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The Mixtec Pictorial Manuscripts

Time, Agency and Memory in Ancient Mexico.

Maarten Jansen & Gabina Aurora Pérez Jiménez.
01 January 2011
The Mixtec Pictorial Manuscripts
Publication in Open Access

Ñuu Dzaui, the Mixtec land and people in southern Mexico, developed its own beautiful writing tradition long before the Spanish conquest (1521). Screenfold books made of deerskin and large pieces of cloth were covered with bright and polychrome paintings, telling specific stories through pictures.

This handbook is a guide to the scholarly interpretation of those pictorial chronicles, to 'read' the images and to understand their cultural and political background.

Focusing on the primary data and pre-understandings of this research, the first part contains an introduction to the conventions of pictorial writing (chapter 1), a presentation of the corpus of codices in question (chapter 2), a sketch of the fundamental decipherment during the first three quarters of the 20th century (chapter 3), and an overview of advances and issues of scholarly debate during the past decades (chapter 4).

The second part lays the general foundation for reading this ancient historiography, it introduces the basic elements of ethno-iconological theory and method (chapter 5), continues with analyzing the depiction of the protagonists and their actions (chapter 6), and sketches the geographical dimension through the identification of place signs (chapter 7).

The third part contains a discussion of the contents of the corpus in historical order. Chapter 8 tells the story of the origin of the dynasties, connected to the formative process of the Mixtec city-state culture during the Early Postclassic Period (± A.D. 900-1200). Chapter 9 presents in detail the genealogies and their alliance policies, i.e. the structure of peer polity interaction in the later part of the Postclassic, and chapter 10 illustrates the transformations and local developments after the Spanish colonial invasion of 1521 by commenting on the Codex of Yanhuitlan. The conclusion (chapter 11) gives a synthetic view of the way in which the Mixtec political landscape has developed over time.

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