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Noel exhibit explores Central and South American culture before Spanish conquest.

The Exploration of the New World exhibit contains a facsimile of the Mayan Dresden Codex, a book that’s believed to be the oldest surviving text written in the Americas.
The Exploration of the New World exhibit contains a facsimile of the Mayan Dresden Codex, a book that’s believed to be the oldest surviving text written in the Americas.

When the Spanish set foot in what is now Central and South America in the 1500s, the Incan and Aztec empires were at their heights in flourishing civilizations whose influence spread across the continent. A new exhibit – Exploration of the New World – aims to paint a picture of Central and South America in pre-European times through the books and items in the James Smith Noel Collection, located on the third floor of the Noel Memorial Library. 


“The goal is for attendees to have a better glimpse and understanding of what the original Central and South American cultures looked like before the arrival of Europeans,” said Rachel Sherman, a cataloger at the Noel Collection who curated the exhibit. 

The exhibit contains books about the history and daily life of the people who inhabited the region as well as maps that defined the landscape. 


The oldest item in the collection is a facsimile of the Dresden Codex, a Mayan book that is believed to be the oldest surviving text written in the Americas. The original is believed to have been produced between 300-700 AD and contains information relating to astronomical and astrological tables, religious references, illness, and medicine among other topics. The text contains Mayan hieroglyphics and is made of plant-based materials that fold like an accordion, the traditional method of writing. 


This book contains a model of the Aztec calendar. The Aztecs would have been near the height of their power when the Spanish set foot in what’s now Central America and southern Mexico in the early 1500s.
This book contains a model of the Aztec calendar. The Aztecs would have been near the height of their power when the Spanish set foot in what’s now Central America and southern Mexico in the early 1500s.

Another prized piece is “The Royal Commentaries of Peru,” written by Garcilaso de la Vega, a descendant of royal Incan heritage whose father was Spanish. The 1688 collection of commentaries is a chronicle of Incan culture and heritage and its destruction by the Spanish conquest. The exhibit also contains a later piece that describes a key incident that led to the Spanish-American War in the late 1800s. 


In the “Life of Capt. Joseph Fry, the Cuban martyr” (1875), the “Virginius Affair” is described in the work. Fry’s ship (S.S. Virginius) was captured by the Spanish in 1873 while trying to supply Cuban mercenaries with supplies and men. Cuba was a Spanish colony at the time, and the incident was the first of many that led to the 1898 Spanish-American war that resulted in the U.S. acquiring Puerto Rico, Guam, and the Philippines as well as eventual Cuban independence. 


The exhibit is every weekday from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. in the Noel Collection, which is located on the third floor of the Noel Memorial Library on LSUS’s campus. 

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