FIGURE 13. Map of the southern Nochixtlan Valley.
FIGURE 14. Map of places in the Codex Selden.
FIGURE 15. Map of places on pages 14 to 35 of the Codex Nuttall.
FIGURE 16, The southern Nochixtlan valley, as seen from Tilantongo. June 2007. Photo by Byron Hamann.
The previous discussion of place signs in the southern Nochixtlan Valley drew in part on the work of two contemporary researchers on Ñudzavui place signs, Bruce Byland and John Pohl. In 1987 and 1989 they completed archaeological field surveys of the lands surrounding the Ñudzavui towns of Santiago Tilantongo and Magdalena Jaltepec. During Byland and Pohl’s 1987 survey, they witnessed a border dispute between the communities of Jaltepec and Mitlantongo (Jaltepec’s neighbor to the south; Figure 13). Jaltepec claimed that Mitlantongo had been taking over lands along the Yute Coo (River of the Serpent). Although little violence actually occurred, community meetings were held in Jaltepec throughout the summer, during which orators chronicled the history of land ownership in the region and proclaimed Jaltepec’s historical right to the disputed territory.14
Such an oral presentation of territorial history has much in common with one of the ways we believe that the records of the screenfolds were used. Whereas contemporary proclamations of territorial control are made in public plazas, those of the prehispanic elites were probably made during feasts held within palace courtyards. The screenfolds record centuries of conquest and marital alliance, and they foreground the connection between place and royal lineage that was of fundamental importance to Ñudzavui political organization.
Studying place signs allows us to reconstruct the geographic scale and patterning of Ñudzavui political interactions. Place signs tell us how far a Ñudzavui princess would travel to be married, or how far from their homelands warriors would go to fight. Due to the historical nature of the screenfolds, place signs allow us to reconstruct these patterns of marriage, warfare, and alliance over a period of centuries. Such patterns of interaction have great potential in helping us to understand the political priorities of the elites who painted these records of place.15
For example, the five centuries of history recorded in the Codex Selden show AÃ±ute’s interactions with the same places again and again. Some of these places are known only as pictures—Hill of the Jaguar Skin Collar, Grey Hill of the Water Spiral, Bloody Hill of the Bird, Bent Red Hill. Others have been identified on the ground— Añute itself, Tilantongo, Zahuatlan, and Sachiyo. By mapping out those sites that have been identified, we can see the surprisingly large geographic scale of Añute’s political interactions. Figure 14 presents a map of the identified sites found in the Codex Selden.
The geographic range of the Codex Selden spans the Valley of Oaxaca, the Mixteca Alta, and the Mixteca Baja. In contrast, the history recorded on pages 14-35 of the Codex Nuttall is much more narrow in its geographic scope (Figure 15). It begins with the actions of mythical ancestors in the landscape of the southern Nochixtlan Valley (at the places of Hill of the Wasp and Place of Flints) and then moves on to a historical chain of relations linking the sites of Tilantongo, Teozacoalco, and Zaachila.16
In sum, the place signs of the Ñudzavui screenfolds record a number of features in the Postclassic and early colonial landscape. Some of these were natural (hills and rivers, as well as caves and fields). Others were human-made (towns and architectural platforms, as well as ballcourts and sweatbaths). Although the screenfolds are filled with hundreds of place signs, only about two dozen of them have been convincingly linked to places on the ground. More research is needed to better understand this aspect of Ñudzavui writing—and its connection to broader issues of politics, performance, and history (Figure 16).
Text by Byron Hamann
14 Byland and Pohl 1995, 189.
15 See, for example, John Pohl’s work on “alliance corridors” (2003).
16 Maarten Jansen has argued that the site of Hill of the Wasp is actually part of Monte Albán in the Valley of Oaxaca. For an overview of debates over the location of this and other related sites, and a list of references, see Hamann 2008b, 123 and Hermann Lejarazu 2011.