The problem began, as so many fringe history problems related to Mexico do, with the Abbé Brasseur de Bourbourg, who found a partial Mexican codex known as the Troano Manuscript in a Madrid library in 1865. The Abbé had been influenced by claims made for Greek, Roman, and Phoenician influence at Mayan sites like Palenque, and from that he had concluded that the Maya lands were populated by refugees from Atlantis. Thus, in attempting to decipher the Troano manuscript, a portion of the Madrid Codex (a.k.a. the Codex Tro-Cortesianus), he imagined that he had cracked the code of Mesoamerican languages (he hadn’t) and discovered an account of cataclysmic destruction of Mexico beyond even Plato’s imaginings (he didn’t): “The Troano Mansucript does not contain the story of but a single disaster, like the one Plato gave left for us in the destruction of Atlantis.” No, the Abbé believed that the manuscript actually recounted a series of disasters that “separated the old and the new worlds” (p. 223, my trans.).
As the younger Churchward notes, the “translation” was wholly imaginary in that the Abbé wrongly decided that each Mayan glyph represented a letter, which could then be decoded into an alphabet, words, and a language. The glyphs were not actually alphabetic, as would be discovered a century later when the Mayan writing system was deciphered.
Le Plongeon was thrilled to read Brasseur de Bourbourg’s book because he saw in it the key to finding Atlantis in America, particularly because the book seemed to be, as he said, “describing the events that took place during the awful cataclysms that caused the destruction of ten different countries, one of which, called Mu, was probably Plato’s Atlantis.”
James Churchward borrowed from this quite heavily but changed the details, now making the Maya into the original (white, Aryan) people of the world, and the inhabitants of Atlantis who colonized Egypt.
Le Plongeon and Churchward both give a fictitious translation from the second section of the Madrid Codex, known as the Codex Cortesianus, which neither author recognized was actually part of the same book, even though they had been identified as such in 1880 and reunited in 1888. Churchward was a faithless copyist, though, and in plagiarizing Le Plongeon, he made many errors. Consider this paragraph about the “destruction” of “Mu,” allegedly translated from the Codex Cortesianus:
Le Plongeon: “Twice Mu jumped from its foundations. It was then sacrificed with fire. It burst while being shaken up and down violently by the earthquake. By kicking it, the wizard that makes all things move like a mass of worms sacrificed it that very night.”
Churchward: “Twice Mu jumped from her foundations; it was then sacrificed by fire. It burst while being shaken up and down violently by earthquakes. By kicking it, the wizard that makes all things move like a mass of worms, sacrificed it that very night.”
Jack Churchward’s praiseworthy blog post concludes this way:
If you find references to the Troano Manuscript or the Codex Cortesianus that claim these documents to be other than almanacs, horoscopes, or astronomical tables, the author is basing their work on a fraudulent translation and is not to be believed.