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Codex

Codex

I. 1. Introduction 1.1

I. 1. Introduction 1.1 General research problem Archaeologists often have to interpret imagery, as images are found almost everywhere in the archaeological record; for example on murals, ceramics and sculptures. Such imagery is of major importance for understanding past ways of life as it often shows human behaviour that is not directly visible in the material record. In that sense, the imagery can be used as a sort of frame of reference from which analogies can be drawn to interpret the archaeological material record. Furthermore, images often contain specific information on the worldview that the past people under study had, and studying them is therefore invaluable for the understanding of how and why people in the past acted the way they did, thereby forming a link between thought and behaviour. In archaeology of Mesoamerica the study and interpretation of such imagery seems to be an almost separate discipline. Throughout the years scholars have come to understand many aspects of Mesoamerican worldviews through these studies. However, many problems still remain, especially concerning the interpretation of images that have a highly religious content. Generally, interpretations of imagery are made following the steps of iconography and iconology. These theories concern the following questions: what is the imagery about and what is the intended meaning given by the artist? (Van Straten 1994, 92). The iconological method was introduced by Erwin Panofsky in 1939, and included mainly three steps of analysis. These steps are (1) the description of the scene; (2) the identification of elements within the scene, and thereby placing it in a historical context; and (3) the analysis of cultural values and norms inherent in the scene (see Van Straten 1994). To be able to identify elements within the scene and to give them their appropriate meaning, Panofsky (1939, 11-12) argued that one should be or become familiar with the worldview of the culture under study. This is because the images are made from a specific view on the world (an ontology). However, this is problematic as archaeologists cannot ask the people under study anything. Therefore the interpretation of the imagery remains very difficult and subject to a lot of discussion. Various sources are needed in 6 | Introduction

order to be able to say something about the content of the imagery, because archaeologists only have scattered pieces of information. For the interpretation of religious Mesoamerican pictography this is most problematic, as from the Spanish Conquest (A.D. 1521) onwards the Spanish have tried to dispose of the native religion and imposed their own religion, Christianity, on the native population. Practitioners of native rituals were punished and religious monuments and idols were destroyed. Furthermore, ritual manuscripts inherent to Mesoamerican life were burned in immense amounts. Only a handful of manuscripts has survived (Anders 1998, 1- 4). This all has led to the disappearance of a tremendous amount of religious information in the archaeological record. Because of this, scholars gather most information about pre-colonial Mesoamerican religion from the chronicles that were written by Spanish friars and the documentation on ‘heathen practices’ written by priests. Works that are often cited are for example those from Sahagún, Durán, and Ruiz de Alarcón. Thus, in their attempt to reconstruct past religious life in Mesoamerica scholars rely mostly on such biased works of various Spanish monks and priests, who wanted to understand the ritual practices in order to efficiently dispose of them. This is then often compared with what is found archaeologically. Because there is so little information left, interpretations of pictography are thus being made on the basis of scattered sources from different areas of Mesoamerica, and often this leads to great discussions amongst scholars. This thesis will focus on one of such cases: the interpretation process of pages 29 to 46 of the Codex Borgia, a religious manuscript used in Central Mexico in the Postclassic period (A.D. 1250-1521) (Boone 2007, 1-4; Hernández Sánchez 2005, 17). 1.2 The Codex Borgia The Codex Borgia, also called Codex Yoalli Ehecatl (Jansen and Pérez Jiménez 2004, 270), is a codex (a folded pictorial manuscript) which was probably used as a divinatory guide. It is part of the so called Borgia Group, which consists of a number of religious codices, composed of the codices Borgia, Vaticanus B, Cospi, Fejérvàry-Mayer, Laud, Porfirio Díaz, and the manuscript Fonds Mexicain 20. These codices form a group because their contents all concern time cycles in relation to their spiritual meanings. At the base of this lies the ritual calendar of 260 days that provided information about life and death. Because of this content, these codices are also called books of fate. They describe among others what rituals should be carried out, where, and when, in order for people to 7 | Introduction

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