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In Mexico's National Museum of Anthropology, codex exhibit rethinks Moctezuma's death
A visitor admires the Martin de la Cruz Badiano codex (1552), made on European paper, at the "Codices of Mexico, memories and knowledge" exhibition at the National Anthropology museum in Mexico City on October 9, 2014. The exhibition shows pre and post Hispanic codices from different indigenous ethnic groups. AFP PHOTO/OMAR TORRES.

By: Jennifer Gonzalez Covarrubias

MEXICO CITY (AFP).- Mexico's largest exhibit of Mesoamerican manuscripts features a codex made of fig tree bark suggesting that Aztec emperor Moctezuma was slain by a Spanish conquistador with a sword.

The piece is among 44 codices made by several pre-Columbian populations -- including the Mayas, Purepechas and Zapotecos -- on display at the National Museum of Anthropology.

Some of the pieces in the temporary exhibit, titled "Codices of Mexico: Memories and Wisdom," are as large as 10 square meters (108 square feet).

One cost the government $1 million to buy from the Bible Society in Britain.

"It's the biggest codex exhibit (in Mexico)," curator Baltazar Brito, director of the National Anthropology and History Library, told AFP.

The codices were written by tlacuilos, which in Mayan means a person who carves stones.

The ancient manuscripts present a vision of history from the point of view of "the people who were subdued after the conquest," Brito said.

"They are a very important demonstration of the knowledge acquired by Mesoamerican peoples throughout their history."

The collection's centerpiece is the Chimalpahin codex, which the government bought in May from the Bible Society to stop it from being auctioned off.

The manuscript was made by indigenous historians Domingo Chimalpahin (1579-1660) and Alva Ixtlilxochitl (1578-1650).

The piece recounts the daily life of Mexican society in the country's central regions as well as during colonial times under New Spain.

Moctezuma's death
Another jewel in the museum's treasure trove is the Moctezuma codex, a two-meter (two-yard) long and 25-centimeter (10-inch) wide piece made with the bark of a fig tree.

Ancient chronicles say Moctezuma was stoned to death in 1520 by his own people, who considered him a traitor for surrendering to the Spaniards.

But the small drawings in the Moctezuma codex tell a different story of the final days of one of the last Aztec emperors.

"This codex shows us how he was captured by a Spaniard and then he is seen dead, bloodied with a sword," Brito said.

"This is another version of history that has a lot of value because the codices were considered works done by the people, for the people."

There are some 650 Mexican codices in museums around the world, and a third belong to Mexico's Museum of Anthropology.

The current exhibit, which runs through January, includes manuscripts describing plants and recipes that the Spanish crown forced the indigenous populations to elaborate after learning about their medicinal value.

The indigenous populations also used these manuscripts to appeal for their rights before the crown.

One codex was drawn on a nopal cactus to depict the family tree of the elite who lived in the ancient city of Tenochtitlan, where Mexico City lies today.

"The messages of the codices have yet to be completely deciphered," Brito said.

© 1994-2014 Agence France-Presse

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