tecpatl (Mdz8r)

tecpatl (Mdz8r)
Element from a Compound

Glyph or Iconographic Image Description: 

This element for an obsidian blade (tecpatl) has been carved from the compound sign for the place name, Tecpatzinco. It is a blade that is placed vertically, and it has two points. It is half red and half white, and the colors are divided along a diagonal.

Description, Credit: 

Stephanie Wood

Added Analysis: 

This atomic sign represents a flint or obsidian knife. Both blades and both points would have been sharp and useful for a number of purposes. The red color recalls the color of blood, and one of the uses was to cut into human chests on rare occasions for the purposes of making sacrificial offerings. It was also used as a weapon. But Daniele Dehouve ("Combination of Signs in the Codices of Central Mexico," Ancient Mesoamerica, 2021) adds that red and white together refer to a cutting edge.

The tecpatl was a calendrical symbol, and it had a religious significance. It was believed to have fallen from the heavens. It comes into play in various origin accounts and has associations with various deities. Some of the known, surviving, pre-contact flint knives were anthropomorphized, given teeth and fangs. See, for example, the flint inside another sign in the Codex Borgia, and the way the date One Flint (Ce Tecpatl) is shown in the Codex Magliabechiano. This glyph in the Magliabechiano has a red and white wrapping (of paper?) tied around it, something like the wrapping we find on one of the glyphs for tepoztli in this collection, although the pattern on the paper is different. Gordon Whittaker writes of the tecpatl): "It has myriad associations in Central Mexican thought, among other things with grand beginnings and great migrations." See his comment 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

Semantic Categories: 
Cultural Content, Credit: 

Stephanie Wood


blades, knives, obsidian, flint, weapons, tools

Glyph or Iconographic Image: 
Relevant Nahuatl Dictionary Word(s): 

tecpa(tl), obsidian knife or blade, https://nahuatl.wired-humanities.org/content/tecpatl

Additional Scholars' Interpretations: 

obsidian blade

Image Source: 

Codex Mendoza, folio 8 recto, https://digital.bodleian.ox.ac.uk/objects/2fea788e-2aa2-4f08-b6d9-648c00..., image 25, 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).