by David Stuart, The University of Texas at Austin
The latest issue of the journal Mexicon has on its cover a photograph of a inscribed panel recently discovered at the ruins of Tz’unun, in northwestern Belize (Hanratty, et. al., 2016) (Figure 1). The new find is of particular interest because the four glyphs on the stone (part of a much longer original text) include an example of the Kaan or Kaanul emblem, k’uhul kaanul ajaw, at the upper left. As many readers know, the history of the Kaanul kingdom and its rulers is undergoing much scrutiny and revision these days, especially in the wake of several new epigraphic finds (Helmke and Awe 2016a, 2016b; Martin 2017; Stuart 2012). For this reason the discovery of any text that refers to this dynasty is of considerable interest, even a partial inscription like we see on the Tz’unun panel.
The three other glyph blocks on the Tz’unun panel record a short Distance Number of 12 days and the CR to which it leads. Mexicon‘s very brief description of the Tz’unun block states that the CR date is 7 Ahau 18 Mol (Hanratty, et. al., 2016). However, I believe it is far more likely to be 7 Chicchan 18 Mol, using a form of the day sign that represents the so-called “serpent segment.” A horizontal line clearly bisects the interior of the day sign, and the scutes of the snake’s body are just visible below. Hints of diagonal lines above conform to this form of Chicchan as well. This variant of Chicchan is common in the inscriptions at Caracol in the early seventh century, and appears from time to time in later texts.
The style and paleography on the Tz’unun panel reminds me a good deal of the Caracol Hieroglyphic Stairway (Martin 2017), while not quite as ornate. I therefore think a likely placement of the CR in the Long Count is 126.96.36.199.5 7 Chicchan 18 Mol, or August 7, 639 AD. Twelve days earlier is 188.8.131.52.13 8 Ben 6 Mol, or July 26, 639 AD. Unfortunately we have no idea what events were being recorded in this text – we are left with only the dates and the intriguing emblem title.
That said, the year 639 AD would have been an interesting one in the history of the Kaanul kingdom. As the recent finds at Xunantunich have demonstrated, a ruler named Waxaklajuun Ubaah Kaan was executed less than a year later in 640. And three years earlier, in 636, we have tantalizing records of a war between two rival factions of Kaanul lords, with Waxaklajuun Ubaah Kan (of Dzibanche?) defeated and Yuknoom Ch’een assuming the throne at Calakmul a short time later (Helmke and Awe 2016b; Martin 2017). My proposed revision of the date on the Tz’unun block, if correct, falls after the defeat of Waxaklajuun Ubaah Kan but before his execution. Who, then, is the Kaanul king being named at Tz’unun? We cannot say, but given the possible timing of the narrative it seems that the longer inscription might have contained elements of this fascinating political story, noting episodes we lack elsewhere. Let’s hope more of this new inscription someday comes to light.
Hanratty, Colleen, Bruce Love, Stanley Guenter and Tom Guderjan. 2016. First Evidence of the Ka’an Dynasty in Northern Belize. Mexicon XXXVIII(6):142.
Helmke, Christophe, and Jaime Awe. 2016a. Death Becomes Her: An Analysis of Panel 3, Xunantunich, Belize. PARI Journal 16(4):1-14.
__________________________. 2016b. Sharper Than a Serpent’s Tooth: A Tale of the Snake-head Dynasty as Recounted on Xunantunich Panel 4. PARI Journal 17(2):1-22.
Martin, Simon. 2017. The Caracol Hieroglyphic Stairway. Maya Decipherment, January 20, 2017. https://mayadecipherment.com/2017/01/20/the-caracol-hieroglyphic-stairway/
Stuart, David. 2012. Notes on a New Inscription from La Corona. Maya Decipherment, June 30, 2012. https://mayadecipherment.com/2012/06/30/notes-on-a-new-text-from-la-corona/
Despite of the year 639 AD being a very productive year in the history of Caracol and Calakmul, and 184.108.40.206.0. being the latest date of the hieroglyphic staircase of Caracol, I would like to suggest that the date of the Ts´unun panel does not correspond to the year 639 AD. My reason for this is that there were no interesting events visible in the night sky of both dates (220.127.116.11.13. 8 Been 6 Mol, corresponding to the night from 25 July to 26 July 639 Julian and 18.104.22.168.5. 7 Chikchan 18 Mol, corresponding to the night from 6 August to 7 August 639 Julian). If we consider the dates to be one Calendar Round later, the first date would correspond to the night from 12 to 13 July 691 (Julian). Exactly that night, the moon had just passed Jupiter, visible from sunset to about 3:30 in the morning. The second date, being 12 days later, would correspond to the night from 24 to 25 July 691 (Julian). Exactly that night, the moon had just passed the Pleiades, visible from about 1:30 in the morning (of 25 July) to sunrise.
Thanks for your insights, Jens. As you might know, I tend to be skeptical of astronomical explanations of dates unless they are explicitly described as having astronomical significance. Keep in mind that the subject of the first date seems to be a ruler of the Kaanul dynasty, so I would lean toward a more historical interpretation in that instance. Of course we’ll never know what they are actually talking about until more pieces of this text are found.