Unusual Signs 2: The “Fringed Crossed-Bands” Logogram

In this post I offer up another rare and unusual sign in the Maya script. This is what I call the “fringed crossed-bands,” which looks to be an obscure logogram (word sign). I have no good suggestion to make about its value or meaning, but only show some of its scattered examples in the hope it might spur progress toward an eventual reading.

The sign seems visually complex. Its main feature is a fringe-like design on its left side, which appears to droop over a small rounded central element.  A crossed-bands motif appears in its upper central area. This sign often (not always) takes a superfix resembling a twisted cord or knot – I suspect these are all variations on the same form – and there’s a possibility that this an integral of a larger sign.


It appears in four places to my knowledge, mostly in personal names. An early example is from an unpublished Early Classic Tzakol-style vessel, where it looks to be part of a personal name (Figure 1a). On Kerr 1440 (Figure 1b) it may also be part of a name phrase, according to the recent analysis of the passage by Hull, Carrasco and Wald (2009).  There it takes the affixes –ya and -si. Yet another name that makes use of the sign is that of a sculptor who contributed to the carving of Piedras Negras, Stela 14, named on its front, where it again takes the -ya-si suffixes (Figure 1c).  Unfortunately, these cases don’t help us much when working toward a decipherment of the sign – names are contextually “neutral” in terms of their semantic constraints. The -ya-si affixes are difficult to account for, but they suggest a connection to the “body-part” nominal suffix -is noted by Marc Zender (2004).

One last instance of the sign maybe is more revealing (Figure 2).  This appears in the text that ran above along the top of the throne of the platform within Temple XXI at Palenque, in a passage describing a ritual that took place on 3 Ajaw 3 Yaxk’in (June 14, 709), There it appears as one of two verbs that take a –n-aj verb suffix, in a context that indicates a passive construction for non-CVC transitive stems (Lacadena 2004).

ha-o-ba ?-na-ja ?-na-ja TA-CH’AB-AK’AB-li
ha’oob ..?..naj .. ..?..naj ta ch’ab ak’bil
it is they (who were) ?ed and ?ed in creation-and-darkness

The mystery sign may stand for a non-CVC transitive verb, paired in this instance with some other obscure action. The subjects (“they”) are the protagonists of the scene on the Temple XXI panel, the future king K’inich Ahkal Mo’s Nahb and his possible brother, Upakal K’inich. With such a nicely specific grammatical setting, we may have an eventual in-road toward an eventual decipherment of the “fringed crossed-bands,” but that’s probably a long way away.


Hull, Kerry, Michael Carrasco, and Robert Wald. 2009. The First-Person Singular Independent Pronoun in Classic Ch’olan. Mexicon 31(2):36-43.

Lacadena, Alfonso. 2004. Passive Voice in Classic Mayan Texts: CV-h-C-aj and -na-aj Constructions. In The Linguistics of Maya Writing, edited by S. Wichmann, pp. 165-194. University of Utah Press, Salt Lake City.

Zender, Marc. 2004. On the Morphology of Inanimate Possession in Mayan Languages and Classic Mayan Glyphic Nouns. In The Linguistics of Maya Writing, edited by S. Wichmann, pp. 195-210. University of Utah Press, Salt Lake City.

Maya Field Workshops

This announces the inauguration of a new and exciting learning experience on Maya art, epigraphy and archaeology, The Maya Field Workshops. Led by David Stuart, these are designed as intensive on-site seminars open to anyone interested in the latest discoveries on the ancient Maya. Unlike workshops held in Austin and other academic locales, these take place at or near ruins, so participants can study Maya history and culture in their true contexts.

The inaugural 2009 workshop will be held at Palenque, Mexico, from March 16-22. Please visit the Maya Field Workshops website to get more details.

Rediscovered Stucco Glyphs from Palenque


Stephen Houston’s recent archival research at the Smithsonian has led to the remarkable find of images of previously unknown stucco glyphs and an associated sculpture from Palenque, all carted off to Scotland by an adventurous Englishman in the early nineteenth century. We collaborated on the preliminary essay here (in pdf form), establishing, we think, just where they came from.

“They …Accomplished the Matter Betwixt Them”: Rediscovered Stucco Fragments from Palenque, Mexico by Stephen Houston and David Stuart

The Throne in the Basement

This post follows up on a recent entry devoted to the “Del Río Throne” of Palenque, which stood inside House E of the Palace until it was dismantled in June, 1787. It’s clear that the inscribed bench is much more recent in date than the building that housed it, placed by a later king in what was essentially Pakal’s throne room. The time difference between the throne and the surrounding space presents an interesting situation for those interested in how the Palace grew and transformed over the course of the Late Classic period.

According to the Tablet of the 96 Glyphs, House E was dedicated on October 30, 654, just two years after K’inich Janab Pakal had celebrated the great K’atun ending on This was a pivotal time in Palenque’s early history — Pakal had already been king since 615, but he had apparently held little power in those earlier decades, during what was a troubled political period instigated long before by wars with Calakmul and its allies. When House E was built it must have seemed a bold expression of Pakal’s new-found authority, and it helped set the stage for the architectural transformation of the Palace in the years that followed.

The style of the Oval Palace tablet dates to about the time of the building’s construction in 654, and shows a retrospective scene of the crowning of a young Pakal by his mother, Ix Sak K’uk’. Interestingly, the Del Rio throne itself is much later in date. As Mathews and Schele pointed out, the throne’s inscription records a series of royal accessions beginning with Pakal and continuing on to include his sons who ruled, K’inich Kan Bahlam and K’inich K’an Joy Chitam. An even later king may have been mentioned, since we know that the end portion of the text is still missing. Pakal’s grandson, K’inich Ahkal Mo’ Nahb, is featured in the late calligraphic text beautifully painted above the Oval Tablet, so this king’s modifications of the space may also have included a refurbishment of the throne (see Marken and Gonzalez Cruz 2007:154). At the very least we can be sure that the Del Río throne is significantly later than the Oval Palace Tablet, and that it presumably replaced one or more earlier thrones occupying the same space, beginning of course with the time of House E’s formal dedication in 654.

As it happens, the enclosed passages of the Palace’s lower levels — the so-called subterraneos — hold three table-like thrones, two of which are set against side walls of corridors, without any association with doors. One of these thrones (see photo), barely noticed by anyone who walks by in the wet, dark hallway, is inscribed with many eroded glyphs, including a Long Count date and, at the end, the clear name of K’inich Janab Pakal. The style is very early, similar to what we see on the Oval Palace Tablet and other inscribed blocks of the subterraneos. So why was this and another uncarved throne placed in these lower passageways? The subterraneos themselves seem to have been built and conceived as “buried” spaces, and were accessible through two stairways leading from two upper buildings, Houses E and K, which all look to be roughly contemporary with one another. There is good reason to believe these were all employed together as symbolic space integrating the underworld and the throne room (Baudez 1996; Stuart and Stuart 2008). What’s important here is that the subterraneos are directly attached to Pakal’s throne room above, located just up the stairs.

Given the late date of the Del Rio throne in House E, I have to wonder if the early inscribed bench now hidden away in the subterraneos served as the original royal seat beneath the Oval Tablet. That is, when replacing Pakal’s original throne with a new more elaborate one, did the Maya simply put the old seat in the basement, down the dark steps nearby? It does make sense to me, and the style of the faint glyphs is just about perfect for the time period of House E’s dedication.

So, here’s a thought: why not return Pakal’s early throne, or better yet a good copy, to its rightful place in House E? After all, Pakal’s throne room needs a throne!

Sources cited:

Baudez, Claude F.. 1996. Arquitectura y escenografía en Palenque: un ritual de entronización. RES 29/30.

Marken, Damien, and Arnoldo Gonzalez Cruz. 2007. Elite Residential Compounds at late Classic Palenque. In Palenque: Recent Investigations at the Classic Maya Center, pp. 135-160. D. Marken, ed. Altamira Press.

Stuart, David, and George Stuart. 2008. Palenque: Eternal City of the Maya. New York: Thames and Hudson.