FIGURE 21. Left: The flag sign for 20 (left) and the feather sign for 400 (right) on folio 15v of the Matrícula de Tributos. Right: The pouch sign for 8,000 on folio 15r of the Matrícula de Tributos.
FIGURE 22. The use of fingers to represent lengths of cloth on folio 9r of the Matrícula de Tributos.
CODA. Calendar Stone souvenirs for sale in Mexico City, October 2010. The plastic storage bin creates an accidental ritual cache holding a small Calendar Stone to the left, and an Aztec Laocoön to the right (in which an Aztec warrior and rippling serpent fight a conquistador against the background of the Calendar Stone). Photo courtesy of Barbara Mundy and Sara Ryu; commentary by Sara Ryu.
As we have seen, one of the most common ways that Central Mexicans represented numeric values was through round circles. A number of these circular number counts are shown on the surface of the Calendar Stone: 13 Reed, 1 Flint, 4 Motion.
In addition, Central Mexicans used other types of symbols to represent larger numeric values. Many of these signs are used on the pages of the Matrícula de Tributos. A white paper flag stood for 20. A feather stood for 400. A white pouch stood for 8000.34 On the left side of Figure 21, for example, are depictions of 20 bundles of white feathers (labeled with a flag) and 400 loads of chiles (labeled with a black feather). These were to be sent from the tribute province of Tuchpa (folio 15v). On the right side of Figure 21 you can see a representation of 8,000 cakes of liquidambar (labeled with a white pouch), which were required from the province of Tlatlauhquitepec (15r).
Significantly, all of these symbols represent numbers that are multiples of twenty. We have already seen how important the number 20 was in Central Mexican (indeed Mesoamerican) calendar systems. There were 20 days signs, and the year was divided into 18 months of 20 days. Mesoamerican mathematics and calendrics used a base-20 system, a vigesimal system. In contrast, the metric system used in many parts of the world today is a base-10, or decimal system. For more information on Mesoamerican calendars and mathematics, take a look at the Keeping Time Ã’udzavui tutorial, as well as Anthony Aveni’s lecture on Mesoamerican Mathematics .
A final type of numeric sign in the Matrícula is the use of fingers to indicate lengths of cloth (Figure 22). On folio 9v (the tribute province of Cihuatlan), a number of bundles of subtly-striped white cloth are labeled both with a feather (for 400) and four fingers. The Nahuatl gloss explains that these fingers represent nananmatl, a measurement of “four hands” or “four lengths.” On other pages only two fingers are used, representing a length of omatl or onmatl, “two hands” or “two lengths.”35
Text by Byron Hamann
34 Berdan 1992, 95.
35 Berdan 1992, 102.