A recent investigation has proven that an ancient Maya manuscript named the Grolier Codex is authentic, after years of studies deeming the document as fake.

A team of researchers, led by Brown University’s Stephen Houston, has proved that the Grolier Codex is not only real, but it is also the oldest book that survived Ancient America. Detailed results of the study were published in Maya Archaeology journal. Researchers confirmed that the manuscript dates back to the 13th century and that all of its contents belong to the ancient Maya civilization.

The Grolier Codex
A detail of an image from page 4 of the Grolier Codex with red underpainting visible. Image credit: Justin Kerr/Brown University.

The manuscript was first found by looters located in Mexico around the 1960s, but the story surrounding its finding has made experts doubt of its authenticity.

Houston’s team decided to take a look at the Grolier Codex’s history and evaluate all of the previous studies and statements of the manuscript, to understand the criticism that deemed the Codex as fake.

After carefully evaluating all the possibilities, the team confirmed that the manuscript is authentic and that despite the history of its finding, it does belong to the Mayas and represents their culture.

“With this review, which examines information that a forger in the early 1960s could not possibly have known, it becomes crystal clear that this is the earliest surviving book in the New World,” said lead author Stephen Houston, to the Huffington Post in a statement.

The Grolier Codex’s authenticity

The Codex is a fragment of a larger manuscript belonging to the ancient Maya culture, and it was found in the 1960s by a team of looters digging a cave in Chiapas Mexico. After finding the fragment, looters called a famous Mexican collector named Josué Sáenz, to analyze their discovery and how much was it worth.

The manuscript is ten pages long and has hand-written iconography that relates with the rituals the Mayas made and features the vast majority of their deities. Researchers think that it might have been used by priests to determine the correct moment to star a war.

The looters picked up the collector and flew him in an airplane to the location where they found the codex, but hid the site from Sáenz by covering the plane’s compass.

After viewing the manuscript, Josué flew it over to New York City to exhibit it at the private Grolier Club, which is where the book gets its name.

The manuscript later returned to the hands of Mexican authorities and was stored in the basement of the Mexican museum for all these years. Until Houston and his team decided to take another look.

Experts have deemed the manuscript as fake, because of how it was found. Especially because looters found it, instead of archeologists and they would have the correct knowledge of the culture, to create a fake document.

Other reports also said that the Codex couldn’t be real because it featured more drawings than text and that differs from previously found Maya manuscripts.

The lead author along with archeology professor Michael Coe, Mary Miller from Yale University and Karl Taube from the California University, studied the manuscript and its contents closely.

The team examined the painting practices of the ancient culture and the way they treated paper in books and found that the document dates back to the 13th century, being the oldest  Maya code found so far.

The red lines located underneath the Codex were proven authentic as well as what they call “Maya Blue,” which is a pigmented paint used by the ancient culture. Researchers then explained why the Grolier Codex couldn’t have been fabricated by someone other than the Mayas.

“He or she would have to intuit the existence of and then perfectly render deities that had not been discovered in 1964,” the authors wrote in the paper “They would have to correctly guess how to create Maya blue, which was not synthesized until the 1980s and have a wealth and range or resources that required knowledge unavailable until recently,”

Source: Brown University Press Release