Ancient Mixtec Writing

Several languages of Mexico were being written long before the Spanish arrived in 1519. At least three Mexican writing traditions are known: Aztec, Mayan, and Mixtecan. This exhibit presents a typical page from one of fifteen ancient Mixtec books that still exist. The page shown here is from a drawing of the original book known as the Nuttall Codex. This drawing is much clearer than the original book, which is at the British Museum.
Wedding of 9 Eagle with 5 Alligator Two Sons Daughter 11 Water Bluebird Jewel Small drawings indicating dates King of the Mixtecs, 8 Deer Tiger's Claw Younger brother and Sister Marriage of Tiger Claw and Serpent of Flowers Birth of two sons by Serpent of Flowers

Drawing from Nuttall Codex

Wedding of 9 Eagle with 5 Alligator The book tells of a great king named 8 Deer Tiger’s Claw who reigned over the Mixtec people in the early 11th Century, when Europe was still in the Middle Ages. This page has three columns, divided by two red lines. Starting to read at the upper right-hand corner of the page, the Lady 9 Eagle Garland of Cacao Flowers is seen on the left, in a palace, facing her husband 5 Alligator Sun of Rain on their wedding day in 992 AD. Sun of Rain is a King; he is wearing the mask of the Rain God and is carrying the sun on his back.
Two Sons The birth of their two sons is presented immediately below them, 
Daughter and that of a daughter in the lower right-hand corner of the page. To the left of the daughter, another Lady sits alone in a second palace. 
11 Water Bluebird Jewel She was Sun of Rain’s second wife, 11 Water Bluebird Jewel, whom he married in 1009 AD. Notice that both ladies are wearing nose ornaments.
Small drawings indicating dates Dates of births, weddings, deaths, and other events are indicated by the small drawings at the edges of these pictures. There are three such drawings to the left of Bluebird Jewel. The middle one, closest to her, gives her day name as 11 Water, using a fixed design for ‘water’, the name of the month, and eleven dots, one for each day of the month.
Her name was her birthday, based on a calendar of eighteen months, with names like water, flint, house, alligator, deer, etc. Each month had twenty days, making a year of 360 days, plus five additional ‘days of evil omen’ at the end of the year. The Indian peoples of Mexico had devised this eighteen-month calendar of 365 days by studying the stars long before the Europeans arrived with a twelve-month calendar. 
Small drawings indicating date of Bluebird Jewel's marriage The other two drawings near Bluebird Jewel present the date of her marriage to Sun of Rain as day 6 Deer in the year 10 House. You can easily see the deer head in the upper drawing and the pillars and beam that stand for ‘house’ in the lower one.
King of the Mixtecs, 8 Deer Tiger Claw Now reading up between the two red lines, the next picture tells of the birth on day 8 Deer of the year 12 Reed of the most famous king of the Mixtecs 8 Deer Tiger’s Claw. Elsewhere in the book, we learn that he lived from 1011 AD until 1063 AD, that he was the second ruler of the second dynasty of Tilantongo, in the central Oaxaca highlands where he had his palace, and that he was a great military and political hero who, through military conquest, extended his kingdom all the way to Tututepec on the Pacific coast.
Younger brother and Sister The births of his younger brother and sister are presented directly above Tiger’s Claw and in the upper left-hand corner of the page. Then, in the middle of the left column, a third palace scene presents his marriage to Serpent of Flowers, who offers him a bowl of chocolate. The wedding took place on day 12 Serpent in the year 13 Reed (1051 AD), so Tiger’s Claw was 40 years old when he married. The birth of two sons by this marriage are presented in the last two pictures, at the lower left-hand corner of the page.