The “Cloud-Bird” Emblem Glyph


The Early Classic king list inscribed on the door lintels of Yaxchilan’s Structure 12 mentions a number of foreign lords and dignitaries, all involved in some way with the inaugurations and reigns of the first ten kings of the Yaxchilan dynasty. The prevailing interpreation today sees these non-local people as war captives, but there is little evidence to support this. Instead, I prefer to see them as names of visiting abassadors to the local court, as had been suggested in earlier analyses of these important texts by Mathews and others.

Among the foreign names on the lintels we find these two identical titles depicting a bird descending through the dotted spiral “cloud” sign (Steve Houston and I deciphered this as MUYAL, “cloud,” back in 1989.). The structure of the inscription leaves little doubt that this “Cloud-Bird” is a previously unidentified emblem glyph. (It occupies the same position as the emblems of Piedras Negras, Bonampak-Lakamha, Lakamtun, and Tikal in neighboring parallel passages from the Structure 12 lintels). The bird’s head moreover shows the ajaw headband, a key confirmation that we here have an emblem glyph. With this final AJAW element the title reads something along the lines of “the ‘Cloud-Bird’ Lord.” I wouldn’t hazard a guess as to the full phonetic reading of the emblem, but it could well incorporate the word muyal. The location of the “Cloud-Bird” polity remains unknown, but it seems to have been an important player in Early Classic Maya history near the Usumacinta River, at least.

On a side note, the very same “Cloud-Bird” appears on the back-rack (paat piik) of a woman portrayed on Dos Pilas, Stela 16. It is interesting that similar back-racks worn by “Holmul Dancers” depicted on Maya vases also incororporate the symbols of mountains as emblematic place names.

3 thoughts on “The “Cloud-Bird” Emblem Glyph

  1. Jeff January 3, 2009 / 7:21 PM

    Hello Dr. Stuart,

    I was reviewing the Ch’orti’ dictionary and saw that their word for cloud appears to be “tokar”. The logogram designated “MUYAL” is the dotted-circle with the squiggle “s” in the middle. Could the full dotted-circle with “s” be “Tokar” or “Tok'” instead of or as well as the Yucatec word Muyal? (especially considering the syllable “to” is the MUYAL glyph cut in half and placed side by side)

    Please see the following phrases in Ch’orti’:
    tokar tu’ut e k’in ‘clouds in the sky’
    tokar tor e witzir ‘cloud(s) hanging over a mountain’
    sian tokar ‘many clouds, cloudy sky’
    tokarir ‘cloudy, foggy’
    tokarir ut e k’in ‘cloudy sky, rainy sky’

    I also saw that the logogram for TOK’ is what appears to be the drawing of a flint with “tun” signs. I found in Ch’orti’ that Tok’ is referred to as flint but with the addition of the “tun” signs, shouldn’t it be read as the Ch’orti’ word “Tok’tun”?

    In the description of Tok’tun in Wisdom’s Ch’orti’ dictionary it reads:

    tok’tun: ‘small flint used for striking fire; small flint’ (said to have been thrown by sky deities that produce lightning).

    It also says:

    huri e tok’ tun: ‘hurl a flint ax’ (said to be done by sky deities
    called ah patnaar winikob who thus produce lightning)

    It appears that the Maya equated the striking of a flint and the spark it creates with the clouds throwing lightning. If this is the case then could “tok’ ” (to-ka) and “tok” (to-ko) both refer to the clouds and “tun” refer to the stone, thus making tok’-tun “cloud-stone”?

    They also refer to a flint-stone as a fire-stone: “k’ahk’ tun” (flint stone) not “k’ahk-tok’ ” (fire-flint).

    Your thoughts would be greatly appreciated.

    Thanks so much,


  2. David Stuart January 16, 2009 / 9:52 PM

    The spotted-S sign is likely a MUYAL logogram, since we find phonetic complements on it from time to time, as in MUYAL-ya-la. This term is mainly a Yukatekan form, which is a bit odd. It appears in Ch’olti’ as well, probably as a loan word. It’s true that tokal or tokar are Ch’olan words for “cloud,” and arguably it could be an alternative value for the sign, but I would like to see good direct evidence for it. I do seem to recall a glyph from a Seibal inscriptions that spelled this word, as to-ka-la, but I’ll have to check.

    It’s important to keep the words for “flint” and “cloud” quite separate; they never overlap. The first is took’, from proto-Mayan *tyooq’, “flint,” whereas tokal or tokar “cloud” is form proto-Mayan *tyoq (both are Terry Kaufman’s reconstructions). The contrast in glottalization, /q’/ vs /q/, distinguishes them.

    Hope this clarifies a little.

  3. Jeff January 19, 2009 / 2:21 AM

    Hi Dr. Stuart…

    Thanks a lot for answering that for me.

    I have a long road ahead of studying to do but hope to eventualy contribute something to the cause. 🙂



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