by David Stuart, The University of Texas at Austin
The wonderful carving known as Monument 89 from Tonina, Mexico, is a small (36 cm. long) three dimensional sculpture representing a crouching dog. The animal rests on its belly and turns its head to the side and slightly upwards, perhaps to engage a viewer who would have seen it in its original setting. Apart from the cute subject-matter, Monument 89 is dear to my own heart, for it was the short inscription on the doggie’s back that gave a the key clue supporting the decipherment of the tz’i syllable sign back in the mid-1980s. As I argued then (Stuart 1987) the first of the four glyphs reads U-tz’i-i, for u tz’i’, “his dog.” The remaining glyphs name the owner of the animal.
U-tz’i-i / AJ-ka-ka-wa / 2-WINIKHAAB? / AJ-?-K’UK’?
u tz’i’ aj kakaw cha’ winikhaab(?) aj ? k’uk'(?)
“it is the dog of the cacao-person, the two-score year ?”
In revisiting this sculpture I would like to draw attention to the dog’s owner, who was largely passed over in my earlier study. Interestingly, he seems to be labelled as aj kakaw, “the cacao person,” or “chocolatier.” The designation immediately recalls several personal references recently described in the murals of Calakmul, accompanying depictions of people cosuming various foods and handling other types of commodities (Carrasco Vargas and Cordiero Baqueiro 2013). The people are simply designated with titles such as aj ul, “the atole person,” aj atz’aam, “the salt person,” or aj may, “the tobacco-snuff person” (Martin 2013). These descriptors seem to refer to specialized roles in Calakmul’s palace economy, perhaps indicating sellers or tradespeople who dealt with specific commodities. The surviving portions of the Calakmul murals do not refer to any “cacao person,” but it would seem we have such a designation at Tonina in reference to the little dog’s owner. The final two glyphs seem to tell us something about his age, stating that he was into his second k’atun of life (20-40 years old). The final glyph of the name phrase, also a title of some sort with the aj- prefix, is difficult to analyze without closer inspection of the original stone.
An interesting connection between dogs, merchants and cacao was pointed out many years ago by Eric Thompson, in his discussion of the famous Ratinlixul Vase (Kerr no. 594) (Thompson 1970:137). He saw this vessel as a likely representation of a wealthy merchant being carried along in a hammock with a retinue of helpers, including a dog beneath. Thompson linked the image to Landa’s mention of rituals in the month Muan, when owners of cacao fields would sacrifice a dog with “markings of the color of cacao” during feasts in honor of the gods Ek Chuah, Chaac, and Hobnil. I’m not sure if I agree with Thompson’s connection to Landa, but his overall idea that the vase shows a trading party seems reasonable on the face of it. Alternatively, Justin Kerr has made a good case that this vase probably depicts a deceased lord on an underworld journey, with a dog serving as his guide to Xibalba’ (Kerr 2001). One could easily make a case that the Tonina dog carving, placed above Burial 1, was likewise a helpful guide for the deceased.
Call me sentimental, but I lean toward the idea that our Tonina dog wasn’t some Maya take on Cerberus, but rather was a real animal once beloved by a real person, apparently a chocolatier connected to the royal court of Tonina. The notion that some ancient Maya had pet dogs might seem a bit unusual in light of archaeological evidence that canines were part of the human diet in many ancient Maya communities, yet we have pretty good indications that, in elite circles at least, dogs were also often trusty companions. Soon my colleagues and I on the Proyecto Regional Arqueológico La Corona will publish an analysis of a charming sculpture excavated in 2012 that clearly portrays a seated royal lady in the company of her pet dog, shown running happily across the floor in front her throne.
For now, then, we can perhaps add a bit more to the story of the tz’i’ of Tonina: its owner was not the king, but rather someone close to the royal court who was a seller or distributor of chocolate, a key commodity in any ancient Maya royal household.
Carrasco Vargas, Ramón, and María Cordiero Baqueiro. 2013. The Murals of Chiik Nahb Structure 1-4, Calakmul, Mexico. Maya Archaeology 2, pp. 8-59, edited by Charles Golden, Stephen Houston and Joel Skidmore. Precolumbia Mesoweb Press, San Francisco.
Graham, Ian, and Peter Mathews. 1996. Corpus of Maya Hieroglyphic Inscriptions, Volume 6, Part 2. Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology, Harvard University, Cambridge, MA.
Kerr, Justin. 2001. The Last Journey: Reflections on the Ratinlinxul Vase and Others of the Same Theme. http://www.mayavase.com/jour/journey.html
Martin, Simon. 2013. Hieroglyphs from the Painted Pyramid: The Epigraphy of Chiik Nahb Structure Sub 1-4, Calakmul, Mexico. Maya Archaeology 2, pp. 60-81, edited by Charles Golden, Stephen Houston and Joel Skidmore. Precolumbia Mesoweb Press, San Francisco.
Stuart, David. 1987. Ten Phonetic Syllables. Research Reports on Ancient Maya Writing, Number 14. Center for Maya Research , Washington, D.C.
Thompson, J. Eric S. 1970. Maya History and Religion. University of Oklahoma Press, Norman.