Unusual Signs 2: The “Fringed Crossed-Bands” Logogram

In this post I offer up another rare and unusual sign in the Maya script. This is what I call the “fringed crossed-bands,” which looks to be an obscure logogram (word sign). I have no good suggestion to make about its value or meaning, but only show some of its scattered examples in the hope it might spur progress toward an eventual reading.

The sign seems visually complex. Its main feature is a fringe-like design on its left side, which appears to droop over a small rounded central element.  A crossed-bands motif appears in its upper central area. This sign often (not always) takes a superfix resembling a twisted cord or knot – I suspect these are all variations on the same form – and there’s a possibility that this an integral of a larger sign.


It appears in four places to my knowledge, mostly in personal names. An early example is from an unpublished Early Classic Tzakol-style vessel, where it looks to be part of a personal name (Figure 1a). On Kerr 1440 (Figure 1b) it may also be part of a name phrase, according to the recent analysis of the passage by Hull, Carrasco and Wald (2009).  There it takes the affixes –ya and -si. Yet another name that makes use of the sign is that of a sculptor who contributed to the carving of Piedras Negras, Stela 14, named on its front, where it again takes the -ya-si suffixes (Figure 1c).  Unfortunately, these cases don’t help us much when working toward a decipherment of the sign – names are contextually “neutral” in terms of their semantic constraints. The -ya-si affixes are difficult to account for, but they suggest a connection to the “body-part” nominal suffix -is noted by Marc Zender (2004).

One last instance of the sign maybe is more revealing (Figure 2).  This appears in the text that ran above along the top of the throne of the platform within Temple XXI at Palenque, in a passage describing a ritual that took place on 3 Ajaw 3 Yaxk’in (June 14, 709), There it appears as one of two verbs that take a –n-aj verb suffix, in a context that indicates a passive construction for non-CVC transitive stems (Lacadena 2004).

ha-o-ba ?-na-ja ?-na-ja TA-CH’AB-AK’AB-li
ha’oob ..?..naj .. ..?..naj ta ch’ab ak’bil
it is they (who were) ?ed and ?ed in creation-and-darkness

The mystery sign may stand for a non-CVC transitive verb, paired in this instance with some other obscure action. The subjects (“they”) are the protagonists of the scene on the Temple XXI panel, the future king K’inich Ahkal Mo’s Nahb and his possible brother, Upakal K’inich. With such a nicely specific grammatical setting, we may have an eventual in-road toward an eventual decipherment of the “fringed crossed-bands,” but that’s probably a long way away.


Hull, Kerry, Michael Carrasco, and Robert Wald. 2009. The First-Person Singular Independent Pronoun in Classic Ch’olan. Mexicon 31(2):36-43.

Lacadena, Alfonso. 2004. Passive Voice in Classic Mayan Texts: CV-h-C-aj and -na-aj Constructions. In The Linguistics of Maya Writing, edited by S. Wichmann, pp. 165-194. University of Utah Press, Salt Lake City.

Zender, Marc. 2004. On the Morphology of Inanimate Possession in Mayan Languages and Classic Mayan Glyphic Nouns. In The Linguistics of Maya Writing, edited by S. Wichmann, pp. 195-210. University of Utah Press, Salt Lake City.

11 thoughts on “Unusual Signs 2: The “Fringed Crossed-Bands” Logogram

  1. Jefferson Chance October 10, 2009 / 7:31 AM

    Hi Dr. Stuart.

    Firstly I’m sorry that I won’t be in LA to catch your upcoming lecture at UCLA. I wish you the best with it. I know a lot of other people that are also highly anticipating it though they will have the fortune to attend.

    Pertaining to this glyph (Figure 2); may I offer some guesses based on that which I’ve been researching?

    Pardon as I’m sure much of this is already well known by you and the rest will likely seem fanciful, speculative or down right heretical; however, I offer them in the hopes that they add something.

    A I see it the crossed-hatch looking glyph is the same as that which Montgomery refers to in his dictionary as SIP or the K’AT portion of CHAK K’AT (T109:552). This glyph is connected to CHAK which can refer to the adjective “great”. The cross-hatch glyph is commonly seen in the Dresden along with other symbols referring to the heavens, sky, upper realm, etc which are also so closely associated with Chaac, as is illustrated by his frequent appearance in association with these glyphs.

    I believe that your mystery glyph-combo is also incorporating a version of the CHUM “seating” glyph, though I believe its stylistic difference (the left “layered” side of the glyph) is due to a more specific usage; hence meaning. The same can be said of the “twisted-cord” glyph superfixed to this glyph. This glyph I believe could be representative of a knot or binding used in a specific ceremony that the glyphic usage now represents (as is seen in many marriage ceremonies throughout history by the binding of two). Therefore the usage of the “seating” style glyph, the twisted cord (similar to the toothache glyph tied knot around the head) and the glyph referring to the “upper-realm” or “sky-realm” which is so closely associated with Chaac and K’awil and the fact that those two deities are so closely associated with accession to the thrown leads me to speculate that this glyph is referring to an accession-based ceremony having been accomplished.

    The fact that you read the phrase as “it is they (who were) ?ed and ?ed in creation-and-darkness” allows this interpretation to fit; though the fact that it refers to “they” requires one to look at whom “they” refers. The Mesoweb article by Joel Skidmore (http://www.mesoweb.com/reports/discovery2.html) states “Glyph D in the drawing above is part of the date 3 Ajaw 3 Yaxk’in, on which the son of K’inich Ahkal Mo’ Nahb’, the future K’inich Janahb’ Pakal II, took part in a ritual. The rim text is said to mention K’inich K’an Joy Chitam II, who was king on this date, two years before his capture by Tonina.”

    Based on the exact date referenced by him in this article, and you in your blog posting pertaining to this glyph sequence, it can be confidently believed that these two are referring to that very “they”. They would be the future K’inich Janahb’ Pakal II and the king that he was succeeding. Since this ceremony would only be referring to those of royal status worthy of the rite then it could very easily be they. If this is the case then the ceremony spoken of could be that to which this glyph is referring. As what I refer to as “the royal knot”, which is commonly referred to as “the toothache glyph (the very same knot very copiously available in the San Bartolo murals depicting a royal accession celebration/ceremony in which the new king is performing the bloodletting ritual with the finest accouterments befitting such an event), this twisted knot glyph refers to a binding and the fact that there are two kings involved and accession rites and the reference (and reverence) to the primary deities involved in such a rite (Chaac and K’awil) this ceremony is therefore a royal ceremony of accession.

    One striking difference in this case is that you have a king on the thrown and you also have a soon-to-be king. This is somewhat different to the normal succession upon the death of the previous king. Could this ceremony be different (as illustrated by the fact that it is not just “he” but “they” and the fact that these glyphs for accession are similar to the standard “toothache” and “seating” glyphs but are sufficiently different to merit modified glyphs? This could be a ceremony of either the passing of power or preparation (and validation) of the king-to-be under the auspices of the seated king – and during said ceremony the seated king (and court) show to the people that this king-to-be has taking the steps to be accepted by the gods Chaac and K’awil and is therefore divinely and sanguinely the next ruler.

    If this is the case it could lead to many questions about the state of the union of Palenque at this time. Were there reasons that the seated king would need to solidify his successor in the eyes of the people prior to his death?

    The aforementioned article also refers to the fact that that seated king was defeated in battle within 2 years prior to the date listed therein. Could there have been a constant war or threats from within that could have lead to such a move to solidify an heir and is such a state of war and civil unrest illustrated in other glyphs of that time in Palenque glyphs? Also were such moves to solidify the successor during the reign of a seated ruler common in the Maya world either synchronically or diachronically?

    One thing is sure… you would be the man to ask.

    Thanks for taking the time to read my crazy thoughts.


    Jefferson Chance

    • Jay Cee October 9, 2014 / 12:30 PM

      Hello Dr. Stuart,

      I wanted to congratulate you on the many advancements you’ve made over these years. I’m a regular receiver of your newsletter.

      This brought me here to this post to reach you to send my congratz.

      I also wondered if you may have ever had a thought on my comments above. I know you’re extremely entwined with your work but wondered, truly, what you thought. After these many years I’ve just reread what I wrote and find myself even more interested in your opinion upon the topic.

      Either way, my sincere regards ,


      • David Stuart October 9, 2014 / 2:35 PM

        Dear Jefferson, Well, five years seems long enough for a reply! My apologies. Your comment simply slipped through the cracks of the internet, so I am glad you nudged me into getting back to you.

        In general I have a different visual analysis of this sign, in that I don’t see enough to draw any firm connection to accession ceremonies or celestial deities. You are correct that there is a vague resemblance to the contours of the CHUM “sit” sign, but this might have simply to do with the sign having a visual origin in a body-part, or at least partially. The circular element near the base (with a “u”-like element in early examples) is what we see in CHUM, but it’s also a feature we see on other detached body parts — hands, fingers, etc. Otherwise I just don’t get a precise enough sense of what we are seeing.

        No sign can ever be really understood or deciphered via its image alone. We have to remember that this sign once had a specific word value attached to it, something that could be derived into a verb with the n-aj suffix we see at Palenque. That verb, in turn, seems to be conveying some sort of ritual action. Whatever it is, the roots may still be in use on a Ch’olan or Tzeltalan language, but it will take more examples and hopefully a syllabic substitution to nail the reading down.

        The “they” on the Temple XXI text almost surely refers to the two fellows depicted in the accompanying scene with their grandfather: K’inich Ahkal Mo’ Nahb and Upakal K’inich Janab Pakal. The ceremony took place in the reign of their uncle, K’inich Kan Joy Kitam, and I’ve long wondered if it was some sort of designation rite, pegging them to be heirs to the throne after KKJK, and sanctioned by the grandfather. In that sense I would agree that it’s accession-related.

  2. Marcelo Paez-Pereda January 30, 2010 / 1:39 AM

    Dear Dr. Stuart,

    It might be a trivial observation but it seems to me that all the elements that compose the “fringe crossed-bands” logogram are characteristic of the “principal bird deity”. I propose this logogram represents the wing of the deity, which would fit with the “body-part” nominal suffix -is. The fringe represents the feathers, the crossed-bands are typical of the PDB as well as the “U” element (figure 1a). In addition, the PDB is sometimes represented carrying a twisted rope with its beak.

    Best regards,

    Marcelo Paez-Pereda

  3. Cliff Richey February 4, 2010 / 9:17 AM

    In my opinion these “fringe” signs are not the same. They do have elements in common but they are compounded differently and therefore the statements made are quite different.

    Generally the “fringe” appearance is caused by the gesture signed word for a “flowing” such as a flowing of water. This sign was represented by the five fingers of the right hand moved downward in a undulating fashion.

    The “X” shaped sign attached to the flowing sign is a compound of the sign for a trade, exchange, or transformation. In this case the “X” is composed of place signs and thus means, places of transformation. The sign is based on two crossed arms in the act of trading.

    These statements reference a spirit-transformation of a deceased warrior in the watery underworld. Warrior spirits joined with Venus which was known as the wasp-star or warrior-star.

    These glyphs were probably poetic, at least metaphorical, and most certainly cosmological in nature. They are all related to Venus.

    Glyph a. is in the form of a large eye (the Eye of the Sun, Venus) and the cord above the eye is the compound sign for an unseen, intertwined, and looped pathway –the pathway of Venus below the earth. The pathway of Venus enabling it to appear in the east and the west.

    Glyph b. is in the form of a large snail meaning the “slow one” and below are two eyes with the number two between them. Again related to the two positions of Venus.

    • David Stuart February 5, 2010 / 11:14 AM

      Nope, the signs are all pretty much the same. And they are not at all “poetic” or “metaphorical,” as you say, Maya glyphs are language.

  4. Cliff Richey February 6, 2010 / 1:15 AM

    I think we are speaking past each other a bit here. I used the term “fringe” signs as I thought it was used in your question, referring, I believed to whole section sections of the overall glyph — not just that part that has the “fringe” appearance. If you mean just the “fringe” element itself then I agree that they are the same, as they should be, in representing a specific word.

    Part of the above problem is that we probably perceive the structure of the glyphs differently (i.e. how the different parts were interlocked much like a jigsaw puzzle). If a glyph block was made up of discrete signs what would be the smallest element that still represents a sign?

    I am puzzled by your statement that “Maya glyphs are language” as I did not say they weren’t.

    Although we may disagree as to the phonetic basis for the glyphs you do seem to think there may be an aspect of logo-grams (word signs) in their structure. Would it not be worthwhile to look into the possibility of some signs having been based in Native American gesture signs? What other documented source is there for determining the meaning of such word signs?

    Also if one does not know the meaning of such word signs how can one automatically deny that they represent metaphorical or cosmological thought?

    All the above is not meant to be argumentative but rather a means of furthering discussion that may be helpful towards a better understanding of glyph composition.

    My URL has several papers related to my orientation to the glyphs if anyone is interested in greater detail. It is difficult to present a whole conceptualization in the framework of comments.


    Cliff Richey

  5. Marcelo Paez-Pereda November 1, 2011 / 2:58 PM

    Dear Dr. Stuart,

    As I previously mentioned, the fringed element with cross bands and “u” sign is reminiscent of the wing of the Principal Bird Deity. This “serpent mask wing” is also shared by some f the bird representations of Itzamnaj, including the cross bands and “u” sign, such as in vases K3683 and K7821. Also the full-figure Itzamnaj hieroglyph from Toniná has such a wing, except for the cross-bands. In addition, the bird manifestation of Itzamnaj sometimes has a twisted serpent in his beak, which could be the twisted rope in your first examples. I wonder if these similarities with Itzamnaj could be an explanation for the -n-aj suffix of the fringed cross-bands logogram in your second example. On the other hand, the -ti suffix of the Toniná Itzamnaj hieroglyph does not match the -ya-si suffixes of your other examples. I hope these speculations point out to some meaningful phonetic reading.

    Marcelo Paez-Pereda

  6. Marcelo Paez-Pereda November 4, 2011 / 7:20 PM


    Macri and Looper (2009, p.89) describe a glyph they catalog as BM2 that represents a “serpent mask wing” with U and cross bands. They propose k’a and k’i as possible readings and cite Schele (1991) with a reading of ch’a or ch’ah, meaning “lie down or tie on”. The fringed cross bands logogram is prefixed by ki in your second example. I don’t know if this might indicate a possibility of reading this logogram as k’i, as proposed by Macri and Looper.

  7. Jay Cee October 10, 2014 / 12:31 AM

    I couldn’t reply to your reply… so I’ll do so here if that’s alright.

    Hi Dr. Stuart.

    Thanks a lot for the reply; it was well worth the wait!

    If, as agreed, it may be accession related in that once instance, could that be used as a starting point for further translations of its use in other glyphs which are currently nebulous?

    I also agree fully with your statement about the varied linguistic aspects which were embedded into the glyphs (their representing actual words) which are, in many cases, lost or hidden to us. Another thing which is embedded in the glyphs, in my opinion, is their real-world influence. As the glyph for MO (T743v) represents a Macaw, many other glyphs likely came from real world examples which encapsulated, or more easily transmitted, meaning within their culture.
    One thing this leads to is the finding of the original real-world item which inspired the glyph and tracing it forward instead of backwards in time.

    One such glyph I’ve found that appears in context within the available media of the Maya is what I call the “royal knot”. This is found affixed to many glyphs including the “Toothcche Glyph”.
    As seen in the San Bartolo murals (which date to the Late Pre-Classic period – circa 100 BCE) the characters and many of the objects depicted use a very similar knot. It’s used on both the bodies of the characters and on the objects such as the pyre/rotisserie with the enflamed animals which shows that the knot is not specific to the object or to the character but lends itself to the event and the status of those in the event. This event is the royal accession blood-letting rite if I’m not mistaken.

    Since this glyph is also seen in accession rites, in proper names of those who appear in the glyphs (who themselves are connected to royalty as is illustrated by their even being included in the media), and in other glyphs that are unexplained yet which again are included in the media (hence connected to royalty in some manner); it is not too unfair to deduce that the glyph has a direct tie to royalty or office. The latter being a strong possibility for proper names if the person referenced isn’t the royal personage. This occurs in modern societies such as with British Royal governmental offices who use the royal insignia or U.S. Federal agencies who use the American seal in theirs.

    To this latter point (and in agreement with the piece on parliaments by Dr. Houston) I believe that such parliaments were called and officers performed the duties that go with all civilizations with large populations, construction works, militaries, religious institutions, etc.
    I find that many academics describe the costumed people sitting in attendance of the ruler in much of the art as gods when it seems likely to me that, at least in many cases, those people are officers or religious leaders who are attending to the ruler. If someone wears the clothing of a particular god then it may mean that they are there on behalf of that god.

    All in all, and I’m sorry to have run on, I believe there to be sufficient cause to review the knot in the light of its royal or official usage and meaning and that we should look more into the real-world objects used in the media (especially the early art) which can glean some light on the original meaning of the glyph for which is applies.

    I would really love to have your opinion on this whenever it may be convenient to you.

    Thanks and my sincere regards,


  8. Jay Cee October 10, 2014 / 6:05 AM

    Quick addition: I found this image of the San Bartolo murals which shows a deity (K’awil?) who wears a different type of binding – more like a beaded piece as does the woman who appears bound at the hands by the same (perhaps a sacrifice or maiden to the deity) while the man to the left wears the “royal knot” which may show him as being in the office of priest of that deity. It’s the difference betwixt the two that I call to your attention. Thanks!!


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