INTRODUCTION Since the publication of “Zapotec Hieroglyphic Writing” (Urcid 2001) prevailing methodological constrains in pursuing issues concerning the phonetic decipherment of the script has prompted me to extend a broader semiotic cast onto the available inscriptions,…
INTRODUCTION Since the publication of “Zapotec Hieroglyphic Writing” (Urcid 2001) prevailing methodological constrains in pursuing issues concerning the phonetic decipherment of the script has prompted me to extend a broader semiotic cast onto the available inscriptions, focusing on their semasiographic component and exploring not only semiological relations between image and text but also paying particular attention to the physical backdrops by means of which writing was displayed. From such a perspective, the definition of “decipherment” acquires a different meaning. I still maintain that an understanding of how speech is graphically encoded in the script is critical to elucidate the actual content of the inscriptions and that these are crucial steps for a more comprehensive view of the Zapotec scribal tradition and its societal uses, but acknowledge that by extending the contextual framework of analysis beyond the epigraphic one it is feasible to bring insights concerning semantic meanings embedded in the visual communication and ultimately throw light on the broader cultural code underlying the production and apprehension of writing. The aim of this essay is therefore to highlight how the construction of knowledge (astronomical, calendrical, mantic, and scribal) was linked to the production of social memory and ultimately to political and economic power. My intent is not to cover such links throughout the known uses of the script, uses than spanned more than a thousand years. Rather, I will focus on the scribal production that occurred between the 5th and 9th centuries after the Common Era. In doing so I will rely on the cornerstones that I laid out in “Zapotec Writing”, especially on the conclusions regarding the structure of the Zapotec Calendar Round and the reconstruction of the 20-day name list of the mantic calendar. I will also incorporate or build upon the exegesis of some inscribed materials published before and after “Zapotec Hieroglyphic Writing” that were aimed mostly to Spanish readers and that appear in forums perhaps seldom read by English speakers. I will begin the exposition by providing a general introduction to Zapotec writing and by commenting explicitly on the methods that I have employed in studying the ancient script. Subsequently, I will discuss two broader contexts in which writing was deployed: the monumental and the domestic. While the former may have exposed particular inscriptions to wider audiences in a more direct way, the latter may have accomplished the same albeit indirectly. The example that I will use to illustrate the link between writing and political power centers 4 on the carved monoliths that were found forming the corners of the South Platform at Monte Albán. While this example may seem already familiar, as it was amply detailed in chapter 5 of “Zapotec Writing”, its recapitulation in this context is framed within a discussion of a series of rulers from Monte Albán that can now be identified based on semasiographic and epigraphic data, and the reiteration of the case serves to introduce a newly found carved monolith that was evidently part of one of the two sequential narrative programs that were rendered in these monoliths.
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