Heaven and Earth in Ancient Mexico: Astronomy and Seasonal Cycles in the Codex Borgia

Heaven and Earth in Ancient Mexico: Astronomy and Seasonal Cycles in the Codex Borgia


By (author) Susan Milbrath

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  • Publisher: University of Texas Press
  • Format: Hardback | 224 pages
  • Dimensions: 221mm x 287mm x 20mm | 930g
  • Publication date: 22 February 2013
  • Publication City/Country: Austin, TX
  • ISBN 10: 0292743734
  • ISBN 13: 9780292743731
  • Illustrations note: black & white illustrations, black & white tables, figures, black & white plates, colour plates
  • Sales rank: 1,568,656

Product description

The Codex Borgia, a masterpiece that predates the Spanish conquest of central Mexico, records almanacs used in divination and astronomy. Within its beautifully painted screenfold pages is a section (pages 29-46) that shows a sequence of enigmatic pictures that have been the subject of debate for more than a century. Bringing insights from ethnohistory, anthropology, art history, and archaeo-astronomy to bear on this passage, Susan Milbrath presents a convincing new interpretation of Borgia 29-46 as a narrative of noteworthy astronomical events that occurred over the course of the year AD 1495-1496, set in the context of the central Mexican festival calendar. In contrast to scholars who have interpreted Borgia 29-46 as a mythic history of the heavens and the earth, Milbrath demonstrates that the narrative documents ancient Mesoamericans' understanding of real-time astronomy and natural history. Interpreting the screenfold's complex symbols in light of known astronomical events, she finds that Borgia 29-46 records such phenomena as a total solar eclipse in August 1496, a November meteor shower, a comet first sighted in February 1496, and the changing phases of Venus and Mercury. She also shows how the narrative is organized according to the eighteen-month festival calendar and how seasonal cycles in nature are represented in its imagery. This new understanding of the content and purpose of the Codex Borgia reveals this long-misunderstood narrative as the most important historical record of central Mexican astronomy on the eve of the Spanish conquest.

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Review quote

"Readers will appreciate the generous use of illustrations as they make their way through what is, by virtue of the subject matter, a complex line of argumentation. One of the strengths of Milbrath's study is the contextualization she provides, in the form of discussions of highland Mexican calendars, the likely provenience of the codex, and a detailed examination of central Mexican deities that play celestial or astronomical roles [...] this volume is certain to engender considerable discussion concerning how pre-Hispanic codices were used and the role of astronomical narratives in the every-day and ritual lives of Late Postclassic Mexican populations" - Anthropos