Codices of Tetepilco

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From Tlacuilolli*, the blog about Mesoamerican writing systems, by Alonso Zamora, on March 21, 2024:

*At the top left of the home page of this blog, there is a tiny seated figure (click to embiggen) with a sharp instrument held vertically in his right hand carving a glyph on a square block held in his left hand.  Emitting from his mouth is a blue, cloud-like puff.  Does that signify recognition the basis of what he is writing is speech?

"New Aztec Codices Discovered: The Codices of San Andrés Tetepilco"

They are beautiful:

Figure 1. Codices of San Andrés Tetepilco: a) Map of the Founding of San Andrés Tetepilco;
b) Inventory of the Church of San Andrés Tetepilco; c) Tira of San Andrés Tetepilco

The newly discovered corpus was acquired by the Mexican government from a local family that wants to remain anonymous, but which were not collectors but rather traditional stewards of the cultural legacy of Culhuacan and Iztapalapa, and it is now stored at the library of the National Institute of Anthropology and History of Mexico. It comprises three codices. The first is called Map of the Founding of Tetepilco, and is a pictographic map which contains information regarding the foundation of San Andrés Tetepilco, as well as lists of toponyms to be found within Culhuacan, Tetepilco, Tepanohuayan, Cohuatlinchan, Xaltocan and Azcapotzalco. The second, the Inventory of the Church of San Andrés Tetepilco, is unique, as [philologist Michel] Oudijk remarks, since it is a pictographic inventory of the church of San Andrés Tetepilco, comprising two pages. Sadly, it is very damaged.

Finally, the third document, now baptised as the Tira of San Andrés Tetepilco, is a pictographic history in the vein of the Boturini and the Aubin codices, comprising historical information regarding the Tenochtitlan polity from its foundation to the year 1603. It seems to belong to the same family as the Boturini, the Aubin, the Ms. 40 and the Ms. 85 of Paris, that is to say, some of the main codices dealing with Aztec imperial history, and Brito considers it as a sort of bridge between the Boturini and the Aubin, since its pictographic style is considerably close to the early colonial one of the former, rather than the late colonial one of the latter. It comprises 20 rectangular pages of amate paper, and contains new and striking iconography, including a spectacular depiction of Hernán Cortés as a Roman soldier. In the Aztec side of things, new iconography of Moctezuma Ilhuicamina during his conquest of Tetepilco is presented (Figure 1).

Of course, new and very interesting examples of Aztec writing are contained throughout all these documents, including old and new toponyms, spellings of Western and Aztec names, and even some information that confirms that some glyphs formerly considered as hapax, as the chi syllabogram in the spelling of the name Motelchiuhtzin in Codex Telleriano-Remensis 43r, discussed in another post of this blog, were not anomalous but possibly conventional. Besides logosyllabic spellings, the presence of pictographs with alphabetic glosses in Nahuatl will be of great help to ascertain the functioning of this still controversial part of the Aztec communication system.

The last sentence quoted above will be of particular interest to historians of writing.  I myself look forward to future communications on this topic.

Selected readings

[Thanks to Hiroshi Kumamoto]


  1. Scott de Brestian said,

    March 27, 2024 @ 5:55 pm

    You can see a depiction of speech-to-text on a Maya vase in the Kimbell collection:

  2. Victor Mair said,

    March 27, 2024 @ 6:05 pm

    Thank you, Scott. I hope that LL readers will be able to see the remarkable illustration that you have provided to us. It doesn't open from the URL in your comment in my browser, but I could see it if I pasted it in the browser myself.

  3. The Dark Avenger said,

    March 27, 2024 @ 7:41 pm


  4. Victor Mair said,

    March 27, 2024 @ 7:56 pm

    To what are you referring?

  5. Philip Taylor said,

    March 28, 2024 @ 5:46 am

    Right-click / Open link in new tab (or window) works for me, Victor.

  6. Philip Taylor said,

    March 28, 2024 @ 11:28 am

    Scott — Can we be 100% certain that the "Maya Codex-Style Vessel with two scenes" is genuine ? The figures look so much like cartoon caricatures to me that I genuinely wonder whether the whole thing is a hoax.

  7. Scott de Brestian said,

    March 31, 2024 @ 9:46 am


    I think we are as certain as one can be that it is authentic. Some of the figures on the vessel are supernatural beings, which explains the 'caricature' appearance — they are frequently distinguished from human beings in Maya art.

  8. Philip Taylor said,

    March 31, 2024 @ 3:54 pm

    Fair enough, Scott — I defer to your expert judgement.

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