Author of the Month

Biological Knowledge of Ancient Meso-American Indians
Summary of Maciej Kuczyński's book "Czciciele węża"
("Worshippers of the Serpent" or “Veneradores de la Serpiente”), Warszawa 1990.
By Maciej Kuczyński

The 36th page of the Pre-Colombian codex Nuttal (fig.1) depicts (according. to Alfonso Casó) the origin of the Mixtec nation (and thereof the origin of human kind). The small square symbol placed in the right corner at the bottom, called chalchi- huitl meaning the precious stone, is a symbol which denotes "life". Its form is similar to the scheme of a cell with the nucleus. Above it another precious stone is seen, here in its circular form. It breaks, or divides, and lets the germ out. Such a whole is a hieroglyph for the "beginning of life".

Figure 1
Figure 1

Cell-like signs of precious stones correlate with Aztec texts. For example:

  1. ritual talk of midwives to the newly born: "You begin to bloom and to germ like a precious stone",
  2. a message addressed by the Aztec priest to the penitent: "When you were created and despatched and your father and mother Quetzalcóatl (the Feathered Serpent) formed you as a precious stone, very clean, which comes out of the bosom of its mother, where it originates..."
  3. customary announcement of a happy father in the Aztec capital Tenochtitlan about the pregnancy of his daughter: "Let you all know, that our Lord extended his mercy because he put in Mrs. M, the maid, recently married, a precious stone and rich feathers which made her pregnant..."
  4. one more Aztec text: "(gods) created you of the precious stone".

My understanding that chalchihuitl as a reproductive cell - an egg - was established from a correlation of the drawings of the precious stone, resembling simplified cell schemes together with the texts on the properties of this jewel. Its conotation as a mystical "symbol of life" could only be the secondary one.

The ability to build a body from its progeny cells is one of the most important properties of the reproductive cells and is performed in the course of subsequent cell divisions. The texts cited above state explicitly that the ability to build a body is a property of the precious stone too. The possession by the precious stone of the other property, which is basic for life, that is to divide itself, is attested by the drawings of the codex Vindobonensis (2).

Figure 2

The precious stone placed in the attic and inside the symbolic temple of life divides into two and then into four parts. Accompanying rock drawings from Cuba (b,c) depict this event even more accurately.

Another example is seen on page 36 of Nuttal (1). Cross-sections of two `vessels` are visible at the bottom centre. They are presenting halves of the `square` precious stone which is placed on the right. As a matter of fact they are only variations of this symbol, called chalchihuitl apazco, meaning vessel of the precious stone or simply the precious vessel. This symbol which is used in pictoral genealogical records symbolizes the reproductive cell which gives the origin of the queen's or princess' descendant body or child. It is a vessel because it serves to preserve "life" and to store

intra-cellular structures – which point is discussed later.

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