After years of doubt and uncertainty researchers investigating the authenticity of the Grolier Codex, a pre-Columbian “book” initially dated to the 13th century CE, have concluded that the artefact is almost certainly genuine, one of the few documents to have survived the fall of the ancient Mayan civilisation of Mesoamerica. The codex was purchased from several Mexican treasure hunters in 1966 and went on to be displayed in the bibliophile Grolier Club in New York City in 1971. From the very beginning its authenticity was doubted. A short report by Annalee Newitz for Ars Technica details the problems with the document:
“There were a number of good reasons to believe the Grolier Codex was fake… Unlike three other Maya Codex finds, it had writing on only one side of each of its 10 pages. Plus, some of the pages appear to have been cut relatively recently. There are odd discrepancies in the book’s calendar system, hinting that a forger might have been trying to imitate a calendar he saw in another Maya artefact. The drawings are also unusual for a Maya document, combining styles of the Mesoamerican Mixtec people with Toltec attire. The Toltec were often hailed by the Aztecs as ancestors, and their art shares many similarities with late Maya art. Though carbon dating placed the Codex’s bark pages during the late Maya period, it was not unknown for looters to find blank pages in ancient Maya caches and cover them in fake hieroglyphs to make them more valuable.
But now… a team of other researchers, including Brown University social scientist Stephen Houston, have done an intensive reevaluation of the Grolier Codex and declared it genuine. They published their analysis in the latest issue of Maya Archaeology, along with a complete facsimile of the Codex itself. It turns out to be a 104-year-long calendar predicting the movements of Venus.
Houston said the book contains images of “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 Dresden and Madrid Codices] both elucidate a wide range of Maya gods, but in Grolier, all is stripped down to fundamentals.” He added that the book’s scribe was working in “difficult times,” as the Maya civilisation was on the wane.”
One suspects that the debates over the authenticity of the Grolier Codex aren’t quiet finished yet though hopefully we are getting nearer to the truth. The document would be a wonderful if poignant reminder of the cultural, artistic and intellectual treasures that were lost with the destructive European invasions of the Americas.