Mysteries of the Codex to be revealed

Key object in collection is investigated

One of World Museum’s most prized objects, a rare Mexican deer skin book more than 800 years old, is being investigated to reveal its secrets.

The Codex Fejérvary-Mayer dates back to AD 1200-1521 and forms a key part of World Museum’s Americas collection. For the first time scientists have carried out a study of the pigments, dyes and binders used in the making of the Codex to provide insights into how this remarkable book was created. 

The project, funded by CHARISMA, enabled a team of conservation scientists from Perugia, Italy to travel to Liverpool with the necessary equipment to carry out the work in National Museums Liverpool conservation studios.

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. 

Joanna Ostapkowicz, Curator of World Museum’s Americas collections says:

“The Codex is in remarkably good condition and is of great international importance. 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.

“This is a great opportunity to discover how the codex was made. 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. “

Before the Spanish invasion, codices were of central importance in the ordering of the Mesoamerican world. 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.

In the hands of ritual practitioners and other high-ranking individuals, the codex became a guide for people’s actions. Although an object of great respect, the codex was also a tactile, malleable reference tool: a user could consult both sides simultaneously by folding parts of the codex onto itself. Reading it offered guidance on appropriate days to travel, to celebrate a deity’s beneficence with sacrifices, to plant crops or to name a child.

The results of the study will be revealed later in the year.

To find out more about the Ethnology collection at World Museum go to:

Notes for editors


CHARISMA (Cultural Heritage Advanced Research Infrastructures: Synergy for a Multidisciplinary Approach to Conservation/Restoration) is an EU-funded project that provides access to advanced scientific instrumentations and knowledge allowing scientists, conservators-restorers and curators to enhance their research.

About National Museums Liverpool

National Museums Liverpool comprises eight venues. Our collections are among the most important and varied in Europe and contain everything from Impressionist paintings and rare beetles to a lifejacket from the Titanic.

We attract more than three million visitors every year. Our venues are World Museum, the Walker Art Gallery, Merseyside Maritime Museum, International Slavery Museum, UK Border Agency National Museum, Sudley House and the Lady Lever Art Gallery.   

In July 2011, our eighth venue, the Museum of Liverpool, opened at the city's Pier Head, part of the city's World Heritage Site. The museum tells the definitive story of Liverpool and its people and contains more than 6,000 items.        

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