General Aztecs Maya Tocuaro Kids Contact 18 Mar 2019/7 Flint
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Painted Aztec canoe, Codex Mendoza folio 18

Did the Aztecs paint their canoes?

ORIGINAL QUESTION received from - and thanks to - Bill Morse: Do you know if the Aztecs painted their canoes? I’m trying to model one. Thank you. (Answered by Ian Mursell/Mexicolore)

Decorated Aztec canoe, Lienzo de Tlaxcala
Decorated Aztec canoe, Lienzo de Tlaxcala (Click on image to enlarge)

The little evidence we have suggests that yes, they did. About the only - quite poor - visual example is found in the Codex Mendoza (folio 18 - main picture) referring to the tribute list demanded by the Aztec ruler of the province of Acolhuaman, which apparently included a single canoe.

We consulted Alex Biar, a doctoral student in pre-Columbian archaeology at the University of Paris1 Panthéon-Sorbonne (who has written a detailed article for Mexicolore on The Aztecs and Lake Navigation) (link below) who confirmed that the Florentine Codex mentions both the painting and decorating of Aztec canoes. A splendid example of the latter (ie the sculpting of a canoe’s bow) can be seen in the Lienzo de Tlaxcala (see other picture). Alex tells us that her research data on Aztec canoes includes more examples of decorated (sculpted) than painted boats.

Image sources:-
• Image from the Codex Mendoza scanned from our own copy of the James Cooper Clark facsimile edition (London, 1938)
• Image from the Lienzo de Tlaxcala courtesy of Alex Biar.

‘Lake navigation: a key cultural feature of the Mexica (Aztecs)’

‘King Canoe’

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