500-Year-Old Hidden Images Revealed in Mexican Manuscript

invisible mexican manuscript revealed

Thanks to sophisticated scanning technology that penetrated layers of chalk and plaster, storytelling images on a hidden manuscript from Mexico have been seen for the first time in 500 years.

The Codex Selden, from the pre-colonial Mixtec town of Anute, is one of just five surviving codices from the area, now Oaxaca state in the south of the country.

It was long suspected the Codex Selden, housed at Oxford University’s Bodleian Libraries, was hiding another document beneath its superficial layer of plaster and chalk.

500-Year-Old Hidden Images Revealed in Mexican Manuscript
This image shows pages 10 and 11 of the back of Codex Selden. The top image shows the pages as they appear to the naked eye. The lower image has been created using hyperspectral imaging to show the hidden pictographic scenes that lie underneath a layer of plaster and chalk on the back of Codex Selden. (Bodleian Libraries, University of Oxford)


But using cutting-edge ‘hyperspectral’ imaging equipment, researchers have been able to view the older pictures for the first time.

Ludo Snijders from Leiden University took part in the research.

“There was quite a scream when I saw the images,” he told The Independent.

“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.”

The find is significant because the figures that feature in the layer beneath have been drawn in a pre-colonial style, while the text on top is “very much” written in a post-colonial style and heavily features European influences, according to Mr Snijders.

Thermal imaging used to show the hidden imagery (Bodleian Libraries, University of Oxford)
Thermal imaging used to show the hidden imagery (Bodleian Libraries, University of Oxford)

Other glyphs showed the combination of a flint knife and a twisted cord, which the researchers believe represented a person’s name. That individual, they explained, could belong to a person who also appears in other codices – an ancestor of two lineages connected to the archaeological sites of Zaachila and Teozacualco in Mexico, according to the Daily Mail – but further research is needed to prove whether or not this is indeed the case.

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