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Las culturas pre-colombinas de Meso-América

En España, hoy es martes el 25 de julio de 2017.

The Aztec, Nahuatl, and the Valley of Mexico


La bandera mexicana

There are many words in Spanish and English which originated in Nahuatl, the language of the Aztec. For example, our words for “coyote” (coyotl) and “chocolate” (xocoatl) come from Nahuatl by way of the Spanish. Further, certain symbols that were important to the Aztec have become a part of Mexican culture well into the 21st century.

In the Valley of Mexico unit, we briefly study the Aztec, and in general, the nature of the first contacts between the Europeans, as represented by the Spanish, and the civilizations of the Americas.

You will need to be prepared to respond to the following questions:

  1. ¿Cuál fue el nombre original de los Aztecas?

    R: Mexica (from which Mexico derives part of it’s name: Los Estados Unidos de México)

  2. ¿Cómo se llamaba la antigua ciudad pre-Azteca en el valle de México?

    R: Teotihuacan

  3. ¿Cómo se llamaba la capital de los Aztecas cuando llegaron los españoles?

    R: Tenochtitlan

  4. ¿Cómo se llamaba el emperador de los Aztecas cuando llegaron los españoles?

    R: Motecuzoma (in English, frequently rendered as “Montezuma”)

  5. ¿Cómo se llama el dios de los mesoamericanos que fue exiliado pero dijo que iba a regresar algún día?

    R: Quetzalcoatl (from quetzal, an iridescent green bird revered by most mesoamerican cultures, and coatl, or “serpent.” Together, Quetzalcoalt was the feathered serpent god.)

  6. ¿En qué año dijo Quetzalcoatl que iba a regresar para tomar el poder?

    R: ce acatl (en Nahuatl, the language of the Aztec), or uno caña (en Español—it’s not una caña, because it’s not “a reed/cane” but rather “uno” for the integer “one”) This is a particularly important date in that it happened to correspond to the western calendar year 1519, the year the Spanish arrived in Mexico.

  7. ¿Cuál fue el símbolo que busacaron los Aztecas que les indicaría su tierra destinada, y que hoy, se ve en la bandera Mexicana?

    R: Una águila en un cactus comiendo una serpiente.

  8. ¿Dónde se ve (is seen) este símbolo hoy día?

    R: en la bandera mexicana (in the Mexican flag)

  9. ¿Qué sistema usaron los Aztecas para la agricultura y para ampliar su isla?

    R: chinampas (the reed mats floated at the border and weighed down with “compost”)

The Mayan and Writing Systems

In the documentary Cracking the Maya Code, we learned a great deal about the process of deciphering Mayan hieroglyphics. Through the work of David Stuart (the youngest recipient ever of the MacArthur “Genius Award”) and others we learn about the long history of attempting to decode the Mayan writing system such that today we are able to access the information left to us on Mayan monuments and stelae.

With respect to writing systems, we learned that the first step in deciphering any unknown writing system is to count the number of symbols used. From this we can deduce the following:

  1. If the number of symbols is roughly between 20 and 26, the symbols most likely represent simple sounds and the writing system itself is alphabetic.
  2. If the number of symbols is between 30 and 80, then the symbols most likely represent syllables and the system itself is a syllabary.
  3. If there are many thousands of symbols, then they most likely represent words, concepts, or ideas, and the system is sometimes called a logographic system.
  4. From the work of Eric Thompson and others, we know there are some 800+ symbols used in the Mayan hieroglyphic system.

Given that there are roughly 800 unique glyphs, or symbols in the Mayan system, we can see that there are too many symbols to represent syllables, yet too few to represent words. Thus, scholars have deduced that the Mayan system must be a hybrid system of syllables and words! Further, David Stuart later discovered that many of the different symbols in Mayan writing represent mere phonetic variation, and that multiple symbols can all represent the same sound!

Cracking the Maya Code is at least temporarily available on YouTube.