The Schoenberg Institute for Manuscript Studies Online Lecture Series presents regularly scheduled lectures related to the study of premodern manuscript books and global manuscript culture.
Until recently, only three Maya pre-Hispanic screenfold books, of what were likely hundreds, were known to have survived the flames of zealous Spanish extirpators of idolatry. Studies of these three books (named for the locations of the collections in which they are held in Dresden, Madrid, and Paris) provided the foundation for what is now known about ancient Maya religion, astronomy, and hieroglyphic writing. In the 1960s, a purported fourth Maya codex surfaced in a private collection in Mexico City. According to its owner, looters had found it in a dry cave, preserved with several otherwise perishable objects. The sudden appearance of the then-named Grolier Codex in a 1971 exhibition in New York and the mysterious circumstances of its discovery sparked decades of bitter debate among leading scholars about its authenticity. In 2017, Mexico’s Instituto Nacional de Antropología e Historia initiated a series of investigations aimed at conclusively determining whether it was a rare genuine Maya codex or a clever 20th-century forgery. Independently working teams of scholars, using means of investigation that were unavailable to previous investigators, unanimously determined that not only was the codex authentic, but it predated the other surviving codices by hundreds of years. The newly renamed Códice Maya de México can now be understood as an astonishingly accurate work of Indigenous astronomy that allowed its users to predict the complex and dangerous movements of the planet Venus over a period of 104 years.