Sacred Geography in the Nochixtlan Valley


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Ancient Mesoamerica

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The pages of the Mixtec screenfolds are painted with hundreds of place signs. Only a handful have been linked to specific locations on the ground. In this essay, I propose identifications for seven place signs which appear on pages 4 to 1 of the Codex Vienna and page 3 of the Codex Nuttall. I draw on five types of sources: testimonies from the 1544–1547 Yanhuitlan idolatry investigation, the pictorial records of the Mixtec screenfolds themselves, the findings from a FAMSI-funded study of colonial and independence-era land records, previous archaeological surveys, and on-the-ground reconnaissance. By considering the sequential relations of place signs painted in the Mixtec screenfolds, the spatial connections of geographic features visible today (features whose names and recent history are recorded in archival land records), and the sacred connections revealed by the actions of nobles and religious specialists in the Yanhuitlan idolatry investigation, strong proposals for the identification of particular place signs can be made. In turn, these identifications have broader implications for understanding colonial transformations of space. Over the course of the sixteenth century, sprawling pre-Hispanic polities were atomized. The land documents their leaders then created mapped out visions of political space that were far more circumscribed than those we see in pre-Hispanic books, and indeed in alphabetic documents—such as the Yanhuitlan idolatry investigation—that date to the first half of the sixteenth century. This suggests that different types of research methods are needed for studying landscape representations created before and after the middle of the sixteenth century.

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