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Researchers uncover fascinating details in a ‘secret codex’ of a lost civilization

codex selden secret manuscript

The Selden codex is a secret codex which holds hidden pieces of information about a lost civilization.

After remaining hidden for over 500 years, researchers have managed to reveal finally pictograms drawn by a lost MesoAmerican civilization.

Its contents have been ignored and overlooked for over 500 years, obscured by layers of plaster that ultimately reveal the secrets of a lost civilization that inhabited modern-day Mexico prior to the arrival of the Spanish conquistadores.

However, thanks to a new technique, researchers have been able to take a peek –for the first time ever— through the material on the top, revealing a sheer number of pictograms that have eluded historians for centuries.

This new technique has given researchers an unprecedented number of details about the early Mexican civilization known as the Mixtec.

Until now, no other technique known to researchers was able to reveal the concealed stories that remained hidden for centuries in a non-invasive manner.

Called the Selden Codex, it is a Mixtec pictorial manuscript and one of the few which actually survived the Conquest of Mexico. It is well-known for being the first manuscript showing traces of palimpsest.

According to an article published in Science Direct, it was thanks to a hyperspectral imaging technique that searchers were able to see the hidden content of the Selden Codex in a non-invasive manner.

“The material from which these Mixtec codices were made has so far thwarted all attempts to recover the hidden pictographic texts in a non-invasive manner. The Mixtec codices are made on long strips of leather attached end-to-end to form the substrate of the book,” the scientists said in the research paper.

Given what researchers have been able to see so far, researchers believe its drawings tell the story of ancient genealogies and dynasties that ruled in the region before the arrival of the Spanish.

“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,” said Ludo Snijders from Leiden University. David Howell from the Bodleian Libraries and Tim Zaman from the University of Delft also collaborated with Snijders on the research.

“What’s interesting is that the text we’ve found doesn’t match that of other early Mixtec manuscripts. The genealogy we see appears to be unique, which means it may prove invaluable for the interpretation of archaeological remains from southern Mexico,” Snijders added.

The new method —intraspectral imaging— allowed researchers to find 20 characters, male and female sitting and standing in the same direction. According to experts, the ancient manuscript also depicts a ‘prominent individual’ who appears in the ancient text represented by “a large glyph consisting of a twisted cord and a flint knife”.

But perhaps most interestingly is the fact that the new codex unveils images of people walking with spears and sticks, place signs with hieroglyphics for rivers and WOMEN WITH RED HAIR or headdresses.

The researchers added: “Although there are not many of these codices, this work does not have to be interpreted in complete isolation. For example, the characters that are sitting on their knees can, because of conventions recognized in the other books, be understood to be female.”

“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 Bodleian Libraries head of Heritage Science, David Howell. “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.”


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