Códice Maya de México
Understanding the Oldest Surviving Book of the Americas
by Edited by Andrew D. Turner
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Pub Date 22 Nov 2022 | Archive Date 09 Jan 2023
Getty Publications, Getty Research Institute
Ancient Maya scribes recorded prophecies and astronomical observations on the pages of painted books. Although most were lost to decay or destruction, three pre-Hispanic Maya codices were known to have survived, when, in the 1960s, a fourth book that differed from the others appeared in Mexico under mysterious circumstances. After fifty years of debate over its authenticity, recent investigations using cutting-edge scientific and art historical analyses determined that Códice Maya de México (formerly known as Grolier Codex) is in fact the oldest surviving book of the Americas, predating all others by at least two hundred years.
This volume provides a multifaceted introduction to the creation, discovery, interpretation, and scientific authentication of Códice Maya de México. In addition, a full-color facsimile and a page-by-page guide to the iconography make the codex accessible to a wide audience. Additional topics include the uses and importance of sacred books in Mesoamerica, the role of astronomy in ancient Maya societies, and the codex's continued relevance to contemporary Maya communities.
This volume is published to accompany an exhibition on view at the J. Paul Getty Museum at the Getty Center from October 18, 2022, to January 15, 2023.
“These interconnected essays explore astronomical knowledge, bookmaking practices, artistic and scribal conventions, and belief systems at a significant juncture in Mesoamerican history through analysis of the recently authenticated Códice Maya de México. What I found especially compelling were the complementary methodologies and perspectives employed to contextualize this early codex, framing it not only within the cultural context of its eleventh- or twelfth-century creators but also in terms of its significance to contemporary descendant populations working to reclaim their intellectual heritage.”
—Gabrielle Vail, Research Collaborator, Department of Anthropology, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill
"What a great story: a rare Mesoamerican document, once thought to be a fake and featuring nuanced innovations in the arrangement of its complex astronomical content from a long-regarded archetype, is confirmed half a century later to be the archetype’s historical predecessor. You can't make this stuff up. In this tidy, accessible package, Andrew Turner brings together the story of the physical analysis, historical background, and decipherment of Códice Maya de México—the oldest book in the world of the Maya.”
—Anthony Aveni, Russell Colgate Distinguished University Professor of Astronomy, Anthropology, and Native American Studies Emeritus at Colgate University
“Códice Maya de México promises ‘understanding’ in its title and delivers to the highest degree, with all the lucidity and scholarship to be expected from the Getty Research Institute. After decades of see-sawing disputes—some favoring the authenticity of this document, others not—Andrew Turner and his colleagues have landed at where we should have been at the start, when the book first came to our attention in the 1960s. Arising in a time of cultural interplay, Códice Maya de México shows itself to be the earliest, largely complete tome from Indigenous America. Looking to the heavens, and to Venus in particular, this screenfold (or leporello) indicates how predictable planetary movements were linked in Maya minds to cyclic conflicts between gods. And it does so by muting language and highlighting lists of days unencumbered by more elaborate text. Códice Maya thus served as a supple hybrid. Crosscutting societies, it ‘lived’ between different languages and rituals yet still retained its Maya identity. Códice Maya, a special treasure of the Estados Unidos Mexicanos, has now fulfilled its own manifest destiny by traveling to Los Angeles, a city founded by the precursor of the Mexican republic and a global example today of the benefits of cultural contact. This study and the welcome visit of the codex to the J. Paul Getty Museum provide unrivaled pleasures to all who care about the power of books and what happens when societies collide, mesh, and—as a direct result—strengthen.”
—Stephen Houston, editor of A Maya Universe In Stone
Available on NetGalley
Average rating from 6 members
Thank you Netgalley and Getty Publications for access to this arc.
A few years ago, I watched a documentary called "Breaking the Maya Code" (made in 2008) that discussed how the glyph writing of the Maya language was finally cracked. It also briefly discussed the three Maya codices (now all in Europe) and one that had been discovered in the mid 1960s and which had - at that point - not conclusively been authenticated. When I saw this book I wondered if it was about that last codex, the one supposedly found in a cave and that had left Mexico under fishy circumstances before being returned and that had first been denounced as a fake only for later scholars to argue with that assessment.
Yes, the book is about that codex. The one that some said couldn't have survived for hundreds of years in a cave. The one that we still don't know exactly where it was found or by whom. The one that has been studied and subjected to more scientific examinations than any other Mesoamerican codex. The one whose authentication was determined by a vibrant color paint called Maya Blue, all the ingredients of which still hadn't been totally elucidated in the mid 1960s meaning that forgers couldn't have known how to mimic it.
Several authorities contributed to the book. We learn about the reason for it - to describe a 104 year cycle of the planet Venus which the ancient Maya astronomers correctly knew was one planet instead of two different ones. We learn about all the scientific experiments done on it. There is a wonderful chapter written by a modern descendent of the Maya whose course of study was determined by his fascination with it and determination to learn to read the language of his ancestors. The final chapter describes in detail the meaning of each of the surviving pages. And since this is being produced by the J. Paul Getty museum for an exhibition of the codex there, it's filled with wonderful photographs. If I were going to be in Los Angeles during its stay, I'd be lining up to see it but this book is a fair substitute for that experience. B+
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