Introduction

FIGURE 1. View of the Nochixtlan Valley, in the Mixteca Alta, from the summit of Yucuita. June 2007. Photo by Byron Hamann.

FIGURE 1. View of the Nochixtlan Valley, in the Mixteca Alta, from the summit of Yucuita. June 2007. Photo by Byron Hamann.

FIGURE 2. The Mapa de Teozacoalco, circa 1580. Image courtesy of the Benson Latin American Library, University of Texas at Austin.

FIGURE 2. The Mapa de Teozacoalco, circa 1580. Image courtesy of the Benson Latin American Library, University of Texas at Austin.

FIGURE 3. Stream in the southern Nochixtlan Valley. June 2007. Photo by Byron Hamann.

FIGURE 3. Stream in the southern Nochixtlan Valley. June 2007. Photo by Byron Hamann.

The ancient Ñudzavui called the land in which they lived ñuudzavui—the Rain Place (Figure 1). This tutorial illustrates how the natural and cultural landscapes of that Rain Place were depicted in the screenfolds. Recording the location of past events was very important to the ancient Ñudzavui people, and as a result the pages of the screenfolds are filled with images that allow us to reconstruct the “where” of the Ñudzavui past.

The study of toponyms—pictorial representations of places—has been a major topic of study for screenfold researchers. In fact it was through toponymic decipherment that the screenfolds were first firmly linked to the Mixteca, in Alfonso Caso’s 1949 commentary on the Mapa de Teozacoalco (Figure 2).1

Although the kings and queens, the textiles, and the featherwork depicted in the screenfolds have long since vanished, the landscape of the Mixteca remains, and remains important to the people who live in it. Studies of Ñudzavui place signs that have followed Caso’s 1949 breakthrough have repeatedly shown how important the knowledge of contemporary Ñudzavui people is for understanding the books created by their ancestors2 In many cases, the “where” of the Ñudzavui past is also the where of the Ñudzavui present. Many places in the Mixteca are still called by the names they possessed in prehispanic times. It is therefore possible to link features of the contemporary landscape—hills, rivers, even the archaeological ruins of palaces and temples—to their codical depictions painted five centuries ago (Figure 3). The pages that follow discuss how individual place signs are read, as well as how the inventory of place signs in a screenfold allows us to reconstruct the geographic scope of ancient Ñudzavui politics.

Reading Place Signs >
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1 Caso 1949.

2 See the key work of Mary Elizabeth Smith (1963, 1979, 1983a, 1983b, 1988, 1994); König 1979; Jansen 1992: 25-27; Bruce Byland and John Pohl (1995); Pohl and Byland (1990) and John Pohl (2004, 2009). A number of place names are included in archaeological studies by Spores (1972) and Plunkett (1983); see also Kowalewski et al. 2009. More recent work on place names includes Hermann Lejarazu 2003, 2011; Geurds 2007; Hamann 2008a, 2012.