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The Huexotzinco Codex

Detail from the Huexotzinco Codex
The Huexotzinco Codex: About this image


Students will analyze a set of pictograph documents created by native peoples of Puebla, Mexico in 1531.  Students will take on the role of historians, study the documents, and create a scenario to explain what these documents were for, who created them, and why.  The codex was an accounting of excess taxation and students will decode the images and tabulate the quantities of goods paid to the local government.

Objectives After completing this unit students will be able to:
  • Analyze primary sources.
  • Practice the process of historical inquiry.
  • Apply math skills to calculate pictographs.
Time Required Three class periods.
Recommended Grade Level 6-8
Topic Early America
Era Three Worlds Meet, Beginnings to 1620
Standards McREL 4th Edition Standards & Benchmarks


  • Uses a variety of strategies in the problem solving process

Thinking and Reasoning

  • Effectively uses mental process that are based on identifying similarities and differences
  • Understands and applies basic principles of hypothesis testing and scientific inquiry


  • Uses viewing skills and strategies to understand and interpret visual media

Historical Understanding

  • Understands the historical perspective
Materials Used The following materials will be used in this lesson.
Resources Used The following resources will be used in this lesson:

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This lesson is meant to be an introduction into primary source analysis with a supplemental math activity. Before leading students through the exploration process, teachers should read and study the Huexotzinco Codex Overview Document. Have the requisite materials ready before each activity:

  • Primary Source Analysis form (one per student)
  • Huexotzinco Codex  (one section per student or one section per pair)

Activity One - Document Analysis (1 class period)
Before class, photocopy Primary Source Analysis form one for each student and print out sets of the Huexotzinco Codex necessary for each student to have a section.  (Students may work in pairs instead of individually.)

  1. Create a scenario: This set of documents was recently found in an old trunk.  We know they are from somewhere in Mexico and that they are very old.  We will be taking a closer look at these documents and forming an idea of: Who created them? What they are for? When were they created? Where were they created? Why they were created?  We might also come up with other questions, too.Pass out Tribute 1: Ask students, “What do you see?” (Possible answers might include circles, rectangles, drawings, bundles, colors, pictures or symbols (peppers, corn, bird).)  Ask students, “What do you think you know?”  (Answers should indicate the item is a tabulation of some sort. Count some of the items and record on board or chart paper using cross hatches to indicate groupings for easy counting (bowls ///  chilis // corn //// //). Ask students, “What do you want to know more about?”  Continue the scenario: When historians find things they sometimes have to guess.  Then they work together and share ideas theories or ideas.  You will each analyze one piece of the document and then we will share our theories.   Continue the scenario:  Historians keep very detailed notes when they are analyzing an artifact.  We will take notes on our investigation on this form. Pass out Primary Source Analysis Tool and review the columns, adding an example notation in each column. Allow time for individuals or pairs to study and make notes. Sharing: Have students find others working with the same piece and share their ideas and observations.
  2. Group Conclusions: have each group report on their ideas.

Activity Two - Computation (1 class period) Have the requisite materials ready before each activity:
Huexotzinco Math worksheets (3 pages) – one sheet per student or one set per student
Tribute #1, #2, #3 - one sheet per student or one set per student

  1. Continue the scenario: We received some information from a team of historians.  They told us this was an accounting from a town called Huexotzinco (Way-hoat-ZINC-o).  The people were required to make a tribute (pay taxes) to the regional government. The historians also told us that the following symbols stand for a numbering system.
    Flag on stick = 20
    Bundle of sticks =400
    Hanging frame = 8,000Pass out copies of Tribute #1, #2 and #3, one sheet per student or one set per student.Ask students to try to tabulate the numbers of items.  See how they attack the challenge.  Do they group items, do they make a list, etc.  (If desired, assign particular students or pairs of students to count a particular item.)Pass out the Huexotzinco Math Worksheet(s).  Ask students to record their calculations on this new document, to name each item, and to calculate the total numbers of each item.  Have students complete one or all three computation sheets.
  2. Share the answers and allow students to self correct.  Explore the various ways students came to their tabulations.

Activity Three - Narrative Explanation (1 class period) Have the requisite materials ready before each activity:
Huexotzinco Codex OverviewStudents will work in their groups or individually to write a story outline of the Huexotzinco Codex. 

  1. What would this set of papers be for?  Why was it saved and by whom?  Explain to students that historians make predictions based on prior knowledge, but often their theories are changed when new information is available.  Students will make predictions, citing evidence from the codex.  (Students may use all 8 pages or selected pages.)Ask students to share basic theories. Students with similar stories will compare their ideas and come up with a group story outline.Tell students the rest of the information from the Huexotzinco Codex Overview and distribute for their reference.
  2. Ask students to consider their stories and see where they agreed with the overview and where they disagreed.  As a class, make a list of questions for future research.


  • Mock trial Script the testimony Debate the need for a trial Analyze the daily life of the Huexotzinco people from the items show in the codex: foods, construction, social life (slaves), government system (taxes)
  • Vocabulary activity: create your own codex of items (in your backpack, in your closet, in your locker) and a numbering symbol system


  • Teacher observation of collaborative work.Teacher observation of critical thinking. Students self corrected map computation pages Evaluate the student analysis sheet and observations.
  • Evaluate student scenario outlines.
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Last updated 12/21/2007