8691 - The Codex Sierra: A Multi-Cultural Text from Early Colonial Mexico

Written from 1550 to 1564, the Codex Sierra is a complex, multi-faceted manuscript that documents multiple changes in Mesoamerica only a few decades after the conquest. The “codex” is actually a book of accounts from Santa Catalina Texupa, a Mixtec-Chocho community in the Mixteca Alta, Oaxaca. The book’s 62 pages feature parallel pictographic, alphabetic, and numerical components. The pictorial portion is arranged on the left side of the page; Nahuatl-language entries and occasional Mixtec-language references to year dates, written in the roman alphabet, occupy the middle column; quantities of pesos, recorded with both arabic and roman numerals, are enumerated on the right side of the page. The book represents a colonial genre of record-keeping known as las cuentas de la comunidad or community accounts, designed to monitor the expenses paid out of the la caja de la comunidad , the community treasury.

In its use of parallel alphabetic and pictographic text, the Codex Sierra offers numerous clues as to how the artists/writers of the composition employed pictorial conventions to convey meaning and concepts. The text also sheds light on many European introductions, especially the money economy. This presentation highlights some of the most important features of this indigenous text, focusing on recent finds and revelations resulting from a new translation and close reading of the manuscript.          

Keywords: Mesoamerica, colonial, writing, language, culture

Author: Terraciano, Kevin (UCLA, Ud States of Am / USA)


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