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H. A. Witte, Introduction: The Image in Writing or the Image of Writing


M. Beks, Die Handschrift der Kunst und die Kunst der Handschrift

A. Gebhart-Sayer, Gesungene Muster der Shipibo-Conibo (Ost-Peru)


J.-M. Huon de Kermadec, Les clefs de l'criture chinoise


M. E. R. G. N. Jansen, The Art of Writing in Ancient Mexico: an ethno-iconographical



A. Parpola, Religion Reflected in the Iconic Signs of the Indus Script: penetrating into
long-forgotten picto+graphic messages


A. Schimmel, Schriftsymbolik im Islam


H. L. J. Vanstiphout, Mihiltum, or the Image of Cuneiform Writing


H. te Velde, Egyptian Hieroglyphs as Linguistic Signs and Metalinguistic Informants 169

Additional Articles
J. Gutmann, An Eighteenth-Century Prague Jewish Workshop of Kapporot


U. Jger, Buddhistische Ikonographie und nomadische Herrscherreprsentation zum

sogenannten 'Jger-Knig' von Kakrak bei Bmiyn/Afghanistan



University of Leiden
"El estudio actual de los llamados pueblos 'dependientes' o colonizados
solo es posible desde el punto de vista de un enfoque cientifico
tomando en cuenta los caractres especificos de la dependencia que sufren.
Por mas evidente que ello pueda parecer por el simple juego de palabras,
se trata de una exigencia que la antropologia reconoce muy rara vez,
cuando no ignora pura y simplemente la existencia de dicha relacin."
Georges Balandier: 1973, 30.

l Status
Native American cultures have developed various rich and complex sign systems, which because
of their pictorial, iconic or mnemotechnical character have been described until very recently
as a "primitive" or "rudimentary" stage in the evolution towards "real" writing. On closer
examination, however, such a description turns out to be insufficient and to suffer from a
Eurocentric bias.
The study of colonized societies offers numerous examples of the tendency to consider
"primitive" or "mysterious" those cultural manifestations which the investigator is not able to
understand. The colonial situation itself, with its omnipresent prejudices and hierarchical structure, interferes with the investigation. Claiming the irrationality and inferiority of a culture has
further proved an easy pretext for robbing a people of its lands, its heritage and its autonomy,
and for placing it with violence under the tutelage of a colonial power.
This is still the reality of the American Indians: after gaining the political independence from
the European countries that had invaded the western hemisphere nearly five centuries ago, the
descendants of the colonists assumed power and created their "latin" or "anglo" nation-states.
The resulting internal colonialism, interwoven with a general economic dependence, causes a
daily experience of discrimination and exploitation. Massacres of Indian communitieslike
those in Guatemala, Brazil or Peruand other forms of brutal repression are common facts,
hardly commented upon by the world press. Other countrieslike the U.S.A.do not respect
the treaties they made with Indian nations and cynically infringe upon fundamental human
These circumstances cast a shadow over the scholarly concerns of archaeologists,
anthropologists, linguists and others who occupy themselves with Indian cultures. The research
is generally done in such a way that it conforms to the colonial structures and can hardly be
beneficial to the peoples investigated. In the social sciences, just as in politics, there is still hardly
any participation of the indigenous peoples themselves (cf. Lewis: 1973).



Culture and the study of culture should be the base for ethnic identity and development, but
in practice the dominant classes try to expropriate the Indian past as a "national heritage" and
to force the Indian cultures of today into the realm of folklore, converting their products and
artistic expressions into articles of naive consumption, and converting the peoples themselves
into stereotypes, nice objects without a voice, or denying their existence altogether.
Obviously, all this leads to Eurocentric distortion and mystification. An old but illustrative
example can be found in a short article, published by Enrique de Guimaraes in 1907, on the
survival of the quipu, the ancient Andean registration system of strings and knots (Ravines:
1978, 772ss.). The author, basing himself on several secondary sources, had the idea that the
precolumbian quipus were a form of writing and that, through an esoteric code, they preserved
the intellectual achievements of the Inca nobles. In examining some quipus of his own time,
Guimaraes was disappointed: these were "ordinary" counting devices. The strings, in an
ordered sequence and sometimes differentiated by form or colour, represented the categories
(the different animals possessed by the peasant) and the knots the quantities (the number of each
kind of animal). He therefore concluded that the relationship between the ancient and the
modern quipu was vague and insignificant. In fact the modern quipu demonstrated to
Guimaraes the ignorance of the Indian peasant:
EI quipus moderno, en sumo, no viene a ser otra cosa que una palpable muestra de la falta de instruction del
indio, en los lugares donde hace uso de esa forma de contador, pues ignorante de la lectura y de la escritura,
y de los mas rudimentarios conocimientos de la aritmtica, se ha visto en la necesidad de conservar ese sistema
empleado por sus antepasados, que si bien rvla la cultura incsica, no esta en armonia con los progresos de
la civilization moderna ....
Cuando el indio pueda tener un libro en la mano y sepa servirse de l, sera elemento de progreso para el Peru;
entonces desaparecer por complte el uso del cordon con nudos de que hoy se vale para rendir sus cuentas ...
(Ravines: 1978, 775, 779).

In a short appendix to Guimaraes' article, Max Uhle already rectified some major points,
explaining how the precolumbian quipu had also been a mnemolechnical device, based on
numbers expressed by knots. By no means, Uhle emphasized, is there an essential difference
between the ancient and modern quipu (Ravines: 1978, 781-782). Since then, detailed studies by
Leland Locke, Marcia and Robert ascher (see also Ravines: 1978), John Murra (1975: ch. 9)
and others have further clarified our understanding of this interesting system and have showed
that the quipu is indeed able to register complex sets of data, in terms of categories and quantities. Elements of material culture, historical events, population, rituals, tributes, laws etc. were
all ordered in specific categories with logical and fixed sequences. The sequence of the strings
represented such a sequence of categories: for example, the inhabitants of a village were ordered
in age groups, the first group (string) being those of 70 years and older, the second one of those
between 60 and 70, etc. On each string the quantity of each category was expressed by knots,
using the decimal system and a digital notation (fig. 1). Colours and special forms of strings
constituted additional indications to distinguish the subject-matter, a red string referring to
soldiers and a composit one of blue, yellow and white to the feasts of the "God that lives in
the blue heaven and created gold and silver" etc.'
With Uhle we conclude that the modern quipu has indeed preserved the essential elements of
the precolonial one. The colonization reduced its themes and uses, but not its method.
In the same way there are many aspects of the native American cultures which show a direct
historical continuity from precolonial times, but which are not properly understood when the
investigator idealizes the Indian past and looks down on the Indian people of today. Value-



judgements about "modernization" according to the standards of industrial society in Europe

and North America often play a role here (cf. Fitzpatrick: 1980): indigenous culture is not
considered an alternative inspiration for development but rather an aesthetic museum piece, a
silent corpse, and its study becomes an "autopsy" (Kubler: 1964).
We have to bear this in mind when we examine the ancient Mesoamerican writing systems. 2
A notable early negative judgement comes from the 16th Century philosopher Juan Gins de
Seplveda, who in his dialogue Dmocrates Alter tried to prove the superiority of Spanish
Confer nunc cum horum virorum prudentia, ingenio, magnitudine animi, temperantia, humanitate et religione
homunculos illos in quibus vix reperies humanitatis vestigia, qui non modo nullam habent doctrinam, sed nee
litteris u t u n t u r , aut noverunt, nulla retinent rerum gestarum monumenta, praeter tenuem quamdam et obscuram
nonnullarum rerum memoriam picturis quibusdam consignatam ... (edition 1979, 104).

Seplveda explicitly aimed at the justification of the Spanish conquest, but still in our century
similar derogatory statements have been made by authors on writing systems in general.' It is
not until the rise of semiology in the last two decades that the classical Greek definition of
writing as the registration of the spoken language (with the alphabet as its culminating point)
was abandoned and a better evaluation of pictographic systems became possible.

2 Genesis
We will direct our attention here to Mesoamerican pictography, as it was expressed in painted
screenfold books (codices) before and shortly after the Spanish invasion (1519 A.D.), i.e. the
late postclassic and early viceroyal periods.
Only a limited number of codices have survived, all painted in this relative short time-span
(Glass and Robertson: 1975). Other samples of this form of pictography are found in sculpture,
wall-paintings, decorated ceramics, incised bones and shells etc. Through these media its history
can be traced. Mesoamerican pictography as the Spanish invaders encountered it, was neither
a transitional stage in the development towards phonetic writing nor a result of decadence or
stagnation, but a highly successful end-product of a creative process of at least 1000 and maybe
even 3000 years. The first indications of a wide-spread system of signs and conventions can be
found already in the preclassic period, in Olmec art (1200-600 BC). In this system iconicrepresentations (images) coexisted with abstract, arbitrary signs (ideograms), which were to
become the two basic categories of later Mesoamerican sign-systems. In Olmec art, which is the
first clearly identifiable monumental art-style in Mesoamerica, we recognize also some of the
basic themes which remain important in subsequent civilisations: a) the commemoration of
rulers (Grove: 1981), b) the cult of divine powers ( Joralemon: 1976), and c) nahualism, i.e. the
human experience of also having an animal-identity (Khler: 1985). Among the conventions we
notice: the representation of objects and beings through the combination of the most
characteristic frontal and profile views (called a "multiplicity of visual positions" by Uspensky
1976), the indication of a person's name through hieroglyphic signs, incorporated in his figure
(e.g. on the head of the individual), the use of ideograms like speech-scrolls and of some signs
similar to the later Maya hieroglyphs (cf. Coe: 1976), the representation of rulers in a standing
position with ceremonial bars in their arms or seated on elaborated thrones, the identification
of the Gods through different face-markings, the combination of human and animal traits etc.



In the late preclassic period, e.g. in the Zapotec civilization of Monte Alban, this system is
further developed. The Mesoamerican calendar appears fully elaborated and provides a dating
mechanism for historiography and for ritual life. Abbreviations of actions in the form of "event
glyphs" can be recognized. Together with the signs for personal names, place-name signs also
appear (cf. Whittaker: 1980).
With the elaboration of both the iconographical conventions and the abbreviated and abstract
signs, we see the developmentand eventual separationof the two main Mesoamerican
semiotic traditions:
1. A pictographic tradition, which essentially communicates through iconic representation,
using ideograms for those units of information which are difficult to depict and reserving
hieroglyphs (i.e. signs which have primarily a phonetic value) for the names of places or persons.
Its fully developed manifestation can be seen in the classic Teotihuacan frescoes (Kubler: 1967;
Miller: 1973). Postclassic Toltec and Mixteca-Puebla art continues this tradition, producing the
pictographic codices of Mixtecs, Nahuas (Aztecs) and other peoples (cf. Nicholson: 1973; Smith
and Heath-Smith: 1980; Smith: 1983).
2. A tradition of hieroglyphic writing, which registers a phonetic text but often uses pictures
and iconography as both a source and a support or illustration. Probably the late preclassic and
classic Zapotecs used such a system, but it was elaborated most by the classic and postclassic
Mayas (cf. Kelley: 1976; Schele: 1986).
Pictography does not aim at fixing a spoken text with its specific phonetic details; it is
perfectly capable, however, of storing complex information. It is not words that are registered,
but the data are "formulated" directly through conventional images, which may be understood
without prior knowledge of the message. The systematic interpretation of the pictures produces
a text which coincides in content (but not necessarily in form!) with the original message. A
quick comparison with the above-mentioned quipus shows clearly that Mesoamerican
pictography is not to be seen as a mnemotechnical system.
Hieroglyphic writing, on the other hand, does register verbal expression and therefore
qualifies for the "classical" definition of writing. A Eurocentric, "logocentric" approach
would place this latter tradition on a higher rank in an evolutionary scheme. But it should be
pointed out here that both traditions evolved simultaneously and were in use for more than 1000
years, during which there were several intensive (commercial and military) contacts between the
peoples that practiced them.
Both systems had their advantages. While hieroglyphic writing was capable of preserving a
text just as it had been formulated, pictography was less esoteric and was capable of being used
between speakers of different languages. One becomes very conscious of this latter advantage
if one studies the difficulties of reducing a tonal language like Mixtec, with its sandhi perturbations of the tones, to alphabetic writing (Faraclas: 1983). It is also important to observe that
the difference between both systems is less radical than it may seem. Pictography is based on
a number of pictorial conventions which correspond closely to sets of idiomatic expressions and
also uses many abbreviated images with a fixed meaning, thereby considerably reducing the
variability of the reading.
Hieroglyphs, on the other hand, are not seldom derived from such abbreviated pictures. Most
hieroglyphic texts in Maya reliefs and codices are accompanied by pictorial scenes which express
at least part of the same information in a pictographic manner.



To illustrate this point we will compare some representations of similar events in the different
In postclassic Mixtec codices we find the "scattering of green dust" together with the
decapitation of a quail as part of a ceremonial salute to honour rulers, deceased ancestors and
Gods (fig. 4). Probably the green dust is ground piciete (nicotiana rustica, cf. Jansen: 1982, eh.
111:1). Some thousand years earlier we find a similar "scattering" ceremony, represented on
Teotihuacan frescoes and vessels: priests with their characteristic copal (incense) bag scatter or
pour libations of what might be piciete or seeds of some kind (Kubler: 1967, 10; Miller: 1973,
figs. 168-184, 235, 366). Generally, elaborated speech-scrolls accompany the action, probably
signifying hymns (fig. 2). It is interesting to note that in some cases the contents of these
hymnsthe shells and jade artifacts painted in the scrollsare scattered in libations of water
by the Water- and Rain Deities in other frescoes (Miller: 1973, figs. 301-314, 324-327),
suggesting that this is what the priests pray for: possibly the "precious stones of the Rain Gods"
stand for maize-cobs and prosperity. 4
In both casesMixtec codices and Teotihuacan frescoesthe representation is purely
pictographic and relatively easy to understand: the actor is painted in full, performing the most
representative part of the ceremony.
Likewise, classic Maya reliefs show rulers in priestly function performing such a "scattering"
act during period ending rituals: a purely pictographic representation. Again the identification
of the scattered material is a problem: it resembles drops of water, maize-kernels or sprinkled
blood (Schele: 1982, 180; 1986, 182ss.) and also the above-mentioned piciete (still used by the
Mayas today as a potent hallucinogen) (fig. 3).
Such a pictographic scene, however, is accompanied by a hieroglyphic text in typical Maya
fashion, in which the action is mentioned in the form of an "event glyph". The main sign of
this verb consists precisely of the picture of a scattering hand (T 170 in Thompson's catalog).
This root is preceded by a glyphic element in the form of a half moon, read w (T 1), which means
both "moon" and the prefix for the third person singular. Often still another glyphic element,
T 130, is added under the main sign.
Opinions differ as to the precise reading of this verbal form (T 1.710:130). Linda Schele
(1982, 83 and 287) proposes mal for the scattering hand, a root which in the Quiche and Tzeltal
Maya languages means "sprinkle" or "scatter" (cf. Kelley: 1976, 51-52) and wa for T 130.
Victoria Bricker (1981), following an observation of Eleuterio Poot, proposes a reading xaw
(Yucatec Maya: "to stir, to mix or to sift with a hand") for T 710:130 and compares the sign
with the open hand that represents the letter x in the famous "Maya alphabet" written down
by bishop Diego de Landa (cf. Durbin: 1969). The hieroglyphs do not solve the question of what
actually is scattered; on the contrary, the pictographic problem is reflected in the different
attempts at decipherment of the event glyph.
This discussion illustrates the different origins of Maya hieroglyphs. Quite a few, like the
"scattering hand" sign (T 170), are abbreviated iconic representations. Others are based on the
depictions of homonyms, like the third person singular prefix u. A third category is made up
of extremely stylized or arbitrary signs with just a specific phonetic value: T 130 seems to fit
in here.
The glyphs that occur in pictography are formed in a similar way. The place-name signs in
the Codex Mendoza (painted for the first viceroy, in native style with Spanish commentary) have
been the base for many studies of the Aztec writing system, ever since its first publication in



1625 by Samuel Purchas (de Laet: 1633, Kircher: 1652/54, Clavigero: 1780/81, Aubin: 1849,
Pefiafiel: 1885, Clark: 1938, Nowotny: 1959, Dibble: 1971). Here also we find abbreviated icons
and ideograms of which the phonetic reading is reinforced through phonetic indicators or
complements, based on homonyms. In fact, this hieroglyphic system was so well developed that
the continued use of pictography in the area has to be explained as a conscious preference and
not as a lack of capacity.
Both traditions, we conclude, are intimately related: though in a different way and degree, both
have pictorial and phonetic aspects. The interpretation, therefore, will essentially be an
iconological analysis which takes into account the native language.
3 Paradigm
The 16th Century was a time of conquest and destruction, but incidentally also of contact and
some direct dialogue between the intellectuals of both Mesoamerican and European cultures.
As a result, native pictographic manuscripts received commentaries either in the native
languages (written with the introduced alphabet) or in Spanish, like Codex Mendoza, Codex
Telleriano-Remensis and many others. These commentaries, together with other relevant
cultural and historical information written down shortly after the invasion, directly or indirectly
proceed from the experts who knew and used the system: now they constitute our most important key to the understanding of these works. These data, however, are far from complete, and
are often incoherent or even contradictory, due to mutual misunderstanding and European
impositions, so the key cannot be used without careful reasoning and anthropological-historical
After the period of initial contact, the colonial hierarchy was established and all dialogue
between civilizations was suppressed: the study of the precolonial past became the exclusive
privilege of European or colonial scholars, who generally limited themselves to archaeological
remains and archives. As a consequence, the codices were seen from an essentially antiquarian
and alien perspective: the "three stages" view of history and the cult of the Virgin of Guadalupe
(Boturini, 18th Century), the localisation of the lost tribes of Israel (Lord Kingsborough, 19th
Century), Mexican mestizo nationalism (from Clavigero till today), astral mythology (Eduard
Seier, early 20th Century) or the modern nomothetic analysis of human mind and behaviour. 5
Because of the colonial pressure the great tradition of codex-painting had come to an end in
the early 17th Century and was replaced by alphabetic writing: numerous documents in the
Indian languages were produced. The manuscripts that have survived in archives and libraries
testify that during the viceroyal period writing was a common practice for many Indians.
The Spanish clergy used the native tongues for evangelization and published catechisms,
grammars and dictionaries, while the Spanish administration appointed official interpreters in
the courts of justice, thereby recognizing the official status of the indigenous languages, though
in a limited and hostile context. Since the beginning of the republican period an integrationist
ideology has prevailed, which pursues hispanization even more and represses Indian literacy in
the schools, in the text-books and in the media.
Through the ages, our discipline has gained in precision, scientific structure and documentary



bases, but, we have to recognize, it has moved away from the Indians themselves. A major
improvement, and at the same time a change in our outlook and paradigm, will be the result
of bridging the gap between the Indian heritage and the Indian peoples.
This situation constitutes one of the main differences between the study of Mesoamerican
iconography and European art-history: the latter has a huge amount of written sources and of
scholars who share the culture they analyze. In Mesoamerica there relatively few informative
sources and the scholars are foreign to the world they study.
On the other hand, the disruption in forms did not mean a total disruption in content: the
ancient pictography was discontinued but many cultural elements and structures from
precolonial times are preserved in traditional Indian communities. Through the colonization
process the significance and even the presence of such traits and customs may have become
obscure to the native Americans themselves: they may need to study their own culture
methodically and consciously in order to rediscover and understand it fully. But, obviously, it
is always their own cultural tradition, more intimate, more transparent and more significant
than it could possibly be for outsiders.
This cultural continuity has a very important potential for the interpretation of the
precolonial past: it can supplement the fragmentary historical sources, correct the Eurocentric
distortion, explain the meaning and function of both material items and religious concepts etc.
An optimal use of this potential calls not only for much more ethnography but also for the
preparation and full participation of the culture-carriers themselves.
This perspective is known as the direct historical approach or the continuous model in ethnoarchaeology (cf. Stiles: 1977, Hodder: 1982). Precisely because of the cultural continuity in the
region and the consequent importance of ethnographic data for any interpretative effort,
precolumbian archaeology has to be ethno-archaeology and native American history has to be
ethnohistory. For the study of the Indian images and signs we may use the analogous term
ethno-iconology, in order to make explicit its special characteristics:
a) In dealing with this culture we have to be aware of a dominant colonial perspective and
Eurocentric distortions.
b) Modern ethnographic information is an indispensable asset for the amplification and
clarification of archaeological and historical data.
c) In order to obtain and apply this ethnographic information not only specific fieldwork
(generated for such an interpretative purpose) is necessary, but also the full and equal participation of the native Americans themselves.
d) The research is inserted in a contemporary social struggle, which makes it impossible for
the investigator to remain a neutral observer.
Cultural continuity by no means justifies an easy projection of data into the past. Disjunction
can be an important obstacle. Originally used by Erwin Panofsky in his discussions of European
art, this term was introduced into Mesoamerican studies by George Kubler (1967, 1972) in order
to indicate the interruption of a representational code, due to historical and/or social processes,
to the effect that the same forms or iconographie schemes may be used in different periods to
express different contents and messages, determined by subsequent cultures or successive phases
of the same culture.
Kubler criticized the common use of Aztec terminology for iconographie entities in earlier



... with successive cultures spanning a duration on the order of about one thousand years in the same region,
such as western Europe or Mesoamerica, we may expect to observe disjunctions of form and meaning more often
than marked continuity in their association. As Orpheus and the Good Shepherd displayed different meanings
in similar representations, so we may expect representations of the feathered serpent and Quetzalcoatl to display
meanings at least as different across more than one thousand years in Mexico (1967, 12).

Disjunction refers to the realm of form, and should not be confused with cultural discontinuity,
which means the end of a co-tradition. Such a confusion, however, often occurs, specially in
the thinking about the incision caused by the Spanish invasion:
If we rely on these enhnohistories or, worse, modern ethnographies to interpret Andean iconographie motifs,
we run the risk of disjunction or of descendants having forgotten what a motif originally represented (CordyCollins: 1977, 421).

This "risk" should not mean that we are free to disregard a priori all information which is later
than the investigated period! Quite the contrary, it obliges the iconologist to pay much attention
to historical and social processes and to "map" systematically the changes that affected the
Continuity always implies development and change; it does not stand for a "fossilization"
of society, in which everything remains the same, but simply for a strong diachronic affiliation.
By scrutinizing the processes of modification, it becomes possible to discover in which way a
specific cultural phase is related to its antecedent and which traits, practices or concepts may
have been present at an earlier time. The comparison of the present and the past should take
into account both tradition and transformation and should not be based on isolated elements
but on structured, coherent and meaningful clusters of data.
This principle has been clearly formulated by Henry B. Nicholson (1976, 171) in his detailed
review of the disjunction problem:
"It is largely through discerning significant associations, then, that reasonable explanatory hypotheses concerning the significance of iconographie elements can be achieved on whatever time level. The application of
the direct historical approach often provides solid points of departure from which to work back, again, as
Steward originally expressed it, merely applying the elementary logic of proceeding from the known to the
unknown If the elements themselves are similar and occur in similar clusters then the likelihood of retention
of similar meanings over time seems greatly increased."

Kubler himself (1973, 165-166) concurs, be it from another angle:

By examining the iconographie repertory for a given period, it is possible to ascertain the approximate limits
of the vocabulary, and the kinds of combination that were performed. If we then examine the repertory used
in the same region a thousand years later, some striking changes inmediately appear, changes relating to new
and old forms, and meanings, like those analyzed by Panofsky in his studies of the survival and transformation
of classical imagery during the Middle Ages. After such an analysis it may be possible to use ethnological
analogies with reasonable control. We might be able to draw the remote past toward the present with some
understanding of the preferential expressions of the remote past, instead of imposing present or recent patterns
upon the remote past without soliciting that past to its preferences.

Although both Kubler and Nicholson refer to the question of disjunction within the precolonial
period, their statements are also valid for the study of the Mesoamerican co-tradition as a
whole. In fact, both describe here a central issue of the ethno-archaeological method, succintly
formulated by Stiles (1977, 94-95):
In the ethnographic analogy a specific set of ethnographic data is compared to an analogous set of archaeological
data. To determine what ethnographic data might be applicable in a specified situation one should first formally
describe the physical characteristics of the archaeological material in question. A potential ethnographic analogy
is then recognised and an examination is made of the physical properties of this phenomenon which are
analogous to the archaeological data. The degree to which the two sets of properties agree determines the probability of the activity which resulted in the archaeologically observed data being analogous to the ethnographic-ally


observed activity. The degree of probability varies also with the number of features shared in common of the
time and space correlates of the two sets of data.

We have presented these citations because of their methodological relevance and the crucial
importance of the continuity concept to our ethno-iconological perspective. Disjunction should
be investigated (a posteriori) and not used as an aprioristic theoretical impediment. The question will be further clarified when we examine the successive levels of the ethno-iconological
analysis (below): the problem of disjunction belongs to the first level, i.e. the recognition of
forms, but vanishes on the second level, when it comes to the study of themes. The main consequences of cultural continuity, on the other hand, concern precisely the thematic approach
to native American art.
Unfortunately, the existing divorce between the disciplines tends to divide and to obscure our
perception of the co-tradition as a unity: the precolonial period becomes the hunting ground
of archaeologists, art- and ethno-historians, while the modern indigenous society is considered
the laboratory of anthropologists and sociologists. It is common to find chronological tables
of subjects like "the Maya in world history" (Schele: 1986, 12-13) ending with the Conquista,
more than 450 years ago, as if we did not have millions of Maya fellow-men today!
Of course, we may distinguish between different forms and degrees of cultural continuity.
Before the Spanish invasion the Americas show autonomous traditions, unbroken lines of
development according to internal mechanisms and possibilities. 6 The imposition of an alien
system had a disruptive effect on these traditions. Many peoples were annihilated. After such
genocide continuity in the region can only be indirect, i.e. carried on by another ethnic group
that participated in the same culture-area. But also in the cases of a direct cultural continuity
(i.e. among the same ethnic/linguistic group) new elements were introduced, which reformed
technology, economy and ideology.
Often these changes are thoughtlessly described as an act of "decapitation" (e.g. Aguirre
Beltrn: 1970, 20ss.): a most unfortunate term as it suggests that the precolonial elite was
exterminated and that this meant the death of the Indian cultures. Culture, however, is not the
exclusive creation of an intellectual or political elite, but is shared by the different sectors of
society, that constitute an intercommunicating system.
Moreover, the Mesoamerican elite was not totally wiped out: many merged, in part with the
new, European elite, in part with the "common people". Mesoamerican culture survived in
limited areas and under permanent pressure: it is not a case of "decapitation", but of reduction,
of translation (of its own terms into those of the colonial oppressors) and of syncretism. This
explains the continuous presence of both "non-elite" and "elite" elements and structures (see
e.g. Durand-Forest: 1966/1967; Hunt: 1977; Leyenaar: 1978; Tedlock: 1982; Jansen: 1982).
This situation makes it possible for the investigator to move beyond an analogical reasoning,
based on formal similarities. Specific topics and problems of content can be examined as such,
in their diverse manifestations through the ages. The present-day Gods of the traditional Indian
communities are not just analogous to the precolonial deities: they are the same, though
modified by time.
4.0 Analysis
As pictography is composed of visual images, its interpretation can be described as an
iconological exercise, following more or less the same method as that defined for the study of



European art by Erwin Panofsky (reprinted in Kaemmerling: 1979). This well known model
distinguishes three levels of interpretation. For our purpose it may be compared with Roland
Bathes' model of superposed semiotic orders or systems, in which "that which had the status
of a sign (i.e. the 'associative total' of signifier and signified) in the first system becomes a mere
signifier in the second" (Hawkes: 1977, 131).
Rephrasing Panofsky, we can divide the ethno-iconological interpretative process into
distinct, interrelated levels and connecting articulations.

4.1 Forms
The first level is that of identifying which object, phenomenon or being (the signified) is
expressed by the graphic form (the signifier). This identification is based on a combination of
detailed observation with knowledge of the style, the pictorial conventions (code) and the
properties attributed to the object by the culture in question (cf. Eco: 1978, 345ss.).
Here the glosses and comments made in the early viceroyal period, written in Spanish or in
the native American languages (mainly Nahuatl) with the Spanish alphabet, the "pictographic
dictionaries" (Nowotny: 1959; Prem: 1974) are our basic tool to identify the images and
ideograms of ancient Mexican pictography.
On this level we interprte certain pictures as mountains, plants, animals, stars, humans,
gods, decorative motifs etc. Diagnostic attributes permit the identification of historical or
mythological personages. Rulers in the codices can be recognized by their calendrical name (the
day on which they were born) and their more poetical personal name: Lord 8 Deer "Jaguar
Sets of face-paintings and other attributes serve to characterize the Mesoamerican Gods: jade
rings around the eyes and large teeth identify the Rain God (Tlaloc in Nahuatl).
Again, the chronicles of the 16th Century provide us with detailed information about such
cultural traits: the Franciscan friar Bernardino de Sahagn, for example, describes the typical
features and attire of the Aztec Gods in the first book of his encyclopedic work (cf. also
Nicholson: 1971).
Modern Indian culture can often supply additional information about the configuration of
material items, customs and the conceptual world. Notwithstanding the loose relationship
between pictography and the spoken word, idiomatic expressions in the indian languages may
throw light upon otherwise obscure representations and combinations.
Between the first and the second levels of interpretation we distinguish a connecting step, or
articulation, not concerned with the relation between signifier and signified, but with the context
in which the signifiers are presented and its implications for the analysis of the second level.
An important question here is the general context, the genre of the pictures. This is a crucial
step in the interpretation, but, paradoxically, it often does not receive much consideration, as
the investigator usually starts out with clear previous notions in this respect and situates the
research within an already given conceptual framework or paradigm.
Obviously, an identical element can have very different meanings in different genres. The
feline traits of personages in Olmec art, for example, seem to be related to nahualism: a jaguar
as alter ego implies strength and courage for the individual. But in the "Language of Zuyua"
(a set of metaphors and riddles, used by the postclassic Maya elite) we find "a green jaguar that
drinks the blood of the sun" as a metaphor for ... a green pepper, served together with a fried



egg (Roys: 1967; Jansen: 1985). Applying such a statement from the sources to the preclassic
sculptures, disregarding the difference in genre, would result in a culinary interpretation of
Olmec art!
In order to determine the genre of a certain work we can often resort to earlier research and
to independent evidence. The archaeological context, for example, may indicate that some
vessels or sculptures are "funerary", others "ceremonial", "elite" etc. In the case of the
codices the genre was established through comparisons with other manuscripts. Codex
Telleriano-Remensis and Codex Vaticanus A were created in the second half of the 16th Century
(cf. Jansen: 1984) and contain both religious and historical scenes, clearly identified as such by
glosses and comments. The parallels between the patron-deities of the 260 day cycle in Vaticanus
A and those in the precolonial Codex Borgia were already recognized by Jos Lino Fbrega at
the end of the 18th Century and used as a basis for his Borgia commentary.
At the end of the 19th Century Eduard Seier, the German scholar who laid the foundation
for the scientific study of ancient Mesoamerican iconography, recognized the parallels between
Codex Borgia and several other precolonial codices and was able to define a "Borgia Group".
Seler worked within a now obsolete astral paradigm. Karl Anton Nowotny (1961) corrected this
view and provided a new methodological approach: as the Borgia Group deals primarily with
religious mattersGods, rituals and mantic i.e. divinatory symbolismwhich are structured
according to the Mesoamerican calendar, with its many temporal-spatial divisions, Nowotny
elaborated a holistic interpretative model based precisely on the calendrical order.
The genre of another important group of codices (called the "Vindobonensis Group" by
Seler) was not well defined until the Mexican archaeologist Alfonso Caso (1949) was able to
relate them to the 1580 Map of Teozacualco, which demonstrated their subject matter to be the
genealogical history of the rulers of different Mixtec cacicazgos (principalities) in the centuries
before the Spanish invasion.
Since Caso's discovery, it has become common to refer to the Vindobonensis Group as
"Mixtec, historical codices", in contrast to the religious Borgia Group, of which the origin is
unknown (with the exception of the Codex Porfirio Diaz, which is Cuicatec). Actually, this
differentiation is not exact, as the Vindobonensis Group also contains references to religion,
mainly depictions of rituals. It would be more precise to describe the contents of the
Vindobonensis Group as descriptive (it presents myths and rituals as part of a narrative
sequence) and those of the Borgia group as prescriptive (its purpose being divination and ritual
The difference between the two groups, then, is one of genre, not of ethnic background. This
insight has its consequences for the discussion about the provenience of the members of the
Borgia Group. When the contents of the codices are compared in more detail, differences due
to genre can not be used to claim a non-Mixtec origin for the Borgia Group. It has been
observed, for example, that in the latter group a much higher percentage of the women are
depicted with bare breasts than in Vindobonensis and other Mixtec codices (Anawalt: 1981). But
the most probable reason for this difference is that these women in the Borgia Group are
Goddesses whose motherhood- and fertility-aspects are stressed, while the women in the
Vindobonensis Group are Mixtec ladies, founders of dynasties and rulers of cacicazgos, dressed
in their customary fashion.
Supposedly, the ancient Mixtecs also has their mantic and ritual prescriptive books, which,
if preserved, would now be part of the Borgia Group. In fact, one or more codices of this group



actually may be Mixtec. The discussion has been clouded by an emphasis on style and formal
aspects, with scant regard for the question of genre and contents.'
In other cases, when such definitive information is still lacking, the genre of a work is postulated
as a working hypothesis (generally as an impression based on a number of details and an overview) and, naturally, functions as such until another hypothesis can be found which can explain
the different elements in a more coherent and complete way.
We also have to direct ourselves to the question of what might be called the genre of the sign
itself, by drawing up an inventory of the possible modes of significationthe possible ways in
which the signifier is related to the signifiedthat may exist in the representational code under
Applying elementary semiotic theory to Mesoamerican pictography we can make the following basic distinctions:
1. In the iconic mode the relation signifier-signified is direct, based on visual resemblance:
a drawing of a flag signifies just a flag, a drawing of a house just a house etc.
2. In the indexical mode the relation signifier-signified is metonymical ("concrete, actual and
usually of a sequential, causal kind", Hawkes: 1977, 129). The signifier is only part of a more
complex whole to which it refers. Flags are used in human sacrifice, so a flag in the hand of
a person can indicate that he is going to be sacrified (cf. Codex Seiden 8-111), In the same way
a flag can be an index of the Aztec feast Panquetzaliztli, "Rising of the banners" (cf. Codex
Vaticanus A 49v, 87r). A temple carried on the back indicates the cult of which the bearer is
in charge (cf. Codex Nuttall 18, 19, 21). A temple on fire indicates the conquest of a town (cf.
Codex Mendoza passim, fig. 6) etc.
3. In the symbolic mode the relation signifier-signified is arbitrary, metaphorical or based on
an intellectual structure of oppositions. The flag in the Aztec numerical system represents the
number 20 (Codex Mendoza passim, fig. 7). A temple can stand for "good", in opposition with
the cross-roads ("bad") and nature ("indifferent") (cf. Nowotny: 1961, 219; Jansen: 1982,
eh. 1:11).
4. For reasons of practical convenience we distinguish as a special category the glyphic mode,
in which the relation signifier-signified is based on the language: the signified is a name, a
phonetic unit. Various categories of hieroglyphs can be distinguished:
a) logograms, in which name and object coincide (whether in an iconic, indexical or symbolic
way). In Nahuatl "flag" is pantli and "house" is calli. As such the drawings of a flag and a
house are part of place-name hieroglyphs like Pan-tepee ("on the mountain of the flags") and
Cal-tepec ("on the mountain of the houses") respectively (cf. Codex Mendoza 16, fig. 6).
b) phonetic writing, in which only the phonetic aspect, the name is relevant, without regard
for the object as such. A flag can represent the Nahuatl locative suffix -pan (e.g. Hueyapan,
"place of the big water", Codex Mendoza 16). After the Spanish invasion this flag, pantli,
together with nochtli ("cactus") was used to write "pater noster" and the house, calli, formed
part of the hieroglyph of Santa Cala (Santa Clara) (cf. Galarza: 1967).
c) semantic determinants, in which only the semantic value is used, to specify the category
of another signifier. A house or a mountain, for example, may occur in a place-name hieroglyph
just to indicate the toponymical character of the sign, without forming part of the name
expressed: Teticpac ("on the stones") is painted as a house on a stone (Codex Mendoza 44).
Cempoala ("place of twenty") is painted as a mountain with a human head, adorned in what



apparently was the typical way of the inhabitants of this village (Codex Mendoza 21v, fig. 7):
notice how confusion with Pantepec is avoided by writing actually "place (semantic determinant) of the Cempoala-people (iconic logogram)".
d) dates: the calendrical signs are a special case. By nature they are symbols ("House" does
not represent a house but a day of that name) but at the same time they have a specific,
unequivocal phonetic value. The Mixtecs even used a special calendrical vocabulary for the thirteen numbers and for the twenty signs (Smith: 1973, 23ss.).
The glyphic mode is most frequently used in place-name and personal-name signs, but is by no
means limited to these. An example of the interference of a homonym with a picture is the
speech-scroll which consists of dots in the Mixtec codices (Becker I 7-III; Bodley 28-IV/III). The
dots may represent ashes, yaa in Mixtec, and function as a phonetic complement, indicating that
the speech-scroll should be understood as "song", also yaa in Mixtec (fig. 5). Another case is
the use of a series of individuals as semantic determinants for the enumeration of qualities or
attributes of one individual (Codex Vindobonensis 48, fig. 8, cf. Jansen: 1982, 140ss.). In such
scenes also well known figures of speech may be detected, like metaphors or parallellism
(difrasismo, cf. Garibay: 1971 I, 17ss.; Edmonson: 1978). In Codex Vindobonensis p. 34 several
parallels are used to describe the qualities of the primordial beings: these are lying on the roads
and along the irrigation canals (represented as two blue bands bordering a strip of land) (fig. 9).
In the Mixtec reading nuu ichi, nuu sichi we even discover rhyme. 8
Such sequences of pictures, which actually are meant to be read as. litanies, as well as the
mantic scenes, which situate all signs on a symbolic plane, show that the different modes of
signification are not only often interconnected but may also operate simultaneously, thereby
creating very complex combinations. A rough grouping as given here, however, seems sufficient
for practical use.
Another part of the articulation between the first and the second interpretative levels is the
examination of the associations between the signs and between the scenes. With Roland Barthes
(1971, 61ss.) we may distinguish syntagmatic relations (mutual relationships, clustering,
connection-patterns of the signifiers) and paradigmatic relations (equivalences, substitution and
interchangeability of the signifiers). Through these we gain insight into the structure of
combinations and permutations that affects objects and beings, resulting in a narrative, mantic
or otherwise meaningful sequence.
Adapting Barthes' own examples we might say that a syntagmatic relation exists between the
face-painting, dress and other attributes of a specific deity and that a paradigmatic relation
exists between the different types of face-paintings that occur with different deities. Between all
the actions of an individual's biography there is a syntagmatic relation, and between the
different individuals that are shown to perform one specific action there is a paradigmatic
relation. History is syntagmatic, ritual and divination are paradigmatic.
4.2 Themes
After the descriptive analysis and a first systematization of what is depicted, the second level
of interpretation consists of trying to discover what the scene could have meant to the original
public. The pictures, therefore, have to be related to other information about the same culture



and, more specifically, about the topic with which the scene deals. Just as in the comparison
of past and present, discussed above, significant associations play an important role here. Such
an analysis, based on the systematic comparison of coherent clusters of data, is called a thematic
approach."* The themes, discovered in the pictures as patterns of syntagmatic and/or
paradigmatic relations, are to be compared with similar themes or clusters found in our frame
of reference (i.e. the total information available about the culture in question).
Themes are an analytical tool. They are defined for an interpretative purpose, and can be as
small and limited, or as extensive and abstract as seems convenient. It is crucial, however, to
remain within the genre and to use coherent, structured units of information, not isolated
elements. As the clusters of data are more coherent and the correspondences between the
pictures and the frame of reference more complete and logical, the comparison will be more
Hands and hearts, for example, occur with a decorative function in postclassic centralMexican pictures, as on the frescoes of Tizatlan (Caso: 1927) (fig. 10), on polychrome vessels,
and as necklaces of earth-monsters and related deities, like the famous Aztec statue called
Coatlicue in the Mexican National Museum of Anthropology (Pasztory: 1983, 157-160) and the
Tzitzimitl in Codex Magliabechiano p. 76 (fig. 11). The 16th Century Dominican friar Diego
Durn (1967 I, 280) explains such a decoration as a prayer-formula in his description of the
Huey Pachtli fiest:
"Bailaban en este dia un halle solemnisimo, todos vestidos de alhas pintadas muy galanas, hasta los pies;
pintadas y labradas con unos corazones y paltnas de manos ahiertas, cifra que daha a entender que con las manos
y el cora/n pedian buena cosecha, por ser ya tiempo de ella".

From here to the association with blood-letting aftd human sacrifice (represented by maguey
spines, skulls and other signs in the different pictures) is just one step in the ancient
Mesoamerican cosmovision (cf. Fernandez: 1954).
A clear example of the importance of defining clusters is the identification of place-name
hieroglyphs in the Mixtec codices (Smith: 1973; Jansen: 1982). The toponyms are so often
repeated in actual geography that it is easy to propose places to which a specific hieroglyph may
refer. There are indeed those who just because of the picture of a sun on a page of a codex decide
that the associated actions took place ... on the Pyramid of the Sun in Teotihuacan! Obviously,
such intuitive suggestions, based on isolated elements, do not take us anywhere. Instead, one
has to form a coherent cluster of data on the base of associations of the hieroglyph with other
place-name signs and/or personages, and then demonstrate a sensible correspondence of this
cluster to geography (a series of neighbouring towns) and/or history (the associated personages
being known as rulers of a town with such a name).
The frame of reference consists not only of geographical and historical data, but also of
archaeological, linguistic, anthropological, biological and other possibly relevant information
about the culture-area in question (Mesoamerica), as well as pertinent general theoreticalmethodological insights. Much of the frame has to be built up independently of the iconological
analysis, as it is not possible to predict the relevance that certain pieces of information may turn
out to have for solving the problems that occur during the interpretative process. A holistic
approach is advocated here: in order to interpret correctly a work of art or an act of communication our knowledge of the culture which produced them needs to be as complete as possible,
knowledge both from the outside (etic) and from the inside (emic), i.e. proceeding from objec-



live analysis as well as from experience and participation (cf. Sturtevant: 1964; Feleppa: 1986).
The themes express the way people think about life and cosmos, deal with nature and society,
create objectives, values, signs. Cultural continuity, therefore, implies the preservation of many
themes, though in a number of cases modified under colonial pressure (reduction/syncretism)
and represented in other forms (disjunction). In the Americas the traditional concepts and
customs of the indigenous communities, indeed, contain many precolonial themes: that is
precisely why they are so fundamental to Indian identity and so violently persecuted by the
neocolonial ruling classes. The study of these themes and of the processes that affect Indian
society is essential to any interpretation of the American past.
Themes hardly ever stand on their own. Both their internal cohesion (the reasons for a particular
clustering) and their interconnections have to be explained by the frame of reference. The use
of non-durational time is based on a complex philosophy. The marriages of the rulers reflect
kinship and alliance-policies. Myth and ritual can often be analysed in terms of structures which
will also be present elsewhere in the same culture: "The number and ordering of iconographie
elements in a particular concrete expression of a religious system may also reflect the organization of the functioning social units of a society or of the contrasting units in various other
domains of culture" (Lathrap: 1977, 337-338).
For a better understanding of the themes it is necessary to place them in their social,
ideological, historical and/or ecological context and to discover the correlative facts, processes
and patterns in these realms. This activity we see as the articulation between the second and the
third interpretative level. As an example of the relevance of such contextual information we cite
the status of the ancient Mixtec rulers, early colonial sources mention that the lords and ladies
were called iya and iyadzehe respectively. Nowadays we can check the semantic fields of these
titles in living Mixtec: they turn out to be limited to divine personages (the Mixtec Gods as well
as the Christian Saints and Trinity). Applying this knowledge in reading the biographies of the
ancient caciques, we become aware of their mythic dimension: they are not just genealogies and
sequences of events, they constitute a holy history. This explains why the rulers may have divine
names and attributes (Lord 5 Alligator "Rain GodSun" etc.). Mythical origins legitimized the
power of the royal lineages and emphasized the intimate connection of the rulers with the land:
the founders of the dynasties are shown to be born from trees, rivers or the earth.
So a different perspective emerges from the use of the original Mixtec terminology: the
historical codices obtain a religious value, comparable to that of the biblical history for Jews
and Christians. What a contrast with the etic designation of the depicted protagonists through
the signs cr and 9 before their name, as is the custom in many publications!
Again we observe how the difference between the Borgia Group and the Vindobonensis
Group cannot be adequately described in terms of religious vs. (secular) historical contents. In
fact, such an opposition seems alien to Mesoamerica.
Sometimes it is possible to correlate the structure of the theme with similar structured units elsewhere in the culture, even when the subject matter of the theme itself remains obscure because
of insufficient information (cf. Zuidema: 1972; Leone: 1982). One must be careful, however,
not to lapse into anagrammatic or numerological games, venturing fancy interpretations based
on the reduction or conversion of pictorial elements to numbers. Nearly all numbers have some
symbolic significance in Mesoamerica, and in nearly all representations some basic structures



and oppositions can be found. Once one starts counting and reshuffling the elements, disregarding the contents of the themes themselves, one can construct "proofs" for almost
anything, from occult astronomy to transpacific contacts (cf. Mundkur: 1978).
This second articulation, in sum, does for the themes what the first did for the signs: it
establishes their genre and context, and it systematizes their structural elements.
4.3 Values
The third interpretative level is the concluding synthesis and evaluation of the results of the
earlier levels and articulations. The questions to be answered here are of a general and often
even philosophical nature, in order to explain why this specific work with this specific message
was created in such and such a time and place, and in order to analyse the contents and
significance of that message from our present-day viewpoint. Here our own judgements
intervene, as to quality standards, causes of historical and social processes, relevance of
ideological statements, basic structures of human behaviour and thinking etc.
In other words, the signifieds of the investigated culture on this level become the interrogations of the world in which we live: they are not to be isolated as curious antiquities or sterile
esthetics but are to be related to the important scientific and human questions of our days, with
all their educative, political and ethical dimensions.
The ancient art is a testimony of an autonomous phase of development of a civilization that
today is still oppressed and colonized: a reality which is still sometimes forgotten in the ivory
tower of academic pride. For the Indian movements the recuperation of the cultural heritage
is inseparable from the social struggle, but access to and participation in the research is often
withheld from them. Human rights, decolonization and non-destructive development are a
common responsability of all. For the investigator of the Indian world it means an urge to
support and collaborate with indigenous movements, both in scientific work and in personal
attitude. The realization of a true Indian bilingual-bicultural education, designed and directed
by the Indians themselves (cf. the projects of the Alianza de Profesionales Indigenas Bilingues
A.C.) would be a first step.
Ackno wledgemen ts
This paper is the outcome of lengthy discussions with Ferdinand Anders, Aurora Pre?, and Peter Van der Loo. Anders
(1976) used the ethno-iconological approach with success in his studies of the San Pablito muflecos and their precolumbian origins. This approach was then further applied to the localization of place-names that appear as hieroglyphs in
the Mixtec codices (Jansen/Anders: 1976; Jansen: 1982). Perez added an important dimension to this research through
decipherments based on a direct reading of scenes from these codices in Mixtec (Jansen/Prez: 1983, 1986) and through
her statements on the colonial character of the studies of native American cultures and the need to change the perspective of these studies in order to make them useful for real Indian bilingual-bicultural education (Prez/Jansen: 1979;
Perez: 1981, 1984). Van der Loo elaborated the method by putting it to a systematic use in his research on the Borgia
Group, with enlightening results (1980, 1982a, 1982b, 1983, 1986).

l Antonio de Calancha (1:14) describes in clarifying detail such indicators and the possibilities of the quipu for
registering history (see also Locke: 1923). Visual symbolism is further mentioned in a passage of the colonial-mcaic
drama O/lanla (111:3): "In this quipu there is charcoal: Ollanta is already burned. In this quipu there are three times
five knots: Antisuyu is already taken, it is already in your hand, Inca. That is the meaning of these fivehold knots:
three times five means all" ( Jansen/Bolman: 1984, 63). A fivefold knot indeed resembles a fist.



2 Archaeologists and anthropologists use the term Mesoamerica for a culture area and a co-tradition: "Geographically
it includes Mexico south of the Pnuco-Lerma drainage, Guatemala, Salvador, British Honduras, and western
Honduras to an approximate boundary formed by the Ula River and Lake Yojoa. The area is one of enormous
geographical variability. At the time of the Conquest it was occupied by a great number of linguistic and ethnic
groups, and displayed striking regionalism in cultural characteristics; yet in spite of the diversity, all these component groups participated in a single great tradition" (Sanders/Price: 1968, 6-7). See for a general overview also
Miller: 1986. The chronology is broadly subdivided in a lithic and archaic period (till 2500 BC- 300 AD), classic
(300-900 AD), postclassic (900-1521 AD), viceroyal (1521-1821) and a republican period (1821 u n t i l now).
For a preliminary classification of the non-Maya writing systems in the area, see Prem: 1973.
3 For a critical evaluation of the bias of Gelb (1952) and others, see Perez/Jansen: 1979, 93 and Whittaker: 1980,
2-17. Brotherston (1985) analyses the ideas of Lvi-Strauss and Dcrrida in this respect.
4 This metaphor is known from Toltec (postclassic) history, cf. Jansen: 1985, 5.
5 For general studies on the history of the discipline, see Keen: 1971; Lafaye: 1974; Bernai: 1979. As Kduard Seler
was one of the founders of the iconological analysis of ancient American art, his astral interpretationsthough now
obsolete (cf. Dorson: 1955)still influence modern studies. Even a recent introduction to Mesoamerican art echoes
Selers view on Codex Borgia: "The Venus pages in the center of the manuscript contain the travels of Quct/alcoatl
in the underworld" (Miller: 1986, 225).
6 This is Gordon Willey's mayor point of criticism against Kubler's use of the disjunction concept: "I believe that
the pre-Columbian Mesoamerican ideological system did have an internal integrity and coherence and that t h i s
condition was relatively stable and, perhaps, as Coe maintains, can be pushed as far back in time as the Olmec.
1 would argue that Kubler's parallel of Hellenistic Palmyra and Arab texts, on the one hand, and Teotihuacan and
Aztec ritual, on the other, is not an apt one. I would see Mesoamerica, even across the Classic-to-Postclassic transition, as much more self-contained within unified cultural traditional boundaries than the eastern Mediterranean
from Hellenistic to Muslim times" (Willey: 1973, 160).
7 The provenience of the Borgia Group was also a topic of the Dumbarton Oaks summer seminar of 1982. A list of
correspondences between this group and the Mixtec codices was presented there by the prcscnl author (summanml
by Sisson: 1983). The purpose of this list, however, is not to argue a Mixtec origin of the Borgia Group codices
but to oppose an uncritical attribution of that group to Cholula. In fact, one should be sceptical of the scientific
value of the diverse speculations that until now have been made about their origin. The problem is that MixtecaPuebla style was not limited to one or two ethnic groups but a was an "international" horizon style, spread over
most of postclassic Mesoamerica. The codices themselves must have been a central factor in the formation and
distribution of this style. Comparisons between codices and .ceramics or frescoes, therefore, are not conclusive. A
look at mediaeval Europe makes us reali/e that the books travelled, as did the painters, that the important codex
painting schools need not have been correlated with centres of political power nor with centres of other artistic
production, and that differences in painting style do not express geographical distances. The few precolonial codices
preserved are much too small a sample to reconstruct this complex situation.
8 It is interesting to note that several difrasisnws occur in both Nahuatl and Mixtec: water and fire (all tlachinolli
and nduta ndecu respectively) for "war" (cf. Codex Borgia 69), water and mountain (in all in tepell and yucu nduta
respectively) for "city" (cf. Codex Vindobonensis 52).
9 Instructive examples of how a theme is discovered and described are given by Kubler (1969), Nicholson (1971, 1973),
Donnan (1978) and Van der Loo (1986).

G. Aguirre Beltrn
1970 El Proceso de Aculturacin en Mexico. Mexico.
Alianza de Profesionales Indigenas Bilingues A.C.
1980 Los Indigenas y su Politica Educativa. Ixmiquilpan.
P. Anawalt
1981 Costume Analysis and the Provenience of the Borgia Group Codices. In: American Antiquity 46:4, 837-852.
F. Anders
1976 Mexikanische Zauberfiguren (Ausstellungskatalog). Wien.
J. M. A. Aubin
1849 Mmoire sur la peinture didactique et l'criture figurative des anciens Mexicains. Paris.
G. Balandier
1973 Teoria de la Descolonizacin, Las dinmicas sociales (Spanish translation of Sens et Puissance. Paris 1971).
Buenos Aires.
R. Barthes
1971 Elementos de Semiologia (Spanish translation of Elements de Smiologie. Paris 1964). Madrid.



I. Bernai
1979 Historia de la Arqueologia en Mxico. Mexico.
V. R. Bricker
1981 Las ceremonias de aflo nuevo en los monumentos clsicos mayas (paper presented at the XVII Mesa Redonda
of the Sociedad Mexicana de Antropologia. San Cristobal de las Casas).
G. Brotherston
1985 Towards a grammatology of America: Lvi-Strauss, Derrida, and the native new world text. In: Europe and
its others, edited by F. Barker, P. Hulme, M. Iversen and D. Loxley, vol. II, 61-77, Colchester.
A. de la Calancha
1638 Cornica Moralizada del Orden de San Agustin en el Peru. Barcelona.
A. Caso
1927 Las ruinas de Tizatlan, Tlaxcala. In: Revista Mexicana de Estudios Histricos 1:4, 139-172.
1949 El Mapa de Teozacoalco. In: Cuadernos Americanos VII1:5, 145-181.
J. C. Clark
1938 Codex Mendoza (3 vols.). London.
F. J. Clavigero
1780/81 Storia antica del Messico (4 vols.). Cesena.
Codex Becker I/II
1961 Edition and commentary by K. A. Nowotny. Graz.
Codex Bodley 2858
1960 Edition and commentary by A. Caso. Mxico.
Codex Borgia
1976 Edition and commentary by K. A. Nowotny. Graz.
Codex Magliabechiano (CL. XIII.3, B.R. 232)
1970 Edition and commentary by F. Anders. Graz.
Codex Mendoza see Clark 1938.
Codex Nuttall
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List of Illustrations
\. Ancient Peruvian quipu. Rijksmuseum voor Volkenkunde, Leiden: RMV 3344-1.
2. The scattering rite performed by a singing priest. Classic Teotihuacan fresco. Rijksmuseum
voor Volkenkunde, Leiden: RMV 3999-1.
3. The scattering rite performed by Lord Bird Jaguar of Yaxchilan (left) on a classic Maya
lintel from La Pasadita, dated 8 Ahau 18 Pop (February 13, 766 AD). The "hand
scattering" glyph (T 1.710:130) is the third from above in the central column of
hieroglyphs. Rijksmuseum voor Volkenkunde, Leiden: RMV 3939-1.
4. The scattering rite performed by Lord 3 Rain for the Holy Bundle in the sanctuary of the
Mixtec town Jaltepec. Codex Seiden 5-I1.
5 A man sings and plays the drum during a Mixtec ceremony. Codex Becker I, 7-I1I.
6. A list of place-name signs and burned temples represents the conquests of the Aztec ruler
Moctezuma II. The Nahuatl names are written above the hieroglyphs as glosses in the
Spanish alphabet. Codex Mendoza 16.
7. Tributes to be paid by the conquered towns (listed on the left hand- and bottom side of
the page) to the Aztec ruler. Codex Mendoza 2 1 V .
8. "The painter of books. Songs emanate from his heart". From a description of the Mixtec
culture hero Lord 9 Wind. Codex Vindobonensis 48-11.
9. "Those who gave the thrones (rulership) and the cradles (genealogies), those who are lying
on the roads and along the irrigation channels (nuu ichi, nuu sichi), under the living rocks
and at the base of the trees". From a description of the Mixtec primordial beings. Codex
Vindobonensis 34-111.
10. Hand, heart and skull on a postclassic fresco, decorating an altar in Tizatlan (Caso 1929).
11. The malignant spirit Tzitzimitl with a necklace and a headband of hearts and hands. Codex
Magliabechiano 76.



1. Peruvian i/iu/ni

2. The scattering rite performed by a singing priest.


3. The scattering rite performed by Lord Bird Jaguar of Yaxchilan.




4. The scattering rite performed, by Lord 3 Rain.

5. Mixtec ceremony.



entr>ttf\, u^>

W1<* **".

6. A list of the conquests of Moctezuma II.



i-ivy ^ Y .''''-




7. List of tributes to the Aztec ruler.