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Color and Culture among the Pre-Hispanic Nahuas

Élodie Dupey García, Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, Fellow 2013–2014

During my fellowship, I finished my historical research on color in Nahua culture and prepared the data for publication. I also updated the results of my 2010 doctoral dissertation with information recently obtained through the direct examination of the color palettes of three Pre-Columbian codices. My method was interdisciplinary, as I compared this data with information derived from archaeometry and with accounts on colorants available in the historical sources. Moreover, to guarantee an accurate use of the historical data, I carried out a new translation of the only existing Nahuatl text on Pre-Columbian pigments. At the same time, I defined the outlines and wrote the first chapters of the books that derive from my long-term and updated research. One explains the structure and principles of the chromatic lexicon in ancient Nahuatl, while the other demonstrates the importance of the materiality of color in Nahua society. In fact, a major finding from my fellowship was an understanding that the intimate relationship that the Nahuas perceived between color and its material manifestation largely determined the uses and meanings of colors in this culture. My stay at Dumbarton Oaks also gave me the opportunity to collaborate with Jamie Forde, another fellow in Pre-Columbian Studies. Jamie is a specialist in the Mixtec culture of Oaxaca, and we shared our respective expertise to study an enigmatic Nahua codex that comprises six pages repainted with a set of Mixtec figures and symbols.