

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