The Codex Nuttall

    It isn’t really a codex and Zelia Nuttall was neither it’s creator, it’s discoverer nor it’s owner, though her scholarly interest did result in it’s first publication. The Codex Nuttall is made of deerhide, pieced together to make one continuous strip over 40 feet long and roughly 6-1/2 inches high, then folded fan-wise into 10 inch sections to form a compact, 98 page “book”. Both sides were coated with fine lime plaster and 88 of the pages were painted with the vivid little scenes and date glyphs in bright colors.
    Such “screen folds” contained the religious texts and historical records of the pre-Columbians, and they bear no resemblance to the illuminated and bound codices of Medieval Europe.
    Like all the surviving pre-conquest documents, the early history of this one is obscure. It may have been one of the “...two books such as the Indians have” that were mentioned by Cortez in his first letter as forming part of the treasure being shipped to the Emperor Charles Fifth. If so, it was little valued and even less understood. After being judged as “...probably intended for the amusement of children foolish it would bore them,” the document spent centuries in an obscure Dominican monastery in Florence.
    It was as a gift from an Italian friend that the manuscript came into the possession of the English Lord Zouche and later into the custody of the British Museum. Until 1898, when Zelia Nuttall received permission to make the copy which was published in 1902 by the Peabody Museum, this important historical document was virtually unknown.


 8-Deer "Tiger’s Claw"

     The first 44 pages (the obverse side) of the Codex Nuttall record genealogical information on rulers and memorable events in the history of the Oaxaca Valley from as early as AD 698. The reverse side is devoted to the life and deeds of a single Hero King. Here we see him seated on his throne, wearing his full regalia and listening closely to what one of his subjects has to say. The animal head and series of fat dots just above his hand identify him by his day of birth and the spot- ted feline climbing the throne on a string of claws gives us his surname. The two glyphs in the lower left give the date. This, then, is the Lord 8 Deer “Tiger’s Claw”, military and political hero, giving audience on the day 7 Eagle in the Year 7 Serpent.

 5 Crocodile and 9 Eagle

     Here, seated facing one another in the position representing marriage, are Lord 5 Crocodile, father of our hero, 8 Deer, and his first wife, the Lady 9 Eagle. He is wearing a mask of Tlaloc, God of Rain, and carries the sun on his back to indicate his surname, “Sun of Rain”. The spray of blossoms seemingly sprouting inelegantly from the lady’s rump is actually part of her name glyph and tells us she is called “Garland of Cacao Flowers”. The date is 6 Stone in the year 9 Eagle, which corresponds to AD 992 of our calendar. This marriage was blessed with two sons, 12 Motion “Bloody Tiger” and 3 Water “Heron” and a daughter, 3 Liz ard “Jade Ornament”.

 11 Water

     Seated alone in her palace is Lord 5 Crocodile’s second wife, Lady 11 Water, surrounded by glyphs indicating her surname, “Bluebird Jewel”, and her wedding date, 6 Deer of the year 10 House (AD 1009). Though 17 years older, the bridegroom was still lusty enough to father three more children. Their first son, born in the year 12 Cane (AD 1011), was none other than 8 Deer ‘Tiger’s Claw”, the most famous of the Mixtec kings. He was followed in short order by a sister, 9 Monkey “Clouds-Quetzal of Jade” and a brother, 9 Flower “Copal Ball with Arrow”.

 Royal Wedding

     Another wedding scene is pictured here as 8 Deer, wearing a mask and an animal head helmet, takes the Lady 13 Serpent, “Serpent of Flowers” as his wife. They are seated in their palace, traditionally facing one another, while she pours and he accepts the ritual cup of chocolate which symbolized marriage. The date is 12 Serpent in the year 13 Cane (AD 1051) when 8 Deer was already 40 years old, surprisingly late in life for a first, especially a royal, marriage. The dynasty was assured, however by the birth of two sons, 4 Dog “Tame Coyote”, born in AD 1058 and 4 Crocodile “Serpent Ball of Fire” two years later.



     Perhaps our hero had been too busy fighting battles to think of marriage. He certainly seems to have been involved in enough of them. Perhaps the most important was a long dynastic struggle which was finally ended with the conquest of a place identified by its glyph as “God Xipe’s Bundle”. In this scene, he is shown in full war regalia, complete with shield, jaguar helmet and mace. The captive he is grasping by the scalp-lock is nine year old 4 Wind “Serpent of Fire” the third, and youngest, of three enemy princes taken that day. The date is the day 12 Monkey in the Year 11 House, which translates to AD 1059.

 Defeat of 10 Dog

    In yet another battle scene, 8 Deer, in the guise of a red tiger, and a warrior dressed as a yellow tiger who is tentatively identified as his brother, 9 Flower, face the enemy prince, 10 Dog “Eagle Copal Burning”, and an ally (not shown here) wearing the gruesome skull mask of the Death God. This event, which took place in AD 1060, seems to have been a ritual combat or sacrificial game. Needless to say, our heroes emerged triumphant, killing their opponents and chalking up another important conquest for the Hero King of the Mixtecs.


     The final page of the Codex Nuttal shows three scenes of ritual sacrifice that may have formed a part of the victory celebration eight days after the defeat of 10 Dog. On the day 1 Cane, another enemy prince, whose name glyphs identify him as 6 House “Row of Flint Knives”, is tied to a ladder-like scaffold and shot through the heart with a decorated arrow from the bow of 8 Deer. (The inscription above his head was added by some unknown Spanish scribe.) His death would have served the dual purpose of propitiating the gods and marking a dramatic end to 8 Deer’s final campaign. He died three years later in AD 1063.