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Alphabe Thursday N is for Zelia Nuttall, purple and snails etc.

February 20, 2014

Zelia Maria Magdalena Nuttall (1857 – 1933) was an American archaeologist and anthropologist born in San Francisco, who specialised in pre- Columbian, Mesoamerican manuscripts and the pre-Aztec culture in Mexico. The Codex Zouche-Nuttall was made in the 14th century; and reached Spain in the 16th century. It was first identified at the Monastery of San Marco, Florence, in 1854. Nuttall researched Mixtec Codex now called the Codex Zouche-Nuttall and wrote the introduction to its first facsimile published in 1902.

The Codex Zouche-Nuttall is an accordion-folded pre- Columbian piece of Mixtec writing, now in the British Museum It  records the genealogies, alliances and conquests of several 11th- and 12th-century rulers of a small Mixtec city-state in highland Oaxaca,  the Tilantongo kingdom, especially under the leadership of the warrior Lord Eight Deer Jaguar Claw; who died early twelfth century at the age of fifty-two.

It was while Zelia was in Tehuantepec in Mexico, studying the ancient cartoon paintings made by the Mixtec people that she noticed the purple skirts worn by the richer women in the marketplace. Although she was had no real knowledge of textiles.  She saw that design and colour was like those she had seen in the pre Columbian paintings. The codex, was painted on deer skin;  containing information about the peoples, their culture  and their gods.  The skirts where the identical colour to the beautiful pigment in the codex, painted more than 400 years before; not only used on clothes but on their bodies.

Nuttall spoke with a weaver who remembered as child the fisherman obtained the dye from the caracol or sea snail but by the time of Nuttall’s visit the supply had all but dried up so the fishermen were having to sail further to fulfil the demands of the Mexican ladies.  She was concerned that the industry would soon be extinct … I will have to read Colour by Victoria Finlay a bit more to discover whether she was right or not.

alphabet thursday

13 Comments leave one →
  1. Alastair Savage permalink
    February 20, 2014 9:58 am

    Wow fascinating that the Aztecs and their neighbours also used purple dyes extracted from sea shells. The Romans used the same method to create Tyrian purple, which was fantastically expensive:
    It’s one of the reasons why purple was a royal colour.

  2. February 20, 2014 10:17 am

    I love blogging if only for the fact I can learn thank you for sharing

  3. February 20, 2014 3:11 pm

    Fascinating and informative post for N ~ thanks,

  4. Karen S. permalink
    February 20, 2014 5:40 pm

    Nice, new learning experience!

  5. February 20, 2014 10:59 pm

    Ancient cartoon paintings?! How cool would that be to study?!
    Thanks for this week’s lesson!

    • February 21, 2014 6:27 am

      Yes … I would like to see the original … Thanks for dropping by XX

  6. February 20, 2014 11:03 pm

    i’m with fredamans – i think anthropology is fascinating – i want to be an anthropologist in my next life…

  7. August 19, 2014 6:55 pm

    Thanks , I’ve just been searching for information about this topic
    for ages and yours is the best I’ve found out till now.
    But, what concerning the bottom line? Are you positive concerning the source?

    • August 19, 2014 7:02 pm

      I am pretty sure I read this in Colour by Victoria Finlay ; but she didn’t elaborate more … thanks for the visit

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