Language and Writing in the Ancient Mexico

At the arrival of the Spaniards, cultures such as the Mixtec or Nahua used a communication technology that was 2500 years old in Mesoamerica.

Cilindro con imágenes e inscripciones zapotecas que registran una conquista del señor 1 muerte (0600/0900) by DesconocidoAmparo Museum

Cylinder with images and Zapotec inscriptions

The style of this image is conceptual, representing a genre called "pictographic language" or "pictographic narrative". Since this is a convex or tubular surface, the hieroglyphics that make up this text are presented in a linked and seemingly chaotic format. However, the fact that the signs in the head variants are directed towards the left of the observer and as the numerals are located at the bottom of the calendrical scripts it suggests that the general direction of reading is from left to right and top to bottom.

Cilindro con imágenes e inscripciones zapotecas que registran una conquista del señor 1 muerte (0600/0900) by DesconocidoAmparo Museum

Cilindro con imágenes e inscripciones zapotecas

Escudilla con figuras e inscripciones (0800/0909) by DesconocidoAmparo Museum

Bowl with figures and inscriptions

The engravings on this vessel were made before firing. Its scenes show a pair of reclining warriors, armed with bird helmets, plumes and a kind of kerchief tied around their necks; both hold a spear-thrower in their left hand, and one displays a flower next to his mouth, which represents speech. They are flanked by large snake heads similar to Mayan representations of mountains. A pair of vertical bands with three glyphs further divide each scene.  

Escudilla con figuras e inscripciones (0800/0909) by DesconocidoAmparo Museum

Bowl with figures and inscriptions

Jamba de piedra con inscripciones jeroglíficas (0600/0909) by DesconocidoAmparo Museum

Stone jamb with hieroglyphic inscriptions

This sculpture must have functioned as the jamb of a door or gate. Its hieroglyphic text commemorates the completion of the recording or the inscription that decorated the room of a person named Piip, who in turn held the political and religious titles sajal and ajk’uhu’n (worshiper), in other words, a priest. The sajales were usually second order rulers that were subject to the authority of the k’uhul ajaw or ‘divine lords’. 

Jamba de piedra con inscripciones jeroglíficas (0600/0909) by DesconocidoAmparo Museum

Stone jamb with hieroglyphic inscriptions

Vaso estilo Chocholá (0600/0900) by DesconocidoAmparo Museum

Chochola style vase

It is a jaay or ‘clay basin’, whose outer sides are skillfully carved with striations. A valance or band with hieroglyphs extends along the neck of the vessel; it is an example of the so-called dedication formula, a text generally arranged in a horizontal row, which contains information about the rite of ritual activation of the recipient, the technique with which it was decorated, the shape belonging to the vessel, the substance for which was designed (usually atole or cocoa ) and the name of the owner or user of the object.

Vaso estilo Chocholá (0600/0900) by DesconocidoAmparo Museum

Chochola style vase

Vaso cilíndrico de cerámica con una escena palaciega (0650/0850) by DesconocidoAmparo Museum

Cylindrical ceramic cup with a palace scene

Hieroglyphic glosses accompanying the only individual standing that is looking to the right, conclude with the priestly title ajk’uhu’n, ‘the worshiper’. The highest ranking figure in this composition is the ruler who sits on the throne and probably receives as a gift a cylindrical vessel with a conical lid; he wears a cloak of black fabric, adopts a posture and makes a gesture pertaining to those of the Mayan leaders.

Vaso cilíndrico de cerámica con una escena palaciega (0650/0850) by DesconocidoAmparo Museum

Cylindrical ceramic cup with a palace scene

Dintel mixteco con dioses de la lluvia y sus posibles funcionarios rituales (1200/1521) by DesconocidoAmparo Museum

Mixtec lintel with rain gods

This scene possibly marks a rite asking for rain carried out on the 5th Earthquake day (Qh Qhi) of the 9th Rabbit year (Que Sayu) whose position in the Christian calendar is uncertain, although it must have been a year of great drought; hence the necessity of the rite.   

Dintel mixteco con dioses de la lluvia y sus posibles funcionarios rituales (1200/1521) by DesconocidoAmparo Museum

Mixtec lintel with rain gods

Vaso trípode con escena de corte (0600/0909) by DesconocidoAmparo Museum

Tripod cup with a cut scene

The main scene represents a high ruler receiving wool blankets from another dignitary, possibly a vassal or a subordinate king. In Mayan art, the personage sitting on the right was always the main one of the scene.  The text along the upper edge of the cup is not coherent, but rather a sequence of apparently disjointed words, although some are semantically related, such as ´the reader´ or ´the accountant´ or ´the scribe´ and ´wise man´, or ´mother´ and ´woman´s son´.

Vaso trípode con escena de corte (0600/0909) by DesconocidoAmparo Museum

Tripod cup with a cut scene

Dintel labrado con dos personajes sobrenaturales y con texto en el lateral frontal (0600/0909) by DesconocidoAmparo Museum

Lintel with two supernatural characters and text on the front side

The lintel depicts two supernatural entities sitting in profile, staring face to face and by the movement of their hands, talking. The figure on the left is a male deity, with a square eye, one of the physical traits that identified the gods and supernatural beings.

Dintel labrado con dos personajes sobrenaturales y con texto en el lateral frontal (0600/0909) by DesconocidoAmparo Museum

Lintel with two supernatural characters and text on the front side

Cabeza con tocado (0600/0909) by DesconocidoAmparo Museum

Head with headdress

The entire sculpture is loaded with symbolism; the maya rarely represented purely decorative elements. Each of the components forming headdresses, breastplates and clothing in general had their own symbols, allowing the ruler to be linked with the supernatural power of the object.  

Cabeza con tocado (0600/0909) by DesconocidoAmparo Museum

Head with headdress


El texto jeroglífico más largo en la Colección del Museo Amparo | Dr. Erik Velásquez

Estela con personaje masculino de pie (0600/0909) by DesconocidoAmparo Museum

Stele with standing male character

It shows a male figure, standing with his body in frontal position, face in profile, and feet open sideways, with the toes pointing out, following the canons of the Late Classic period. He holds in his right hand a flint-tipped spear tied to the mast by ropes and adorned with a buckler and ribbons, or perhaps feathers. It records in writing that a city center of an unknown location was burned as the result of an armed attack. The last passage of the inscription seems to have contained information about an event, also unknown, that one k’atuun had passed (19.71 years) after the burn down.

Estela con personaje masculino de pie (0600/0909) by DesconocidoAmparo Museum

  Stele with standing male character

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