Land and sources. – The sources of our knowledge of the material and spiritual culture of ancient Mexico can be grouped into the following categories: a) archaeological finds and historical monuments; b) Mexican pictographic codes; c) documents written in the Mexican language with Latin letters or translated into Spanish; d) the literature of the Spanish conquerors in the 16th-18th centuries; e) the contributions of ethnology and linguistics on the current remnants of ancient peoples and cultures.
Hernán Cortés was the first to gather interesting facts about Mexican civilization so suddenly and unexpectedly parataglisi before, and spread it through his Cartas y relaciones the Emperador Carlos V. Cortés then collected several precious objects, such as the famous three large engraved emeralds, which were lost under Algiers, and some mosaic masks. He was followed first of all by some of his own, such as the Anonymous Conqueror (Ramusio, Navigat. Et Viaggi, III, Venice 1554-1565), by religious chroniclers (Spanish, indigenous or mestizos) and by historians who more especially narrated the conquest of Mexico, the writings of which were partly collected in precious collections such as theColección de documentos para la Historia de México by G. García Icazbalceta (Mexico 1858), the Obras varias of the same, the Biblioteca de autore mexicanos historiadores (vols. 30, Mexico 1896-1900), the Bibliothèque américaine by H. Ternaux-Compans (Paris 1837) and his Voyages, relations et mémoires origin. pour serveir a l’histoire de la découverte de l’Amérique (vols. 20, Paris 1837-53), etc.
At the same time, the first documents of Mexican antiquities were collected: we know, p. eg that Paolo Giovio kept in his precious library leather codes of Mexican origin, as we read in the Historia sui temporis (1577). Pietro Martire, in the IV of his Decades (1670) is also very well informed on Mexican civilization, and so does V. Cartari in the Imagini delli Dei antico (1626); L. Botterini, and not Boturini (see boturini – benaduci), then collected a considerable amount of documents and manuscripts for a new history of Mexico, framed in that of North America. Count GR Carli in 1781-83 published his Lettres Américaines; in 1790, the first properly archaeological work, A. León y Gama drew the attention of scholars to the gigantic statue of the goddess Coatlicue and to the “Stone of the Aztec calendar” or “of the Sun” (Essay on astronomy, chronology and mythology of the ancient Mexicans, Rome 1804). As early as 1720, however, a García had discovered the ruins of Nachán (Palenque) in the forests of Chiapas, which were explored sixty years later by Lieutenant Calderón and Antonio Bernasconi. But the work that opened a truly scientific era in these studies was that of Alexander of Humboldt in his: Vues des Cordillères et monuments des peuples indigènes de l’Amérique(Paris 1816), while a few years earlier, the expedition of Colonel Dupaix (1805-1807) and the publication of his report, in which a great number of Mexican monuments had been reviewed (Antiquités américaines, 1834-36), finally put the archeology in its place in the history of mankind. At the same time, Lord Kingsborough, in the monumental work Antiquities of Mexico(London 1830 and 1831-48), revealed to scholars, with perfect reproductions, some very rare Mexican codices. The great expeditions in search and study of local antiquities, follow one another with a praiseworthy crescendo, sponsored by governments, by seientific companies or by rich patrons: BM Norman and C. Nebel, J. Stephens and F. Catherwood; D. Charnay, with the architect Viollet-le-Duc, Teobaldo Maler, W. Holmes, Hamy and the great English Americanist AP Maudslay, who will enrich the Central – American Biology of Godman and Salvini, with ten large volumes dedicated to archeology of the region. In the Archives de la Commission scientifique du Mexique they were reprinted, in 1865-1867 iMémoires sur la peinture didactique et l’écriture figurative des anciens Mexicains which, with the study of E. Boban, on the Aubin codex of the Bibliothèque Nationale in Paris, opened the series of works illustrating the Mexican codices, published in facsimile at the expense of the duke de Loubat and edited by Léon de Rosny, E. Seler, ET Hamy, A. Peñafiel, F. del Paso y Troncoso, A. Chavero, who tried to interpret its ideopittography and iconophones. Various groups of scholars await the continuation of archaeological research. Aviation has also begun to be used to fix the exact position of archaeological sites in the depths of the forest or in the desert.
The graphic system, the manuscripts. – It seems that in ancient times the Mexicans, to fix and communicate thought, made use of the system of knotted cords like the Peruvian quipu and wampun, used by the tribes of North America. Subsequently they passed to the stage of pictorial writing in which they represented certain concepts with the figures of corresponding objects; then at the ideographic stage, in which the drawing became a symbol (see fig. on p. 987, nn. 2-14) and at the moment of the Conquest they began to enter the phonetic stage, composing not only ideograms, but also – in the end – real iconophones. Their way of expressing themselves has rightly been compared to rebus (phonetic), in which every word or syllable constituting the names of places, people, actions, etc., is represented with figures of objects of the same denomination and the same consonance, but without no relationship with the represented idea. For example, the personal name Cuetlaxihuitlis rendered in fig. on p. 987 with n. 18, representing an animal skin (Cuetlax – tli) and bird feathers (ihuitl); the place name Huitzilopochco is rendered with n. 30, that is the image of the god of war, and at other times with the n. 31, which represents a hummingbird (huitzitzilin), which extends the left wing (opochtli).
Of course, there were many fixed conventional signs to represent abstract things: elements, meteors, actions, moods; add the great importance given by the color of the painting; for example, the ideogram atl, dyed in green-blue, meant water, in red, blood. To appreciate the true value of this system, it is necessary to observe the link it had with the oral tradition of which it was auxiliary; perhaps the great ease of iconography made it prefer to represent the object with its iconophone.
The first to speak of the manuscripts and the handwriting used in them was Pietro Martire d’Anghiera (De Orbe Novo, Paris 1587, IV dec.) Which describes them very exactly. These are large strips 10 to 20 cm wide, of deer skin, agave paper, cotton or other vegetable cloth, coated with a kind of chalky paint and several meters long, folding back on themselves like a screen or fan to form the size of an 8 ° book of 2-300 pages. These strips painted on both sides, with vivid colors, belong to the mixed graphic genre, that is, they contain iconophones and drawings, often with the dates of the Aztec calendar at the edge of the page. They are mostly annals, ritual calendars, procedural documents, land registers, taxes, meteorological, astrological or magical news. They are divided, by age, into anterior or posterior to the Conquest; for the origin, in Aztecs, Mixtecs, Zapotecs, etc.B, commented by E. Seler in 1902. The University Library of Bologna possesses the Cospiano Code (Rome, Danesi 1899). Another precious manuscript is the Nuttall Code, formerly of the Medici, now in England, published with notes by Zelia Nuttall in 1902; of chronological, birthday and cosmogonic subject is the ms. Mexican Borgiano of the “Propaganda Fide”, published by Loubat in Rome (1898). Among those after the Conquest, we remember the famous Tellerian-Remense Code found at the National Library of Paris, of historical-religious subject, published by Hamy in 1899, the Vatican Code A(ed. Loubat), the Vergara Code, on economic topics, the Mendoza Code, important for history and customs, the Hamburgense Code, recently discovered, commented on and published by Th. W. Danzel. There are many other manuscripts, not counting the numerous land registers and documents of similar subject, others perhaps exist in libraries or archives, especially in Italy, unknown or forgotten. The graphic documents we are now talking about are, moreover, a small remnant of an enormous mass of pictographic material existing at the time of the Conquest and constituting a large part of the knowledge of the Mexicans.