xihuitl (Mdz13r)

xihuitl (Mdz13r)
Simplex Glyph

Glyph or Iconographic Image Description: 

This element standing for "turquoise" or "year" (xihuitl) comes from the compound glyph for the place name Xiuhhuacan. A very similar symbol sits atop a mountain in the compound glyphs for Xiuhtepec, as seen in our attestations. Here (and in those examples, too) it is a quadripartite shape (quincunx) outlined in black and colored turquoise and red. It consists of a large circle with four small circles around the circumference, approximately evenly spaced, all painted turquoise. Inside the large circle are two oval or flint shapes, painted red. These two inner shapes are vertical.

Description, Credit: 

Stephanie Wood

Added Analysis: 

The iconography of this turquoise gem may suggest a shimmer or shine in the small circles around the perimeter, as they are reminiscent of the small circles on the outside of the chalchihuitl (jade), the tezcatl (mirror), and the tonatiuh (sun, day). Water droplets that splash off of the atl glyph (along with shells) also catch the light and may suggest shine. Xihuitl also refers to a year in the calendar. Its quincunx shape (quadripartite) of the turquoise stone recalls the four cardinal directions and conceptualizations of the cosmos (astronomical and calendrical). The Florentine Codex (Book XI) includes various gradations of xihuitl, from mundane to especially precious: xihuitl (ordinary), teoxihuitl (god-like), and tlapalteoxihuitl (an exceptionally colored turquoise). These terms raise the supernatural significance of some turquoise in Indigenous religious belief and practice. [See Molly Bassett's presentation on the Florentine Codex at the Getty Research Institute in 2015.]

Other known representations of the stone xihuitl sign can have a mosaic-like representation of the turquoise (see the Matrícula de Tributos, f. 3 verso). Turquoise-covered objects are often found to have clusters of small stones (tesserae) put together in mosaics. The two flint-shaped inner pieces of this xihuitl sign have been known to have a mosaic-like character, too (see Taube 2012, fig. 12d–f). The appendices of the book, Conceptualization of 'Xihuitl,' by Mutsumi Izeki includes a great many objects covered with turquoise tesserae.

The red color has yet to be analyzed fully, but the "pairing of red and [turquoise] blue" may have had references to the atl tlachinolli (sacred warfare) and imperial expansion according to Andrea Feeser. Feeser also cites Eleanor Wake for noting that turquoise and red combined "as the chromatic metaphor for the source of life." [See: The Materiality of Color, 2017, p. 57.] Janice Robertson (2017, 193) sees the red around the chalchihuitl as having the purpose of pulsating; one could see these colors in a similar way. Mutsumi Izeki identifies fire and the color red as an "extended sense" of xihuitl as exemplified in Xiuhtecuhtli, a divine force often called the "god of fire," the "god of year," and the "god of turquoise." Izeki links the color red with the color of fire and of the sun. [See: Conceptualization of 'Xihuitl,' 2008, 34–35.]

In comparison images, below, the red of this turquoise stone also seems to have an association with time, with the meaning "year," which connects it to the sun. In the Codex Mexicanus, the mosaic turquoise circle standing for "year" has a red ring around it. In the Codex Quetzalecatzin, the turquoise year symbols have red underlining. In that same, southern Puebla (Mixtec) codex there are A-O year signs, where the A is turquoise blue and the horizontal circle is red.

Added Analysis, Credit: 

Stephanie Wood

Gloss 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, Credit: 

Stephanie Wood

SVG of Glyph: 
SVG Image, Credit: 

Joseph Scott and Crystal Boulton-Scott made the SVG.


years, turquoise stones, quincunxes, piedras preciosas, años, fuego, xiuhpohualli, turquesa, xihuitl

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

turquoise or year

Glyph/Icon Name, Spanish Translation: 

la turquesa o el año

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).