An Unusual “13” in the Dresden Codex?

Page 58 of the Dresden Codex contains in its right-most columns (Figure 1) the heading of a computational table that follows the manuscript’s noted eclipse tables. The nature of the table on pages 58-59 is complex and subject to some debate, and here I will happily put aside any in-depth discussion of its numerology in order to simply point out an unusual paleographical feature of a day sign (13 Muluk) written in the page’s final column.

Figure 1. (a) RIght column from page 58 of the Dresden Codex; (b) detail of Ring Numbers and Long Reckonings; (c) a possible 13 Muluk, shown between the Long Reckonings. (Images courtesy of SLUB-Dresden)

The numbers shown provide anchors or base dates for the calculations that follow on page 59, many of which are multiples of 780 days that fall on the day 13 Muluk.  For example, we see in the first column two integrated Ring Numbers (RN), 1.7.11 and, added in red, 12.11. These calculate the intervals backwards before to the intended base dates:

RN Base 1: 13 Muluk 2 Sak

RN Base 2: 13 Muluk 17 Tzek

13 Muluk 2 Sak is the primary of the two dates. It is recorded as the header of the two glyph columns on page 58 and as the CR at the lower right of the page, next to 4 Ahaw 8 Kumk’u.

The two intervals given on the right coloumn are so-called Long Reckonings, or a special type of Distance Number from the pre-era base date to reach a new base for the table. The first of these numbers is, which when added to the 13 Muluk 2 Sak results in 13 Muluk 2 Mol. The other LR record below it is can also be added to the secondary base date (13 Muluk 17 Tzek), thereby reaching 13 Muluk 2 Sip. There is a bit of ambiguity in what gets added to what here, but the important point to stress here is that adding these LRs to either pre-era base date will always result in a 13 Muluk.

The day shown between the two LR numbers is obviously a Muluk, but different from others by two unusual features: it lacks a number coefficient and is surrounded by a red edging around the conventional black border (not shown in the Villacorta tracing, as it happens). Perusing the Dresden, I can find no other day sign with similar marking, even though red cartouches were common for painted day signs throughout the Classic period, and as far early as the Late Preclassic. No such red borders were ever used in the Dresden, however, and in light of the scribal style and practice employed in the Dresden I doubt that this red border is meant to be a decorative or without meaning.

The absence of the number prefix leads me to suspect that the red line around the Muluk is an unusual and playful means of indicating a 13 day coefficient — the fullest number possible that can accompany Muluk or any day sign in the 260-day tzolk’in. Perhaps the idea was that the number 13 has in some sense “come full circle.” It might be worth recalling that all number coefficients on tzolk’in dates are painted in red as well.

Admittedly this interpretation hinges on the assumption of highly unconventional scribal practice. But there are other examples of “odd” numbers in the Dresden. For example, phonetic spellings of the numbers three (ox, o-xo) and eleven (buluk, bu-lu-ku) with day signs in the Dresden are also well outside of normal conventions, never seen elsewhere. I’ll therefore put forward this idea of the circular 13 as a tentative hunch, hoping it explains the “missing” number on the day sign.

Heavenly Bodies

by Stephen D. Houston

As usual, Shakespeare (or Hippolyta, Queen of the Amazons) said it all: “…the moon … new-bent in heaven, shall behold the night of our solemnities.”

That a correspondence might exist between a celestial body and terrestrial events is hardly strange. Every tide shows this to be so. But the relation of humans to celestial motions is less clear. Some scholars find a secure correlation between the moon and menstruation in human females; others dispute it entirely (cf. Cutler et al. 1987; Folin and Rizzotti 2001:542, also Fehring et al. 2006:6-7). We do know that the Maya linked the moon to a young woman of child-bearing age. Her favored company: a rabbit, the light-fingered trickster of Classic Maya thought and an emblem of fecundity.[Note 1]

Maya dynasts had a long stake in the sky. A basic unit of time was, of course, the k’in, meaning “day” but also “sun.” Royalty associated themselves with the Sun God, invoking his name as a key prefix to their own. But what of the moon?  In the late 1980s my colleagues Barb Macleod, Nikolai Grube, and Dave Stuart sorted out the varied glyphs that went into hul, “arrive.” Hearing of this, the obvious hit me. I am sure it did to some others, too. In one such variant, especially in Glyph D of the Lunar Series, the moon-sign was not the verbal suffix I supposed it to be. It cued the moon. This had to apply equally to Glyph C, which also bore the lunar sign.

By now, epigraphers understand the elements of Glyph D. The compound consists of a number followed by a hand with an extended index finger. That finger points to a lunar crescent. (In Maya imagery, extended fingers mark conversation or emphatic declaration.) The position of the crescent to the right side, concavity to the left, is understandable. At first crescent this is precisely the shape and orientation of the moon. Underneath the hand and moon cluster two glyphic syllables, li and ya. Along with certain specialists, I view these as providing a phonic reinforcement for the final consonant in hul, a marker of single-argument predicates (-i), and a past-tense suffix (-iiy).

Figure 1. a) Balakbal Stela 5:A5 (Ruppert and Denison 1943:pl. 56a); b) Tikal Stela 40:A7 (photograph by D. Chauche); c) Piedras Negras Throne 1:B’3 (Thompson 1971:fig. 58); d) “Siegal Mask”:B4 (drawing by author); e) Calakmul celt (drawing by Alexandre Tokovinine); f) NAR Stela 24:C7-C10, and g) E3-D7 (drawings by Ian Graham, CMHI, Peabody Museum, Harvard University).

Finding an early example of this glyph is somewhat difficult. The sample is ragged. One of the first must occur on Balakbal Stela 5:A5, dating to May 16, AD 406 (Julian). Tikal Stela 40, from June 19, AD 468 (Julian), has it too, at position A7 (Fig. 1a, 1b, respectively). For these and other examples the likelihood is that the “arrivals” refer to the sighting of the new moon as crescent. I find this credible. A rare variant sign is a human eye peering out of a moon glyph. Perhaps this refers to first-sighting (Fig. 1c; note, however, that this may be less the eye of an observer than the Moon Goddess within).[Note 2]  I would also speculate that the numbers stray from astronomical predictions—deducible by calculation—because of the difficulties of detection. During the rainy season, bad weather would work mischief with naked-eye astronomy. The example from Balakbal lies about 10 days from its predicted value, the Tikal reference 3 days or so. In both cases, the recorded number is less than the predicted quantity, a pattern consistent with observational error. (One wonders, if this held up, whether weather patterns might be loosely reconstructible for the Classic period! High deviance from prediction would be more likely during rainy seasons.)

The gist of it: at some point, Classic scribes transferred an expression for celestial motion to the arrivals of kings and queens. Heavenly bodies accorded with royal ones. An early version of non-planetary arrival employs the “moon-observation” but to describe the motions of deities—in fact, all such gods on heaven and earth (kanal k’uh, kab[al] k’uh). Their destination is a flowery place (Fig. 1d; Houston and Inomata 2009:fig. 2.3). A later spelling, on a re-used and re-cut jade from Calakmul Tomb 1, Structure 3, carts the expression into a firmly dynastic setting. Somewhat flamboyant—the gesturing hand sports a bracelet, the moon nestles the God or Goddess—the text recounts an arrival at El Zotz, Guatemala, or Yaxchilan, Mexico (Fields and Tokovinine 2012:fig. 99a; the exact site cannot be resolved on present evidence.)

Then there is the celebrated arrival of a princess from Dos Pilas at the site of Naranjo, where she resuscitates the local dynasty (Fig. 1f). About 16 years after the arrival she performs an important sacrifice with the “Stingray-spine” God (a reading first noted by Stuart) and at some point impersonates the Moon Goddess herself (Fig. 1g). That the texts highlight an arrival, the birth of an heir, and the princess’ bloodletting and impersonation as Moon Goddess savors of an overall arc of lunation and cycles of fecundity in females. I doubt it is a coincidence that hula means menstruo o regla de la mujer in Colonial Yukatek. Consider also a term for the Moon Goddess in the Dresden Codex, sak ixik, close to sakal ixik in Yukatek, also for menstruo (Barrera Vásquez 1980:242; also Dresden 18b, 19b).[Note 3] The Dresden may even allude to such cycles in its Moon Goddess pages, which seem unusually concerned with spouses and coupling. On Dresden 21b there is a possible phrase, HUL?-IXIK ya-TA-na, “Ixik arrives, the spouse of…” The HUL is in a late form but notably similar to its Classic precursor. Is the “arrival” metaphoric? A repetitive cycle of xa-HUL?-li KAB-ba > xahuli kab, on Madrid 107 raises the possibility of re-visits. Note the prefix xa, “more” or “again” in Colonial Ch’olti’ (Robertson et al. 2010:180-181, 333).

The merger of celestial and royal movement establishes an intriguing simile. The actions of one might mirror the other. For certain arrivals, the very order of heaven traced out in human activity. Perhaps, to draw a necessary inference, Maya sakbih or causeways need evaluation as the possible correlates of heavenly motion.


(1) Oswaldo Chinchilla (2011:199, figs. 86-87, 89) makes a plausible case for a male Moon god as well, with Maize God characteristics—perhaps, to judge from a text on the extraordinary “Hunal Ye box” (now on display in the Museo Nacional de Arqueología y Etnología in Guatemala City), he was Glyph 10A (30) lunation, the female variant being—to conjecture wildly—Glyph 9A (29). A key image is from a pot (K5166) formerly in the Ranieri collection in Crystal River, Florida. When we visited the collection in 2002 or so, David Stuart observed that the vase highlights a sequence of beings that are surely related to the deities in Glyph C of the Lunar Series. There is a Maize God, along with companions like a Death God and God L, 6 in total, a pattern consistent with the 6-month lunation noted long ago by John Teeple. The male deities are in positions of entreaty, subordination, or with the opposed hands, wrists touching, that mark courtship dance in Maya imagery (e.g., K554)—are they “suitors” of the Moon Goddess, supplicants to a coy Penelope? The pot is the best evidence available that certain images are astral or planetary in nature. Stuart detected the sequence of such heads, including the Moon Goddess, in the Xultun murals (Saturno et al. 2012: 715, fig. 2). There, however, the sequence appears to consist of only 3 deities in order.

(2) By Terminal Classic times, the sign could be used flexibly to convey sound rather than meaning, as on Seibal Stela 9:D2, K’UH-HUL > k’uhul. “Seeing” also plays a role in a rare spelling in the Lunar Series, on the Palenque Palace Tablet:B15 or Copan Stela N:A10. In place of Glyph D it presents three elements: K’UH or K’UHUL, an icon for “seeing,” and a possible ordinal, “first.” I remain agnostic about the precise reading order of these signs, but the overall intent is to describe the first sighting of a god or a first “divine” sighting. Another form of Glyph D, found in the Initial Series Text in Room 1 of the Bonampak Murals, La Rejolla Stela 1:B5-A6, and Copan Stela I:B6, is more opaque: k’i~K’A’?-ji~hi-ya HUL-li-ya. Is this form of a “finished journey,” k’a’ with, perhaps, an epenthetic aspirate, based on the well-known expression for “death”? Or is it a completely different term? A more transparent sense of movement is in a spelling of Glyph D from a Coba altar drawn by Ian Graham: BIX-ya HUL-li-ya, with the sense of a past day and of human passage (Stuart 1987:33).

(3) A recent volume on codical astronomy argues that this supernatural, Goddess I in the Schellhas nomenclature, is unrelated to the moon (Bricker and Bricker 2011:674-679).  One challenge is that the book overlooks the unambiguous reading of her name glyph, Ixik or Sak Ixik, “Lady” or “White Lady.” I suspect the “white” refers to “weaving” or a clear moon (Barrera Vásquez 1980:709, 710). To be sure, there are ambiguities in the overall identification. Some time ago, in a redaction of his doctoral thesis, Taube pointed out that the goddess fails to appear with a moon sign in the Dresden Codex (Taube 1992:64-69). He nonetheless concludes, correctly I am certain, “it is likely ….Goddess I [is] related to the Classic period moon goddess” (Taube 1992:69). The complexity may arise from a complex or layered evocation: a procreative female, not Ixchel, whom Taube has shown to be an aged midwife, healer, and agent of destruction. The young female’s attributes include fertility and links to the moon.

Sources cited:

Barrera Vásquez, Alfredo. 1980. Diccionario Maya Cordemex, Maya-Español, Español-Maya. Ediciones Cordemex, Mérida. Bricker, Harvey M., and Victoria R. Bricker. 2011. Astronomy in the Maya Codices. American Philosophical Society, Philadelphia.

Chinchilla Mazariegos, Oswaldo. 2011. Imágenes de la mitología maya. Museo Popol Vuh, Guatemala City.

Cutler, Winnifred B., Wolfgang M. Schleidt, Erika Freidmann, George Preti, and Robert Stine. 1987. Lunar Influences on the Reproductive Cycle in Women. Human Biology, vol. 59, no. 6, pp. 959-972.

Fehring, Richard, Mary Schneider, and Kathleen Raviele. 2006. Variability in the Phases of the Menstrual Cycle. Journal of Obstetric, Gynecologic, and Neonatal Nursing, vol. 35, no. 3, pp. 376-384.

Fields, Virginia M., and Alexandre Tokovinine. 2012. Belt Plaque, Plate 18. In Ancient Maya Art at Dumbarton Oaks, ed. by Joanne Pillsbury, Miriam Doutriaux, Reiko Ishihara-Brito, and Alexandre Tokovinine, Pre-Columbian Art at Dumbarton Oaks, Number 4, pp. 178-183. Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection, Washington, DC.

Folin, M., and M. Rizzotti. 2001. Lunation and Primate Menses. Earth, Moon, and Planets, vol. 85-86, pp. 539-544.

Houston, Stephen D., and Takeshi Inomata. 2008. The Classic Maya. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.

Robertson, John S., Danny Law, and Robbie A. Haertel. 2010. Colonial Ch’olti’: The Seventeenth-Century Morán Manuscript. University of Oklahoma Press, Norman.

Ruppert Karl, and John H. Denison, Jr. 1943. Archaeological Reconnaissance in Campeche, Quintana Roo, and Peten, Publication 543. Carnegie Institution of Washington, DC.

Saturno, William A., David Stuart, Anthony Aveni, and Franco Rossi. 2012. Ancient Maya Astronomy from Xultun, Guatemala. Science, vol. 336, pp. 714-717.

Stuart, David S. 1987. Ten Phonetic Syllables, Research Reports on Ancient Maya Writing 14. Center for Maya Research, Washington, DC.

Taube, Karl A. 1992. The Major Gods of Ancient Yucatan. Studies in Pre-Columbian Art & Archaeology, No 32. Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection, Washington, DC.

Thompson, J. Eric S. 1971. Maya Hieroglyphic Writing: An Introduction, 3rd ed. University of Oklahoma Press, Norman.

Xultun Number A and the 819-Day Count

by Barbara MacLeod and Hutch Kinsman

Within a few hours of the publication in the 11 May, 2012 issue of Science of “Ancient Maya Astronomical Tables from Xultun, Guatemala”, by William Saturno, David Stuart, Anthony Aveni and Franco Rossi, Hutch Kinsman contacted colleagues who regularly correspond by email, pointing out that Number A—1,195,740—is evenly divisible by 819. It is the only one of the four which contains this factor. He also noted that the coefficient of the tzolk’in day at the top of the column is 1. Since all tzolk’in dates which are stations in the 819-Day Count have a coefficient of 1, this was further evidence that the purpose of the interval was to commensurate the 819 (2.4.19)-Day Count with the Calendar Round.

Figure 1. Number array from north wall, Structure 10K-2, Xultun, Guatemala. (Preliminary drawing by David Stuart)

For anyone not familiar with this cycle, 819 is the product of 7, 13, and 9—numbers of ritual and calendric significance to the Maya. Following the Initial Series, the count appears as a short distance number leading to the previous station–one of four which are 819 days apart. These are associated with the cardinal directions and their corresponding colors. A verb meaning ‘stand still’ or ‘stop’ appears along with several regular protagonists. Yaxchilan and Palenque are noteworthy in having multiple monuments featuring the 819-Day Count. J. Eric S. Thompson (1950:214) and his contemporaries offered early suggestions about its purpose. Heinrich Berlin and David Kelley (1961) first described the structural similarity between the Dresden New Year pages and the color/direction symbolism of the 819-Day Count. Given the formula [4 x 819] = [9 x 364] one may add nine days to the latter to complete nine haabs. Michael Grofe (personal communication, May, 2012) suggests that it is an idealized system for tracking the sidereal position of eclipses.

Figure 2. Example of 819-day count record from Yaxchilan, Lintel 30. (Drawing by Ian Graham)

The interval of Xultun Number A—1,195,740 days– is [63 x 18,980] and [4 x 819 x 365]. It is also [9 x 365 x 364], which brings to mind the [9 x 364] = [4 x 819] formula mentioned above. The unit of 364 days is the Maya “computing year” discussed by Thompson (1950:256). The interval of Xultun Number A is also the smallest unit which commensurates the 819-Day Count with the Calendar Round.

Thompson (cited above) wrote: “as only once in every 63 times will a day with a coefficient of 1 also mark the start of the 819-day cycle, the fact that this first day before ( 4 Ajaw 8 Cumku is a base in the 819-day cycle argues strongly for that count’s being primarily ritualistic”.

The day 1 Kaban before the Era Base 4 Ajaw 8 Kumk’u, per a discussion Carl Callaway and Barbara MacLeod had several years ago, is an 819-Day Count station in the east quadrant—the quadrant in which, for several reasons, we concluded that the count should begin. From this datum, counts both forward and back might reach other stations in the cycle; thus the pre-era date 1 Kaban 5 Kumk’u need not be the earliest documented station. The earliest station known, 1 Chikchan 18 Ch’en, recorded on the Palenque Temple XIX bench, is therefore not the base date but rather a distant-past station reached from it.

At the 1974 Segunda Mesa Redonda de Palenque, Floyd Lounsbury presented a meticulous analysis of the pre-era initial date of the Tablet of the Cross at Palenque. This paper is well worth reading and is available on Mesoweb:

Per Lounsbury’s work, the Palenque interval is 1,359,540 days, or [4 x 819 x 415]. While it is not an even multiple of the 18,980-day Calendar Round, it is [5229 x 260] and [1734 x 780] and [3735 x 364]. It demonstrates the application to dynastic mythological narrative of large multiples of [4 x 819] by Maya scribes in deep-time calculations.

Saturno et. al. note that the tzolk’in day at the top of Column A is either 1 Kawak or 1 Kaban. We suggest that it is 1 Kaban—the tzolk’in position of the base date of the 819-Day Count. This in turn sheds light on the function of the other three tzolk’in dates. We tentatively suggest that the 9 K’an date atop Column B is that of the Dresden Codex Serpent Base 9 K’an 12 K’ayab. More will be said about the other three numbers in the near future.

References Cited

Berlin, Heinrich, and David H. Kelley. 1961. The 819-day Count and Color-direction Symbolism among the Classic Maya. Middle American Research Institute Publication 26.

Lounsbury, Floyd G. 1976 A Rationale for the Initial Date of the Temple of the Cross at Palenque. Second Palenque Roundtable, 1974. The Art, Iconography & Dynastic History of Palenque, Part III, edited by Merle Greene Robertson. Pebble Beach, California: Pre-Columbian Art Research, The Robert Louis Stevenson School.

Saturno, William, David Stuart, Anthony Aveni and Franco Rossi. 2012. Ancient Maya Astronomical Tables from Xultun, Guatemala. Science 336, 714.

Thompson, J. Eric S. 1950. Maya Hieroglyphic Writing: An Introduction. University of Oklahoma Press, Norman.

New Book: Astronomy in the Maya Codices

Astronomy in the Maya Codices
Harvey M. Bricker and Victoria R. Bricker
Memoirs of the American Philosophical Society
Volume 65 — $75.00
936 pp. (28 front matter, 908 text)
ISBN 978-0-87169-265-8

Order here

The Precolumbian Maya were closely attuned to the movements of the Sun and Moon, the stars and planets. Their rituals and daily tasks were performed according to a timetable established by these celestial bodies, based on a highly comples calendar system. Agriculture provided the foundation for their civilization, and the skies served as a kind of farmer’s almanac for when to plant and when to harvest. In this remarkable volume, noted Maya scholars Harvey Bricker and Victoria Bricker offer invaluable insight into the complex world of the Precolumbian Maya, and in particular the amazing achievements of Maya astronomy, as revealed in the Maya codices, the indigenous hieroglyphic books written before the Spanish Conquest. This far-reaching study confirms that, independent of the Old World traditions that gave rise to modern Western astronomy, the Precolumbian Maya achieved a sophisticated knowledge of astronomy based on observations recorded over centuries.


Astronomy in the Maya Codices is the first thorough treatise on the codices since Thompson’s A Commentary on the Dresden Codex four decades ago. The Brickers’ work is special in that it gives a complete account of the historical background of scholarly inquiries into each of the instruments they deal with. The Brickers attempt to place each codical instrument in real time, an approach they uniquely develop and fully justify. This work will remain the ‘last word’ on the role of astronomy in the codices and in Maya thought for a long time to come.”
Anthony F. Aveni
Russell Colgate Distinguished University Professor of Astronomy and
Anthropology and Native American Studies
Colgate University

Astronomy in the Maya Codices represents a compilation of almost three decades of scholarly research conducted by the Brickers, reflecting a unique collaboration that combines their respective areas of expertise in linguistics, epigraphy, and astronomy. Their book is the most comprehensive treatment of the Maya codices to date, and is likely to remain a classic for years to come.”
Susan Milbrath
Curator of Latin American Art and Archaeology
Florida Museum of Natural History

Astronomy in the Maya Codices is simply a tour de force. The breadth and depth of Harvey and Victoria Bricker’s research on the Maya codices and the accessibility of their writing style make this important book a ‘must read’ for a host of constituencies, from scholars of the Maya to astronomers to the interested general public.”
Jeremy A. Sabloff
President, Santa Fe Institute

On-line Dresden Codex

The Saxon State Library (Sächsische Landesbibliothek) of Dresden recently posted high-resolution photographs of the Dresden Codex on its website. They are extremely good images, very useful to any student of Maya glyphs and iconography.

To access the on-line images go to the website and click the book icon, marked “zur Werkansicht.”