Guest Speaker: Nick Johnson. Mapping old roads in the Puebla-Oaxaca border

When and Where

Wednesday, January 29, 2020 12:00 pm to 2:00 pm
Room 318
Jackman Humanities Building
170 St. George Street, Toronto, ON M5R 2M8


Nick Johnson


Nick Johnson - a Research Associate with the Department of World Cultures at the Royal Ontario Museum - shares with us a tale of a cartographic recovery in the border of Puebla and Oaxaca, in southern Mexico, thanks to a holding in the ROM Collection: el Lienzo de Tlapiltepec.

The Lienzo de Tlapiltepec is a pictographic document on cotton canvas, created in the middle to late sixteenth century in the Mexican state of Oaxaca. It depicts historical events from about the eleventh to the sixteenth century and was created by Mixtec Indians. Since 1919 the lienzo has been housed in the Royal Ontario Museum in Canada.

The old roads referred to in the title of this presentation have an ancient past and and a recent history. The evidence for their antiquity comes from archaeology and pictographic manuscripts; most notably from the ROM’s Lienzo of Tlapiltepec. Elderly people who have memories of the old roads before they became obsolete tell of their recent history. The roads crossed a mountainous area on the border between the Mexican states of Puebla and Oaxaca. With the exception of a recently constructed expressway, no roads presently cross this border area, which on modern maps has the appearance of a gap, or zone of separation, rather than the significant corridor of communication I have learned it once was. The map I have made of the former roads is based primarily on my discussions and local excursions in 2016 and 2018 with older inhabitants on both sides of the border. People who themselves in their youth, or whose parents or grandparents, as comerciantes and arrieros, transported goods by pack animal to and from the regional market at Tehuacán, Puebla, via the old roads.

About the Presenter

Nicholas Johnson grew up near London, Ontario. Through the 1970s and early 1980s he worked as an editor at artscanada magazine in Toronto. Later, when the opportunity arose to pursue lifelong interests in Mexico, he became a student of Pre-Columbian art at the University of New Mexico and Tulane University, specializing in pictographic manuscripts (PhD, Tulane University, Department of Latin American Studies, 2005). Since 2010, he is a Research Associate with the Department of World Cultures at the Royal Ontario Museum.


170 St. George Street, Toronto, ON M5R 2M8