malacatl (Mdz37r)

malacatl (Mdz37r)
Element from a Compound

Glyph or Iconographic Image Description: 

This element, carved from the compound glyph Tlachmalacac, is a spindle (malacatl). It is a vertical stick (orange, apparently representing wood), with white thread or yarn (most likely, cotton, ichcatl) spun around it, shown in horizontal black lines (an implicit spiral), covering slightly more than half the stick. Toward the bottom of this spun material is a white lump without the horizontal lines, which may be a weight that gave the spindle stability as it was initially being loaded with thread. (Not shown but also employed for stability was the tzahualcaxitl, or spinning bowl, mentioned by Berdan and Anawalt, Codex Mendoza, 1992, vol. 2, 155.) The two ends of the spindle are pointed. From the top point of the spindle we see the unspun material (fillet or prepared fluff) bending off to our right. This fillet has five u-shaped markings in black ink, possibly seeds that escaped the cleaning process or another symbol for something cultivated, as they are reminiscent of markings found on agricultural fields, whether milli, tlalli, chinamitl, or even ixtlahuatl. Some warrior regalia had spindles with fillet flowing off their headdresses, such as can be seen on folios of the Codex Mendoza that show tributes in kind.

Description, Credit: 

Stephanie Wood

Added Analysis: 

In some attestations the spindle will be tipped and even horizontal, and in some attestations the spindle sometimes has a red color to the weight below the spun yarn or thread. The fluff of the material being spun will sometimes be stretched out to the end of the yarn (or thread) that is being spun. Here is an image from the Florentine Codex, published by Mexicolore, that shows a woman spinning. The U shapes in the fluff (fillet) are reminiscent of the shapes one finds in glyphs for tlalli, milli, amilli, and even ixtlahuatl, perhaps suggesting this this material being spun comes from a crop, includes seeds, or perhaps it is just texturing. Spinning and weaving were gendered activities; they pertained to the realm of the cihuatl (woman). In the Florentine Codex image, we can see that the lower tip of the spindle sat in a small gourd or ceramic cup.

Added Analysis, Credit: 

Stephanie Wood

Source Manuscript: 
Date of Manuscript: 

c. 1541, or by 1553 at the latest

Creator's Location (and place coverage): 

Mexico City

Cultural Content & Iconography: 
Cultural Content, Credit: 

Stephanie Wood

SVG of Glyph: 
SVG Image, Credit: 

Joseph Scott and Crystal Boulton-Scott made the SVG.


spinning, spindle, spiral, threads, bobina, espiral, verticilo de huso, hilatura, hilo

Glyph or Iconographic Image: 
Relevant Nahuatl Dictionary Word(s): 
Additional Scholars' Interpretations: 


Glyph/Icon Name, Spanish Translation: 

el huso

Spanish Translation, Credit: 

Stephanie Wood

Image Source: 
Image Source, Rights: 

The Bodleian Libraries, University of Oxford, hold the original manuscript, the MS. Arch. Selden. A. 1. This image is published here under the UK Creative Commons, “Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 License” (CC-BY-NC-SA 3.0).