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3rd London Nahuatl Study Day Workshop flyer

3rd Nahuatl Study Day in London

On April 22nd-23rd 2016, two of our team attended the third Náhuatl Study Day in London at the Institute of Archaeology, University College London. Thanks to the dedicated commitment and work of Dr. Elizabeth Baquedano (UCL Institute of Archaeology) these fascinating workshops are fast becoming a regular feature of the London Mesoamerican studies ‘scene’. This year’s event was led jointly and expertly by Dr. Baquedano, Dr. Katarzyna Mikulska (University of Warsaw) and Dr. Patrick Johansson (Institute of Historical Research, National University of Mexico)... (Written by Ian Mursell/Mexicolore)

Pic 1: Oxomoco and Cipactonal, ‘owners of the books and the count of days’, Codex Borbonicus pl. 21 (detail); Oxomoco casts divinatory grains...
Pic 1: Oxomoco and Cipactonal, ‘owners of the books and the count of days’, Codex Borbonicus pl. 21 (detail); Oxomoco casts divinatory grains... (Click on image to enlarge)

The theme of the inaugural lecture, given by Katarzyna Mikulska, was ‘The Origin of the Sacred Books: the Calendar, Writing and Speech’. In it, Dr. Mikulska expanded on the longest version of the myth of the creation of sacred books, in the Florentine Codex, drawing our attention to the living tradition of divination (a key function of ritual Mesoamerican almanacs), depicted in the Codex Borbonicus (pic 1) and still used today in Nahua communities of Veracruz, amongst the Mixes of Oaxaca and the Maya Quiché of Guatemala. Grains of maize/corn are thrown on the ground - with two sides representing life and death, the position they land in provides the basis for prognostications made by soothsayers. The pre-Hispanic board game patolli and other games of chance provided other channels by which to determine the will of the gods in ancient times.

Pic 2: Katarzyna Mikulska uses a laser pointer to track the sequence of 260 days in the ‘tonalpohualli’ or divinatory calendar in the Codex Borgia
Pic 2: Katarzyna Mikulska uses a laser pointer to track the sequence of 260 days in the ‘tonalpohualli’ or divinatory calendar in the Codex Borgia (Click on image to enlarge)

In the first session of the Study Day, Dr. Mikulska introduced us to the most important of the half dozen or so Mixtec codices from the Borgia group of sacred books, the Codex Borgia. Intriguingly, we don’t know today the original language of the authors of these books, all written/drawn on deerskin. The Borgia contains the 260-day ritual divinatory calendar, the tonalpohualli, in all its glory: where space allowed, the scribe was able to include unusually full and detailed versions of the 20 day signs (‘Flower’, for instance, is depicted with its parent tree and roots...). Dr. Mikulska guided us (pic 2) through the process of reading the calendar sequence, following the 13-day trecenas, the reading path being indicated helpfully by the direction in which the creature daysigns (eg eagle, jaguar, dog, deer...) looked - in the Borgia’s case, from right to left.

Pic 3: Elizabeth Baquedano helps make the connection between writing in books and carving on stone monuments...
Pic 3: Elizabeth Baquedano helps make the connection between writing in books and carving on stone monuments... (Click on image to enlarge)

The second session, ‘Writing and Iconography’, involved a joint presentation by Dr. Baquedano and Romy Köhler, a researcher from Berlin, focusing on reading and interpreting the glyphs inscribed on the famous Tizoc Stone that records the military conquests of the (none too successful) Aztec tlahtoani (‘Speaker’ - ie ruler) Tizoc. Like the iconic Sunstone, the Tizoc Stone embodies far more than just simple iconography: with its several rows of ‘text’, representing solar plane, sky band, captive scenes sequence and earth plane, and its four cardinal direction rays, it embodies a cosmic diagram of the Aztec empire itself, and reminds its subjects of their dual commitment to both sun and earth.

Pic 4: Patrick Johansson, one of the world’s leading ‘nahuatlatos’
Pic 4: Patrick Johansson, one of the world’s leading ‘nahuatlatos’ (Click on image to enlarge)

In the afternoon Patrick Johansson succeeded in teaching us some of the rudiments of classical Nahuatl as well as providing some fascinating insights into the nuances of the language and the worldview of the Mexica people who spoke it. Of course it remains a living language, now happily growing in popularity in Mexico after centuries of decline - a veritable cultural resistance success story. We will start to incorporate some of the fruits of Patrick’s wisdom and insights into this website; with no word in Nahuatl for the concept of ‘time’, no words for ‘evil’ or ‘bad’, the same word for ‘face’ and ‘mask’, and a different notion for the idea of ‘love’, one can only begin to imagine some of the misunderstandings that underpinned the ‘clash of cultures’ between Spanish and Aztecs in the 16th century...

Pic 5: Elizabeth Baquedano holds up a facsimile of the Codex Laud, showing a marriage scene represented in part by a beautiful heart-and-flower glyph
Pic 5: Elizabeth Baquedano holds up a facsimile of the Codex Laud, showing a marriage scene represented in part by a beautiful heart-and-flower glyph (Click on image to enlarge)

We extend our sincere thanks to all four speakers, and are most fortunate to be able to learn from their expertise, clarity, good humour and wisdom. Long may this series of London Nahuatl Study Days continue...!

Photos by Ian Mursell/Mexicolore
The image from the Codex Borbonicus was photographed from the Siglo XI facsimile edition.

This article was uploaded to the Mexicolore website on Apr 27th 2016

Our report on the first London Nahuatl Study Day

Our report on the second London Nahuatl Study Day

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