xihuitl (Mdz71r)

xihuitl (Mdz71r)

Glyph or Iconographic Image Description: 

This is from the iconographic scenes of the Codex Mendoza, and yet it can also be considered a glyph for the word xihuitl, which in this case was intended to be read "year." See the contextualizing image below. The mosaic consists in this case of ten angular pieces, all about the same size, and together they form a circle.

Description, Credit: 

Stephanie Wood

Added Analysis: 

Xihuitl also means turquoise, and the visual does appear to be a turquoise mosaic, for the sign is painted a turquoise color. So it has that graphic "syllepsis" (in the terminology of Gordon Whittaker). Glyphs for ilhuitl (day) are typically circular, although they will vary in design and color. The gloss is in the plural because it is referring to the 70 years of age lived by the man who appears below the rendering of the years. We include this gloss as a way of confirming the reading of the glyph as "year." Note in the contextualizing image that each turquoise mosaic has a flag above it, indicating twenty. Three of those add up to 60, and there are another 10 ones above that. Thus, the total is 70.

Other known representations of the stone xihuitl sign can have a mosaic-like representation of the turquoise (see the Matrícula de Tributos, folio 3 verso). Turquoise-covered objects are often found to have clusters of small stones (tesserae) put together in mosaics. The appendices of the book, Conceptualization of 'Xihuitl' (2008) by Mutsumi Izeki, include a great many objects covered with turquoise tesserae.

For some excellent examples of turquoise mosaics from Mexico that are in the British Museum, see Elizabeth M. Carmichael, Turquoise Mosaics from Mexico (London: Trustees of the British Museum, 1970) and Colin McEwan et al, Turquoise Mosaics from Mexico (Durham: Duke University Press, 2006).

Added Analysis, Credit: 

Stephanie Wood

Gloss Image: 
Gloss Diplomatic Transcription: 


Gloss Normalization: 

años (years)

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

Semantic Categories: 
Cultural Content, Credit: 

Stephanie Wood


years, mosaics, turquoise, años, mosaicos, turquesas, xiuhpohualli, turquesa, xihuitl

Museum & Rare Book Comparisons: 
Museum/Rare Book Notes: 

This is an inlaid turquoise mosaic ear spool, Postclassic Mixtec, in the Kislak Collection, Library of Congress. Photograph by Stephanie Wood, April 2023.

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


Image Source: 

Codex Mendoza, folio 71 recto, https://digital.bodleian.ox.ac.uk/objects/2fea788e-2aa2-4f08-b6d9-648c00..., image 152 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).

Historical Contextualizing Image: