In this class we’ve talked about how Latin American culture is a mix of Indigenous, African and European influences and how that mix has developed varies depending on the particular region of Latin America. For example, in many Caribbean countries we find a strong African influence on culture and history and in Mesoamerica we find a strong and still present indigenous influence. Brazilian Quilombolas during a meeting in the capital of Brazil, Brasília. Map of Mesoamerica In this unit, we will be looking at Mesoamerican writing systems in order to understand the role of writing in ancient cultures in Latin America and to explore how the interpretation of these texts can tell us about the past but also about ourselves. Some important facts about Pre-colonial Mesoamerican writing systems: 1. These writing systems are the earliest form of writing found in the Americas 2. They are the only writing systems that were invented in the Americas. 3. They reveal the complex and stratified nature of indigenous social systems before the arrival of Europeans. 4. They were not primarily about telling fictional narratives like most of what we read in literature classes, but consisted of economic records, origin stories and divinatory calendars. Before and after the Spanish Conquest there many different kinds of languages and writing styles that varied and shifted and developed going back before 1000 B.C. Many of the languages spoken before the arrival of the Spanish still are in use today. Mesoamerica has had and continues to have great linguistic diversity. Maya languages are still spoken by millions of people, and Nahuatl, the language of the Aztecs, is still the tongue of about 1 million. Nahua woman from the florentine codex. The Speech Scroll indicates that she is speaking. CUENCA DE ALTIPLANO CENTRAL OAXACA VERACRUZ y Costa GUATEMALA MEXICO & GUERRERO Costa Altiplano Sur del Golfo Costa Altiplano 1521 Arrival of Europeans M I X T E C A – P U E B L A S T Y L E Azteca Mixteca 1000 TRADITION FROM THE CENTRAL ALTIPLANO MAYA 500 TEOTIHUACAN LATE ÑUIÑE ZOQUEAN COTZUMALHUAPA EARLY 0 ZOQUEAN ZAPOTEC MIRAFLORES ZAPOTECA 500 2 KAMINALJUYU SAN BARTOLO San José Mogote M3 3 1000 1 OLMEC STYLE ICONOGRAPHY Diagram showing development of writing systems in Mesoamerica ` Despite great language diversity, phonetic systems did not become the dominant during precolonial times. Instead pictographs were the dominant form of written language. This may have helped communication between language groups because the same pictures were able to be understood by people who spoke different languages. Reverse of folio 11 of the Codex Magliabechiano, showing the day signs Flint (knife), Rain, Flower, and Crocodile. Elements 0f Precolonial Mesoamerican Writing Systems: 1. Precolonial Mesoamerican writing was often done on long accordion-style books called codices. • One book = codex. • More that one = codices 2. The codices are written using pictographs or symbols that included counting symbols, symbols for days in the 260 day and 365 day calendars, and symbols for various gods and rulers. • 3. Drawings were also used to represent ideas and common objects and activities in the daily pre-colonial life. Part 1: Decoding a Codex Warm-Up: Students complete handout : Nahua Pictographic Writing: Place Names Boturini Codex Decoding Procedure: Students receive laminated color copies of Sheet One of the Boturini Codex. Students identify any similar elements from the previous worksheet that they see in the first page of the codex. Ask if there are any other recognizable items in the image? What do they think is happening in the image? Students work in groups to develop a brief explanation of what this codex is saying. Translation: • On an island in a big lake there are seated two members of royalty—a man and a woman ruler. They were settled there where six houses stand. They were seated where there is a main temple dedicated to One Water Reeds Sprouting. From there departed a great priest. He left in a canoe, rowing towards the shore and headed toward a cave in the large hill. There in the cave was Huizilopochtil, our Lord God. He had his altar among the branches. He spoke and spoke and spoke about the need to set out, on the need to leave and the need to find another place to live. And all this, what we are told, is drawn, it is reported, occurred in the year one flint. The Unknown: • What is the name of the island? Researchers are not sure. • Theory 1: The Aztecs left a place called One Water Reed Sprouting. The place might have the same name as the temple. • Theory 2: The Aztecs left Aztlan. There is some alphabetic writing that is barely legible on the codex that indicates this might be the case. Decoding the rest of the codex: • Students sit in groups with laminated sections of the codex attempt to decode what their section of the codex is saying and to translate it into a narrative. • Each will also be given a “dictionary” handout with some, but not all, of the elements from their codex sheet on it. Students will then share their attempts at interpretation and be given the official interpretation to compare. What were they right about and wrong about? And why? Boturini Codex: Page 2 Boturini Codex: Sheet 3 Boturini Codex: Sheet 5 Boturini Codex: Sheet 14 Part 2: Challenges of Interpretation • 1. What makes a text difficult to interpret? • Missing pieces of information (only having one sheet of the codex) • Lack of knowledge (knowing what some of the symbols mean but not all of them) • One’s own assumptions (placing your own ideas and experiences on to someone else’s) Historical Examples of Misinterpretation 1. Los Danzantes: These large carved stone monuments in Oaxaca were long thought to be dancing figures, but are are now seen to clearly represent tortured, sacrificed war prisoners, some identified by name, and may depict leaders of competing centers and villages captured by Monte Albán. Historical Examples of Misinterpretation 2. The myth that indigenous people thought the Spanish conquistadors were “gods.” The word “tueles” was used to refer to the Spaniards and can mean “gods” but can also mean godlike, fancy, powerful or large. The Body Ritual of the Nacirema Sample from the text: The focal point of the shrine is a box or chest which is built into the wall. In this chest are kept the many charms and magical potions without which no native believes he could live. These preparations are secured from a variety of specialized practitioners. The most powerful of these are the medicine men, whose assistance must be rewarded with substantial gifts. However, the medicine men do not provide the curative potions for their clients, but decide what the ingredients should be and then write them down in an ancient and secret language. This writing is understood only by the medicine men and by the herbalists who, for another gift, provide the required charm. http://www.sociology.ohio-state.edu/classes/soc101/gassanov/Body%20Ritual%20of%20the%20Nacirema.pdf Part 3: Museum of the Future • Scenario: You are an anthropologist in the year 3511 who must prepare an artifact to be displayed in the upcoming exhibit “The Ancient City of New York.” You must provide basic information about your artifact, a detailed description and an interpretation of the artifact’s use and significance in the world of 21st century New York City. You must prepare your information on a plaque or “gloss” that will accompany your artifact on display at the opening of the exhibit in 2 days. Possible Artifacts To Close the Unit: Students view each other’s artifacts and glosses during a classroom exhibit opening. After the “reception” there is a reflection session where students discuss important observations they made of each other’s work and the ways in which the act of interpretation tells as much about the interpreter as the object being interpreted.
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