pictogram showing an earthquake and warriors in a river

This pictogram is among the many oldest accounts of Americas’ earthquakes


A 50-page codex of colourful, complicated pictograms that dates to the early sixteenth century consists of probably the most full — and one of many oldest — written chronologies of early earthquakes within the Americas.

The Telleriano-Remensis, which was created by an unknown pre-Hispanic civilization, describes 12 separate earthquakes that rocked what’s now Mexico and Central America from 1460 to 1542, researchers report August 25 in Seismological Analysis Letters. The well-known codex was written by specialists known as tlacuilos, which means “those who write painting” within the Nahuatl language spoken by Aztecs and different pre-Hispanic civilizations within the space (SN: 3/13/20).

Utilizing different codices from the area, researchers had beforehand recognized the mixture of two pictographs that denotes an earthquake. One reveals 4 helices round a central circle or eye, and stands for ollin, which means “movement” in Nahuatl. The opposite pictograph reveals a number of rectangular layers stuffed with dots, and means tlalli, or “earth.” For daytime earthquakes, the attention is open; for nighttime quakes, it’s closed.

pictograph showing a central eye followed by a plus sign and a pictograph showing a box with dots
In codices written by pre-Hispanic civilizations who spoke Nahuatl, such because the Aztecs, the mixture of two symbols represents an earthquake, or tlalollin. One pictograph (left) reveals 4 helices with a central eye and stands for ollin, or “movement.” The second (proper) is an oblong field stuffed with dots, typically in layers, and represents tlalli, or “earth.”G. Suárez and V. García-Acosta/Seismological Analysis Letters 2021

Seismologist Gerardo Suárez of the Nationwide Autonomous College of Mexico and social anthropologist Virginia García-Acosta of the Middle for Analysis and Increased Research in Social Anthropology, each in Mexico Metropolis, pored over the Telleriano-Remensis. The researchers have been in search of representations of quakes, evaluating what they discovered to accounts of quakes in different pre-Hispanic codices and texts written later by Spanish friars.

The Telleriano-Remensis makes use of a pictorial illustration of a 52-year cycle to roughly date the quakes. Years are represented by 4 indicators— tecpatl (knife), calli (home), tochtli (rabbit) and acatl (reed) — organized in 13 permutations. These photographs helped the researchers match some pictorial accounts of quakes, together with one in 1507, to later descriptions of the occasions.

Little extra is recounted in regards to the exact areas of those quakes or the harm they prompted, though one picture suggests {that a} quake triggered flooding that drowned warriors. Different codices could include extra clues, the researchers say, which may assist create a extra full chronology of the quakes that shook this historic world.


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