Textile Society of America


Date of this Version



Crosscurrents: Land, Labor, and the Port. Textile Society of America's 15th Biennial Symposium. Savannah. GA. October 19-23. 2016


Copyright 2016 by Alejandro de Avila B.


The earliest text known so far in the Americas was engraved on a potsherd found in Chiapa de Corzo in southern Mexico that has been dated to around 300 years before our era. The script appears to represent a language in the Mixe-Zoquean family (which developed historically along the Isthmus of Tehuantepec), and it has been proposed that the inscription on the clay reads as follows: “The pleated cloth got dyed. The thing that is made of pleated cloth has been cut.”1 If this interpretation holds true, the text must refer to a textile that was patterned by means of compression-resist dyeing. Since fabric in ancient Mesoamerica and the Andes was woven to size and never cut or tailored, it seems likely that the second part of the inscription relates to the removal of threads or binding that would have compressed the folded cloth. It is plausible to relate the ancient text from Chiapa specifically to compression-resist dyeing because there have been at least three findings of pre-Columbian tie-resist and stitch-resist dyed cloth in Mexico. The first and most impressive example was uncovered in Apaseo el Alto (in the state of Guanajuato in central Mexico) in the late 1800s. The site was not excavated by archaeologists but explored by an amateur,2 and no trace of the textile has been found since then except for a photograph published in 1897,3 which shows it to have been a sizable mantle, apparently made out of agave fiber. The designs in the photo are complex and reflect consummate skill; the art of resist-dyeing had evidently reached a high degree of sophistication in Mexico before the European invasion. Two archaeological fragments of cotton fabric found in a dry cave in the Tehuacán valley,4 and a larger piece unearthed at La Ciudadela in Mexico City,5 are less spectacular examples of tie-resist dyeing, but they show nonetheless that the technique was widespread, and it served to embellish textiles fashioned with different fibers. Furthermore, the style of compressionresist patterning left an imprint on other media during the post-Classic period (900 to 1521 AD), as evidenced by polychrome ceramics from Oaxaca decorated with circular designs in three colors against a dark background.6