Notes on an Inscription Fragment from the Southern Peten

Inscription fragment. Photo by O. Chinchilla. (Adapted from Luin and Matteo, 2010)

A fragment of an interesting Late Classic inscription has recently been published and with a preliminary analysis of its content (Luin and Matteo 2010). Here I would like to offer a few observations on the significance of the text, featuring some slight revisions to the reading of its five historical dates.

The fragment consists of two joined pieces and presently is in a private collection in Guatemala. It was first documented by Oswaldo Chinchilla, whose photographs are reproduced here, and then published this year by Luin and Matteo in the proceedings of the 2009 Simposio de Investigaciones Arqueológicas en Guatemala. As those authors note, it is difficult to pin down the original find-site of this partial inscription. Based on the style of the glyphs, it seems likely that the text comes from the southern Peten (Luin and Matteo 2010:1237). In my subjective view, an origin not too distant from the area of Machaquila or the upper Río Pasion seems likely.

Luin and Matteo propose the following readings for the four Calendar Round dates of the text, only one of which (8 Kib 14 Pop, at pA4, pB4) is fully preserved: 3 Imix 4 Mak 8 Kib 14 Pop 11 Kawak 17 Pop 3 Kimi 9 Pax

I agree with the first two dates, but would like to suggest alternative readings of the last two as follows (with Distance Numbers indicated): 3 Imix 4 Mak
+ .6.15 8 Kib 14 Pop
+ .4 12 Ajaw 18 Pop
+ .3.13 (added to 8 Kib 14 Pop) 3 Muluk 7 Tzek

An Distance Number (DN) of 5.15 introduces the entire text, clearly suggesting we are picking up the story in mid-stream. The implied earlier date would be 9 Kimi 14 Yaxk’in.

The difference in our interpretations of the dates is based on the reading of certain visual details, including the short DN at pB5a, which Luin and Matteo interpret as 3-la-ta. The number prefix on this glyph is almost surely 4, however, with one of the dots broken away. I would therefore would place the resulting date at 12 Ajaw 18 Pop, a mere one day later than their reconstruction specifies, but in agreement with the “18 Pop” clearly indicated at pA6a.

Luin and Matteo read the following DN .3.13 at pA7a as leading to an earlier date 3 Kimi 9 Pax, reached by means of subtraction from their 11 Kawak 17 Pop. However, the I-u-ti written at pA7b (with the I playfully inserted in the u fish’s mouth) would most likely point to a forward reckoning. Moreover, the day sign at pB7a is certainly 3 Muluk, with the month missing in the adjacent glyph.

A somewhat unusual structure of the DN may have led to some confusion. I suggest that the short DN of 4 days (4-la-ta) was understood rhetorically to be a “parenthetical count” leading to a secondary passage, providing context to the more featured event that had occurred four days prior. Precedent exists for this in other inscriptions, where very short DNs of only a few days are excluded from the larger time-frame of a text’s narrative. In this way, I beleive that the DN .3.13 should be added to the earlier cited base 8 Kib 14 Pop. This then leads to 3 Muluk 7 Tzek, which is in full agreement with the day sign written at pB7a, “3 Muluk.”

Putting aside this very dry discussion of numbers and chronology, what does the inscription actually say?

The text is woefully incomplete, of course, but Luin and Matteo have teased out a number of interesting features, not the least of which is a new Emblem Glyph, previously unattested, written at pA3. This looks to be K’UH(UL)-jo-bo-AJAW. Luin and Matteo suggest, probably rightly, that the core elements of this Emblem Glyph may be a spelling of jobon, a Yukatekan noun root meaning “hole, pit.” I find the event associated with this title (pA2) difficult to analyze, but I’m not so certain it’s an episode of accession to rulership, as Luin and Matteo suggest.

The following passage is more clear. This is clearly an “arrival” event (HUL-li, at pB4a) on 8 Kib 14 Pop, as Luin and Matteo mention. Often such arrival verbs are followed directly by a place name, but here the missing portion of the block could have also held a personal reference of some sort. What comes next is a fascinating term tz’u-lu-KALOOM-TE’, for tz’ul Kaloomte’. Tz’ul is familiar from Yukatekan sources as a term often translated as “foreigner,” although its original, pre-Conquest meaning may have been more like “boss, master” (see Bolles 2001). Kaloomte’ is of course the title for very high-ranking rulers, often associated with one of the four cardinal directions. The sense here may be of a ruling “overlord” arriving from an outside location. Four days after this comes a conquest record, written as CH’AK-PET?-ne, perhaps ch’ahkaj peten, “peten was conquered.” This intriguing statement might conjure up an image of some foreign army entering the region we today call El Petén, but it’s important to stress that peten was a general term holding several meanings, including simply “island” or “province.” I hesitate to be too certain of this reading of the place name, however, for I may be off in seeing the PET logogram deciphered years ago by Nikolai Grube — inspection of the original stone could well reveal this sign to be something else entirely. However we might choose to analyze the statement, the general sense of this greater passage seems to concern an unknown “overlord” arriving in an area and within days conquering a town or region within it.

The final passage of the text, as Luin and Matteo note, records a second arrival 73 days later, written as HUL-li-TI ko-cho-TE’ (block pA8). This seems to indicate an arrival of someone — perhaps our same Kaloomte’ — at a place called Kochte’ or Tikochte’. Here it is interesting to see the preposition sign TI following directly after HUL-li, to specify “he arrives at…” The theme may again be one of war and conquest, for the subject of the verb at pB8 looks to carry the military title “He of Twenty Captives.”

There is certainly more to say about this beautiful text, but here I have only chosen to touch on my revisions of the text’s chronology, as well as to offer a few modest insights into the nature of the history it relates, building on Luin and Matteo’s initial work. Hopefully future investigations will reveal something about the original setting of the inscription, or at least lead to the recovery of additional fragments that can fill in the wide gaps of its story-line.


Luin, Camilo, and Sebastian Matteo. 2010. Notas sobre algunas textos jeroglíficos en colecciones privadas. In XXIII SImposio de Investigaciones Arqueológicas en Guatemala, pp. 1235-1250. Museo Nacional de Anrqueologia y Etnologia, Guatemala.

Bolles, David, 2001. Combined Dictionary – Concordance of the Yucatecan Maya Language.