Reading Place Signs
FIGURE 4. Four main substantives in Ñudzavui writing: yucu (hill, from page 61 of the Codex Nuttall, qualifiers removed); ñuu (town, from page 65 of the Codex Nuttall, associated plain sign removed); yodzo (plain, from page 65 of the Codex Nuttall, associated ñuu frieze removed); and yuta (river, from page 75 of the Codex Nuttall, associated hill sign removed).
FIGURE 5. The ñuu substantive modified with qualifiers. Plain town frieze from page 65 of the Codex Nuttall (qualifier removed). Town of Flames (Achiutla) from page 2 of the Codex Selden. Bent Town (Teozacoalco), from page 4 of the Codex Selden. Town with hand and feathers (Juquila), from page 13 of the Codex Bodley.
FIGURE 6. View of the southern Nochixtlan Valley, as seen looking south from the top of Yucuita. The twin hills above Magdalena Jaltepec (Añute) can be seen on the horizon near the left edge of the photo. June 2007. Photo by Byron Hamann.
FIGURE 7. The Yute Coo, from page 1 of the Codex Selden. The locations of Magdalena Jaltepec and Asunción Nochixtlan have been added to the map for spatial context.
FIGURE 8. Ñuu Tnoo, or Santiago Tilantongo, from page 5 of the Codex Selden.
FIGURE 9. The Huahi Andehui or Temple of Heaven at Tilantongo, from page 68 of the Codex Nuttall.
FIGURE 10. Yucu Nicata, or Magdalena Zahuatlan, from page 11 of the Codex Selden.
FIGURE 11. Sachiyo, from page 4 of the Codex Selden.
FIGURE 12. Añute, from page 5 of the Codex Selden.
The basic building blocks of most place signs are signs called “substantives.”3 These are template-like pictures that represent the natural and cultural features of the Mixteca’s landscape. Four very common “substantives” are shown in Figure 4: a river, blue water contained by rectangular banks (yuta), a town, represented as a rectangular architectural frieze (ñuu), a bell- shaped hill (yucu), and a plain or valley (yodzo_— _yodzo also means feather in Dzaha Dzavui, and hence the yodzo place sign is drawn as a feathered rectangle).
The mountainous landscape of the Mixteca is composed of thousands of hills, hundreds of towns and plains, and dozens of rivers. In order to specify which hill, town, plain, river, or other geographic feature was being represented, La lectura de glifos de lugar scribes decorated the rather featureless “substantive” signs with additional pictures (Figure 5). These additional pictures (which “qualify” exactly what place was being represented) are called “qualifiers.” Consider the following examples, taken from the Codex Selden and representing places surrounding the town of Magdalena Jaltepec (Añute) in the southern Nochixtlan Valley (Figure 6).
Flowing northeast to southwest by the contemporary town of Jaltepec is the River of the Serpent, Yute Coo. A river of the serpent place sign appears on the first page of the Codex Selden (Figure 7), and consists of a river sign (yuta or yute) draped with a long green serpent (coo).4
Several kilometers to the southwest of Jaltepec is the town of Santiago Tilantongo. The name for Tilantongo in Dzaha Dzavui is Ñuu Tnoo, “Black Town.” The word for “black” is tnoo, and it is thus appropriate that Tilantongo is usually represented in the screenfolds by a black (and white) ñuu frieze (Figure 8).5
This place sign in Figure 9 also represents Tilantongo. This sign is a “compound,” consisting of more than one substantive-qualifier combination. On top of the black and white ñuu frieze is a building that represents a specific structure at Tilantongo. This painted building, with a blue skyband in its roof, represents a structure whose ruins are still called vehe andehui_—Temple of Heaven.6 A full transcription of this place sign is _Ñuu Tnoo, Huahi (Vehe) Andehui: Black Town, Temple of Heaven. This was a name of Tilantongo recorded in the sixteenth century.7 Note that both frieze and temple are painted above a hill sign. The reason for this is unclear. Hill signs in documents from Central Mexico are sometimes used to indicate “place” generally, and do have a phonetic value, and this may be one factor at work here.8 Alternatively, the hill may evoke the term yucunuta (“hill, water”), which appears in Alvarado’s 1593 Vocabulario as a term (along with ñuu) for “town” and “city.”9
Almost due north of Jaltepec is the town of Magdalena Zahuatlan (Figure 10). In Dzaha Dzavui, the name of this town is Yucu Nicata, “The Hill that Danced.” The place sign of Yucu Nicata appears several times in the Codex Selden (for reasons explained in the “Introducton to the Codex Selden” tutorial), and takes the form of a hill sign (Yucu) decorated with a small dancing man (the verb for “to dance” is cata, with ni- as a past tense prefix).10
In turn, east and slightly to the north of Zahuatlan is the town of Sachiyo (Figure 11). The main substantive of place sign is a rectangular architectural platform: the foundation for a building. But below this platform emerge two human feet. As in English and Spanish, the body part term for “foot” is also used in Dzaha Dzavui in the metaphorical sense of “at the foot of.” In other words, the name Sachiyo means at the foot of (sa- is a shortened form of saha, foot) the platform (chiyo).11 Thus the place sign for Sachiyo is an architectural platform with a pair of feet attached to it.
Finally, consider the complex place sign for Jaltepec—Añute—itself (Figure 12). Originally called “Belching Mountain” by screenfold researchers, the sign consists of a hill glyph, a mouth from which speckled dots emerge, and a cloud-wreathed ñuu frieze at the hill’s summit.12
Analyzing the parts of this compound sign one by one, we begin with the “belching mouth.” The Dzaha Dzavui name for Jaltepec is Añute, which means “place of sand.” Ñute means sand, and in this toponym sand is represented by the speckled dots emerging from the mouth. To show that this is specifically a “place” of sand, the artist has drawn a mouth. In the sixteenth-century Nochixtlan Valley, a- was used to mean “place of,” and was represented glyphically by a mouth. Unlike the use of sa- (from saha) to indicate “at the foot of,” however, the relationship linking an image of a mouth and the sound a- is unclear.13 In ordinary Dzaha Dzavui, for example, the word for mouth is yuhu. In combination, then, mouth and sand indicate Añute, the name for Jaltepec.
But the Añute place sign is more complex, for reasons that we do not understand. The second part of this place glyph consists of a ñuu frieze wreathed in white clouds. Although this part of Jaltepec’s name was not recorded in sixteenth-century sources, we can probably translate this part of the place glyph as ñuu Huico—Place of Clouds. The exact location of this place in relationship to the contemporary community of Jaltepec is not known.
Finally, both the Añute and Ñuu Huico images are concatenated within a hill sign. The reason this hill sign was drawn are unknown. The sign may not have had a linguistic function and may instead have functioned spatially, referring to one of the two hills below which the settlement of Jaltepec was located. Alternatively, as mentioned above in the discussion of Tilantongo’s Temple of Heaven place sign, the hill may indicate “place” generally, and not have a phonetic value. On the other hand, if the hill were meant to function linguistically, the full translation of this compound place sign may be “Hill of the Place of Sand, City of Clouds.”
Territorial Scope >
3 The terms “substantive” and “qualitative” were introduced by Mary Elizabeth Smith (Smith 1983, 38).
4 The identification of Yute Coo is discussed in Byland and Pohl 1995, 104.
5 The Tilantongo place sign was first identified in 1949 by Alfonso Caso (177-79). It is also discussed in Smith 1973, 55-57.
6 Byland and Pohl 1995, xiii.
7 Acuña 1984, 234.
8 “The hill element is by far the most common. It can actually refer to a hill, but it often simply serves as the foundation on which identifying elements are put” (Boone 2000, 49).
9 Ciudad (Alvarado 1593, 63v) and pueblo (Alvarado 1593, 174v); see also Terraciano 2001, 105.
10 Smith 1994, 116-118.
11 Hamann (2008b) has argued that many of the chiyo in the screenfolds are meant to represent archaeological remains, that is, the foundations of ruined buildings.
12 Jaltepec—as “Belching Mountain”—was first discussed by Herbert Spinden (1933); the sign’s reading as Añute was proposed by Smith 1983a.
13 Smith 1983a.