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. (cont.)
By Maciej Kuczyński

Figures 3a and 3b

In order to determine the reason for depicting the wall of the precious vessel in such an elaborate way, a comparison was made of the drawing (3a) with an electro-micrograph of the cross-section of a human oocyte (i.e. an egg before ovulation (3b).

The successive layers, from the (bottom) centre of the egg are:

  1. cell nucleus,
  2. cell cytoplasm with mitochondria or the cellular bodies supplying chemical energy,
  3. the cell wall with growing out microcilia,
  4. so-called transparent envelope, a jelly-body, protecting the oocyte.

All these layers have their graphic equivalents in the majority of the precious vessels depicted in the codices.

The left side precious vessel (p. 36 of Nuttal) (1), contains a drawing of the sea snail. According to Edward Seler: "the sea snail symbolizes birth of man". According to Andres de Olmos: "yolcayotl - the snail - signifies the beginning of proliferation".

Above the snail there is a bunch of grass tied in a knot. In the right side precious vessel there is the same bunch of grass but already untied and held by the god's hand. Such a bunch of grass is a symbol which denotes malinalli meaning: the twisted thing or something that is twisted. This grass was commonly used by Indians for twisting strings. Location of the sign of twisted string within the sign of the cell suggests an analogy with the helicoidally stranded DNA.

Confirmation of this supposition has been found in many drawings; for example in the codex Borgia (4) there is a symbol of malinalli, the twisted thing, depicted in its original double helix form and placed inside the enlarged nucleus of the precious stone or the egg-cell.

Figure 4 C.BORGIA. On the right: serpent with its tongue equating to the self-duplicating, twisted string of malinalli

Strands of DNA contain the genetic record composed of the so called triplet codons, which are sequences of three adjacent bases. Triplets code for one of 20 aminoacids of the protein. The drawing (4) of malinalli also presents on each of its coils 3 coloured stripes (in original: white, yellow, red) as if depicting the idea of an arrangement of the genetic code.

The idea of information arranged linearly (colored stripes) within the cell is often depicted in codices. It is expressed by many-coloured striped strands called tlapapalli or the striped thing, something that is a striped. It is relevant to the notion of chromosome as an elongated cell structure bearing genetic information linearly arranged.

Figure 5

There is a series of drawings recording the birth of the son of a Mixtec princess called 3-Flint (acc. to Alfonso Casó), on the 9th page of Nuttal. One of the pictures (5) shows the precious vessel with the naked body of the princess. In front of her, also in the nucleus of the egg, there is a many coloured striped strand.

The function of this strand in the cell finds a striking explanation in the traditional text in which the Aztec father instructing his daughter exclaimed: "you are my colour, my reflection".

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