500-Year-Old Hidden Mexican Manuscript Uncovered Thanks To New Imaging Technology

Posted: Aug 20 2016, 12:08am CDT | by , Updated: Aug 20 2016, 12:15am CDT, in News | Latest Science News

 
500-Year-Old Hidden Mexican Manuscript Uncovered Thanks to New Imaging Technology
Credit: Journal of Archaeological Sciences

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The rare Mexican manuscript has been hidden from view for almost 500 years but advanced scanning technology allowed researchers to peer through its details

Scientists have uncovered the details of a rare Mexican manuscript which has been hidden under the layer of chalk and plaster for 500 years.

Thanks to advanced scanning technology, researchers from University of Oxford's Bodleian Libraries and universities in the Netherlands have been able to peek through the dusty layer and uncovered the details of a mysterious codex that was built before Europeans arrived at America.

The ancient manuscript has been compiled into book form and is collectively known as Codex Selden. Codex Selden is estimated to be1560 years old and is one of the just 20 Mexican codices to have survived from pre-colonial Mexico and which are safely placed in European museums and libraries.

The codex which is made from deer leather appeared totally blank until the imaging technology was used. The scanning revealed dozes of those colorful figures arranged in storytelling scenes which were initially not visible to the naked eye.

“After four or five years of trying different techniques, we've been able to reveal an abundance of images without damaging this extremely vulnerable item. We can confirm that Codex Selden is indeed a palimpsest.” Ludo Snijders from Leiden University, who was one of the researchers involved in the study said.

Palimpsest is a manuscript from which the older text has been erased so it can be replaced or reused for new writing. This is the first early Mexican codex that has been proven a palimpsest.

The document is about 16 feet long and consists of around 20 pages with each containing several figures. The figures are created using plaster and natural paint and represent different activities like sitting or standing or walking with sticks and spears.

A new technique, called Hyperspectral imaging, has made it possible to penetrate the layers of chalk and plaster and to reveal the series of pictures.

“Hyperspectral imaging has shown great promise in helping us to begin to reconstruct the story of the hidden codex and ultimately to recover new information about Mixtec history and archaeology,' said David Howell from Bodleian Libraries.“This is very much a new technique, and we've learned valuable lessons about how to use hyperspectral imaging in the future both for this very fragile manuscript and for countless others like it.'

Ancient Mexican codices are some of the most important artifacts of early Mexican culture and they are quite rare. And even rarer are those from Mixtec region. This particular transcript is considered as one of only five surviving manuscripts from the Mixtec region, now the state of Oaxaca in Mexico.

These codices use pictures, symbols and bright colors to narrate stories of wars, courts and the history of ancient cities. Overall, these codices provide a deep insight into the history and culture of early Mexico.

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