The Verb Bix, “Go, Go Away”

Back in 1996 I made notes about an interesting substitution set that pointed to a reading BIX for a logogram shown here, which makes an appearance in a few inscriptions from Yaxchilan, La Corona, Dos Pilas, Coba, as well as a few others. This value may well have been noted by others back around the same time, if not before, but I thought I would post my old hand-written note summarizing the evidence (having just now found them in an old notebook).

The sign was used to write the intransitive verb bix, “to go,” in a small variety of settings. This verb root can be traced historically to proto-Ch’olan *bix (Kaufman and Norman 1980) and in ancient texts it appears on Dos Pilas HS 4 (see page bottom) as BIX-ya, for bix-iiy, “he went” (in reference to the fleeing of the local ruler Bahlaj Chan K’awiil from Dos Pilas). Spelled BIX-ya or bi-xi-ya, the same verb was used in temporal expressions ho’ bix-iiy, “five days ago” or wuk bix-iiy, “seven days ago” (see top examples on page below). A variant form of  this verb is bix-Vn, “to go, go away,” which appears in Colonial Ch’olti’ and in the glyphs as well. Several examples occur in the texts of La Corona (spelled BIX-na 0r, for the compl,tive, BIX-ni-ya), where they refer to the journeys of the young noble K’inich ? Yook from his home to Calakmul (Chihknahb). A related example turned up long after I wrote those original old notes, on Panel 1 from La Corona (at right), discovered in 2005 by Marcello Canuto.  There we read bix-Vn chihknahb, “he goes to Chihknahb” (the same expression appears on Panel 2, but with a different date — see “Site Q” examples illustrated at the middle of the page).

My favorite example of these “go” verbs comes from Altar de Sacrificios, where on Panel 2 we have bi-xi-ni-ya, for bix-Vn-iiy, “he went away.” Rather than referring to a journey in the real world, this is a citation of a local ruler’s death (cited in more conventional terms on Stela 4, an associated inscription).

I’m as yet unsure what if any semantic distinction existed between between the verbs bix and bix-Vn, and they may just be regional variants.  The bix root is likely based on the noun *bih, “road,” and I find it interesting that this etymology is graphically reflected in the logogram sign itself, which incorporates an infixed BIH/bi element.

Here are my old scribbles on this stuff from 1996:

The “Era” Date on Coba, Stela 5

Coba, Stela 5 is one of three remarkable monuments at the site that record the full, unabridged “era” date using all 24 periods of what I call the “Grand Long Count.” (The other monuments are Stelae 1 and 27). This immense span of time we can transcribe as
4 Ajaw 8 Kumk’u

In this note I would like to point out a couple of interesting features of this date on Stela 5, as well to a problem evident in its published drawing (Graham 1997:36), traceable in turn to an error in the restoration of the stela’s fragments done around 1980.

Figure 1. Coba Stela 5, right side, with correction to the lower glyph blocks. Drawing by Ian Graham (from Graham 1997:36).

If we look closely at the published drawing (Figure 1a, at left) we can see that the final components of the Grand Long Count, although damaged by a break in the stone, include the familiar K’atun and K’in periods at the blocks Qp11 and Pp14. However, there are two too many intervening glyphs in what are labelled as rows 12 and 13, where only the Tun and Winal periods would be expected. Close inspection of the photograph shows that this is in fact due to an unfortunate gap created by a faulty modern restoration of the stela’s two main fragments. That is, rows “12” and “13” look to actually encompass a single row of two glyphs that was poorly fitted together during restoration (Figure 2). Once corrected (as shown in Figure 1b), the two glyph blocks can easily accommodate the expected Tun and Winal periods and make for a perfectly acceptable date overall, with a proper tally of twenty-four periods.
Figure 2. Detail of photograph of Coba Stela 5 text (from Graham 1997)

Two interesting features of the extended Long Count date stand out. The most obvious is the conch shell form of the “Bak’tun” sign as Pp11 — a unique occurrence in all Maya inscriptions, for which I have no explanation. The other noteworthy aspect of the full date concerns the orientations of the many “13” coefficients. There are twenty in all (Pp1 is surely an ISIG glyph) but just two show the number as a horizontal prefix, as seen in the seventh unit at Qp4 and with the Bak’tun at Pp11; all other 13 prefixes are vertical. Again I have no explanation for this odd feature (horizontal numbers do not appear on the other “era” dates recorded at Coba) but it’s probably significant that these two examples are spaced thirteen units apart. That is to say, the higher of these units is thirteen positions above the Bak’tun. I suspect that these horizontal number coefficients served as visual cues, used by the scribes to subtly mark an internally significant structure to the extended calendar system. It’s worth noting, too, that the corrected fit of the stela fragments produces thirteen rows of glyphs in the record of this important date — surely not a coincidence.


Graham, Ian. 1997. Corpus of Maya Hieroglyphic Inscriptions, Volume 8, Part 1: Coba. Cambridge: Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology, Harvard University.

Notes on Accession Dates in the Inscriptions of Coba

Mesoweb has recently posted a short piece I’ve written on vague hints at history in the very eroded texts of Coba, Quintana Roo, Mexico. Thanks to Joel Skidmore for his great help.

Notes on Accession Dates in the Inscriptions of Coba

2010  Notes on Accession Dates in the Inscriptions of Coba.