28 March 2012 by Alison Cornmell
One of World Museum’s most prized objects, a rare Mexican deer skin book more than 800 years old, has been investigated by a team of Italian scientists to reveal its secrets.
As well as being the museum’s treasures it is also considered one of the world’s greatest treasures. The priceless object even took pride of place in the Royal Adademy’s ‘AZTECS’ exhibition in 2002.
The Codex Fejérvary-Mayer dates back to AD 1200-1521 and is an illustrated, painted book. Codices were written in pictograms, rather than words derived from an alphabet. Histories, genealogies and tribute economies were recorded in the pages. They served both educational and ritual proposes and at the same time, they were objects of great cultural, literary and artistic value.
The scientists carried out a study of the pigments, dyes and binders used in the making of the Codex to provide insights into how it was created. Due to the age and fragility of the object, the expert team did not actually touch the Codex. Instead, they examined it using specialist equipment that got within millimetres of the book.
Although a fragile object it is in remarkably good condition in comparison to other ones. It is of great international importance and there are only two dozen books of this kind in existence. Of these, only half – among them the Codex Fejérvary-Mayer – are likely to be pre-Cortesian (before AD 1521) making this an exceptional window into the pre-Hispanic Mesoamerican world.
Collecting the data took a team of four scientists an entire week, while the assessment of that data will take months, which in turn will generate many years of interpretation and study. The project promises to be ground breaking, expanding our understanding of this iconic artifact, and we all look forward to learning more in the coming year.
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