"A remarkable consecutive history"
September 23, 2020 1:54 PM   Subscribe

The Codex Zouche-Nuttall is a pre-Columbian document of Mixtec pictography, one of six known to survive. The codex is named for two women: Baroness Zouche, its donor and Zelia Nuttall, who first published it in 1902. Nuttall was a Mexican-American archaeologist who "investigated Mexico’s past to give recognition and pride to its present" at a time when Western archaeology was still obsessed with racist caricatures of Indigenous people. Shortly after publishing the Codex with a lengthy introduction, Nuttall moved to live full-time in Mexico as a single mother and towards the end of her life advocated for the revival of Mexican New Year traditions that had been eradicated after Spanish conquest. Aztec New Year is still celebrated in Mexico today.

An excerpt from Nuttall's introduction to the Codex.
It is a remarkable feature of the present Codex that, whereas two women only are pictured on its reverse, its first forty-four pages contain no less than one hundred and seventy-six representations of women, nearly all of whom appear to pertain to the ruling class and to be filling responsible positions, on an equality with men. There is no native manuscript in existence which affords so much valuable material as the present one for the study of the position, customs, costume, and face-painting of the women of Ancient Mexico. What is more, it fully corroborates the documentary records concerning the existence of gyneocracies and actually pictures chieftainesses engaged in warfare, or parleying and entering into negotiations with war-chiefs, or else sharing with men, on terms of equality, such functions as those of high-priest or head-chief.
posted by jessamyn (14 comments total) 35 users marked this as a favorite
Wonderful post Jessamyn!!
Thanks so much!!!
posted by calgirl at 2:47 PM on September 23, 2020 [1 favorite]

I heard about Zelia Nuttall in an episode of the podcast Ologies Experimental Archeology (OLD TOOLS/ATLATLS) with Angelo Robledo

The guest is a young guy who just positively gushes about Dr Nuttall.

(This was my sponsor a post request, and I totally forgot to share this link/lead. Thanks jessamyn!)
posted by DigDoug at 3:08 PM on September 23, 2020 [3 favorites]

The Mixtec codices are read right-to-left. So if you are trying to follow the story, start on the last page on each side of the fan-fold book, and follow the path through the lines on the page to the left. Each section starts with a date in the 11th and 12th centuries, given by the A-O symbol and the dots.

John Pohl gives a good summary of the story in The Legend of Lord Eight Deer. He has also identified most of the archaeological sites mentioned in the codex.
posted by Xoc at 3:43 PM on September 23, 2020

I picked up a copy of this at a used bookstore about 30 years ago. It's so gorgeous and evocative.
posted by rikschell at 5:07 PM on September 23, 2020 [1 favorite]

> Aztec New Year is still celebrated in Mexico today.
> wikipedia: "it is generally considered to occur at sunrise on March 12"

Yay, even more to celebrate on my grandson's and my birthday!
posted by anadem at 5:11 PM on September 23, 2020 [1 favorite]

Interesting to see that Aztec codices had lost or at least did not use the hieroglyphic writing of the Mayans, even though the Mayan system was still in use at the time of the Spanish conquest.
posted by anadem at 5:30 PM on September 23, 2020

Thank God I have a day off tomorrow because I am going to just luxuriate in this post and all of its contents
posted by Kitchen Witch at 6:23 PM on September 23, 2020 [1 favorite]

Ok, I am having trouble understanding something: the various articles linked here refer to the codices as facsimiles. These are huge, elaborate documents. How were facsimiles produced in the 19th century? Do they mean they had to piece together individual parts of each codex into one document, and that's what makes it a facsimile?

facsimile is really hard to spell, gosh
posted by Kitchen Witch at 6:36 PM on September 23, 2020

Traced by hand according to the intro from the first link since photography could not be used.
posted by Mister Cheese at 7:14 PM on September 23, 2020 [2 favorites]

I just wanted to add that it's cool to see some non-Nahua or Maya Mesoamerican stuff on MeFi. I haven't read much about these codices. Mixteca is itself a Nahuatl word... I think I'll check out this book on the history of the Tay Ñudzahui.

One more thing: The Mapas Project has a bunch of postcolonial pictorial manuscripts, including some Mixtec mapas.
posted by Mister Cheese at 8:13 PM on September 23, 2020

Great post, but please note that you misspelled Nuttall several times in the OP. Please fix, and delete this comment. Hugs!
posted by Anoplura at 9:07 PM on September 23, 2020

also btw...
Beyond public view, scholars unravel mystery of writing in ancient Mexican city - "Among the many mysteries surrounding the ancient Mexican metropolis of Teotihuacan, one has been especially hard to crack: how did its residents use the many signs and symbols found on its murals and ritual sculptures?"
Art historian Tatiana Valdez, author of a book published this year on the glyphs of Teotihuacan, says the patio’s 42 glyphs, many in linear sequences, amount to the longest text ever found at the city’s ruins.

Overall, she says more than 300 Teotihuacano hieroglyphics have been tentatively identified so far.

Countless ancient Mexican codices - accordion-style folded paper books covered in hieroglyphics - were ordered burned in colonial times by Catholic authorities. Only about a dozen still exist.

Valdez is convinced such books were also part of Teotihuacan’s literary tradition, over a millennium before the bonfires.

“I think Teotihuacan used hieroglyphics, and used them well because we’ve found so many,” she said, pointing to thousands of mostly clay figurines with painted or incised glyphs that have been found on the site.

Valdez said the sheer number of figurines found with glyphs on tiny headdresses or on their foreheads could mean some access to writing was available to commoners.


A painted mural uncovered in the 1960s in Teotihuacan shows what appears to be a priest holding a book. It was a “hugely important” discovery, said Christophe Helmke, a leading scholar of the city’s writing system at the University of Copenhagen.

He cautioned against expecting texts on public monuments or sculptures in the city, and said writing in Teotihuacan was probably mostly confined to its books.

He suggested future advances will likely come from new mural or ceramic finds, but not books, which are unlikely to turn up due to the speed of deterioration of the paper or animal skins used by ancient scribes.
posted by kliuless at 9:56 PM on September 23, 2020 [1 favorite]

Thank you, Mister Cheese!
posted by Kitchen Witch at 10:43 PM on September 23, 2020

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