oztotl (Mdz46r)

oztotl (Mdz46r)
Element from a Compound

Glyph or Iconographic Image Description: 

This element for cave (oztotl) has been carved from the compound sign for the place name, Tzinacanoztoc. This representation of a cave shows it in a profile, looking to our right. The cave doubles as an animal head (earth monster?) with open jaws, suggesting that to enter the cave one would be walking into the mouth of the animal. The animal head is primarily green, with a lighter green above and behind the eye and a lighter green nose. The mouth is outlined in yellow/gold and the eye is the same gold. The teeth are white, and the gums are red. The back of the head and the jaws have a smocked or curly look that is reminiscent of rocky outcroppings on a tepetl (hill, mountain).

Description, Credit: 

Stephanie Wood

Added Analysis: 

The curly features around the outer perimeter harken to the iconography of the stone (tetl], reminding us that there is actually a rocky outcropping around the mouth of the cave. The standard tepetl (hill, mountain) sign also has these rocky outcroppings, along with the two-tone bell shape that appears on its side here. Some interpret this animal as an earth monster. The corner of the mouth and the corner of the eye also possibly convey something of the curliness of the tetl sign. The opening of the cave is through the monster's mouth. According to the book In the Maw of the Earth Monster: Studies of Mesoamerican Ritual Cave Use, eds. James E. Brady and Keith Prufer (Austin: University of Texas Press, 2005), caves were sacred spaces, sites of rituals, and seen as providing access to the underworld, where there were divinities or deities. See also the analysis of caves by Holley Moyes, "Rites in the Underworld: Caves as Sacred Space in Mesoamerica," in Mexicolore, ed. Ian Mursell, where we learn that caves could overlap with the conceptualization of mouths and uteruses.

The open jaws provide access to the underworld that can be reached through the cave. A temple at the pre-Hispanic archaeological site of Malinalco has an entrance that involves walking through a serpent or an earth monster's open mouth, and the interior is round and dark, being somewhat cave-like. The ruins at Chalcatzinco also have a stone carving of a simulated cave entrance that involves an opening that is "zoomorphically depicted as the mouth of the mountain lord/lightning deity’s animal familiar or co-essence, which in some cases is a serpent, lizard or crocodile and in others a jaguar," according to John E. Staller (quoted in Mexicolore).

Added Analysis, Credit: 

Stephanie Wood

Source Manuscript: 
Date of Manuscript: 

c. 1541, but by 1553 at the latest

Creator's Location (and place coverage): 

Mexico City

Cultural Content, Credit: 

Stephanie Wood

Shapes and Perspectives: 

caves, underworld, Earth monster

Glyph or Iconographic Image: 
Relevant Nahuatl Dictionary Word(s): 
Glyph/Icon Name, Spanish Translation: 

la cueva (en perfil)

Spanish Translation, Credit: 

Stephanie Wood

Image Source: 

Codex Mendoza, folio 46 recto, https://digital.bodleian.ox.ac.uk/objects/2fea788e-2aa2-4f08-b6d9-648c00..., image 102 of 188.

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).