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First guide to Aztec hieroglyphs published at last

Thames and Hudson publish the first guide to deciphering Nahuatl writing




For more than three millennia the cultures of Mesoamerica flourished, building the first cities of the Western Hemisphere and developing writing systems that could rival those of the Eastern Hemisphere in their creativity and efficiency. The Nahuatl-speaking Aztecs reigned over one of the greatest imperial civilizations the Americas had ever seen, and up until now their intricate and visually stunning hieroglyphs have been overlooked in the story of writing.


Deciphering Aztec Hieroglyphs: A Guide to Nahuatl Writing is the first book of its kind: a complete guide to reading Aztec hieroglyphs, using real writing (from Codices) as examples. In this innovative volume Gordon Whittaker provides the reader with everything they need to know to appreciate and understand Aztec hieroglyphs: a step-by-step, illustrated guide of how to read Aztec glyphs; an explanation of the special features of this writing system in comparison to others from around the globe; the story of how this enigmatic language has been deciphered; a tour through Aztec history as recorded in hieroglyphic codices; and demonstrations of how the writing system was adapted to transliterate Spanish words during the Conquest.




As Whittaker points out, '... studies of writing and handbooks on writing systems devote scant attention to Mesoamerica', and while the Maya script is finally beginning to attract attention, not a single book (before this one) had been published on the Aztec script. Therefore his aim with this volume is to 'unlock the mysteries of Aztec writing for a wide readership for the first time'. And he has done exactly that - and also brought attention to the little-known Nahuatl culture at the same time.


Beautifully illustrated with hieroglyphs from manuscripts, readers can appreciate the creativity of this writing system, in which even the colour of each symbol has meaning. Written by the leading expert in Nahuatl writing of the Aztec Empire, the latest research is presented in an accessible way, assuming no previous knowledge of ancient languages.


Beautifully produced with 300 colour photographs and illustrations of the glyphs, this is another gem from Thames and Hudson, which will be of interest to anyone interested in Aztec history and culture.


Deciphering Aztec Hieroglyphs: A Guide to Nahuatl Writing

Gordon Whittaker

Thames & Hudson

Published: April 2021



About the Author

Dr Gordon Whittaker is Fiebiger Professor Emeritus of Anthropology at the University of Göttingen, where he has held joint positions in the Institute of Ethnology and the Department of Romance Philology. He has written extensively on Aztec language, writing and civilization. His areas of specialization are Linguistic Anthropology and the Anthropology of the Americas.