November 13, 2010 Dr. Cherra Wyllie: "The Arts of the Book in Ancient Mesoamerica"

            At the time of the Conquest of Mexico in 1521, Aztec cities housed vast libraries containing thousands of fan-fold books. The Spanish left behind their descriptions of deer skin and bark paper volumes, but believing the books to be works of the devil destroyed all but a handful of the manuscripts—in what was perhaps the greatest episode of book burning in human history.
            Mesoamerican scribes and artisans created histories, maps, genealogies, and tribute lists. Aztec priests used the tonalamatl or Book of Days for divination. In some parts of Mexico traditional shaman continue to make prognostications using folded amate paper. Their divinatory practices are the remains of rituals once performed by Aztec priests before the Conquest.
             The recipe for paper is itself thousands of years old. Traditional papermaking continued in some Mexican villages until the Twentieth Century. Today amate is only made in the remote mountain village of San Pablito in the modern Mexican state of Puebla. Wyllie traveled to San Pablito in 1997 practicing the craft under the instruction of an Otomi woman. Using ethno-history, ethnography, and scientific analysis her presentation explored how ancient book artists produced papers, pigments, and binders, as well as how traditional practices shed light on the unique form and function of Mesoamerican books.
    Cherra Wyllie, Ph.D., Associate Professor of Art History and Archaeology, University of Hartford, is an archaeological illustrator specializing in Classic Veracruz iconography and hieroglyphic inscriptions. She studied with Michael D. Coe and Mary Ellen Miller at Yale University where she earned an MA in Archaeological Studies and a Ph.D. in Anthropology. Her recent articles include A CLASSIC VERACRUZ ROYAL TOMB: El Zapotal Mound 2, 2009, and THE MURAL PAINTINGS OF EL ZAPOTAL, Veracruz Mexico, 2010. Her book-length monograph, SIGNS, SYMBOLS, AND HIEROGLYPHS OF ANCIENT VERACRUZ is due out later this year with BAR International Series, Oxford.

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