REPORT: Tonina’s Curious Ballgame 21

by David Stuart

Narrative scenes in Maya art are not always as simple as they might seem. Take for example this image of a ballgame on Monument 171 from Tonina, Chiapas. This small relief sculpture was discovered some years ago in the site’s acropolis, and is now on display near the entrance to the Sala Maya in the Museo Nacional de Antropología in Mexico City.

Figure 1. Monument 171 from Tonina, now in the Museo Nacional  de Antropología (Photograph by D. Stuart).

Figure 1. Monument 171 from Tonina, showing the king of Calakmul, at right, playing ball with the deceased ruler of Tonina K’inich Baaknal Chahk, at left (Photograph by D. Stuart).

Like many scenes of the Maya ballgame, the Tonina relief shows two players in action with knees on the floor and a large ball between them. Three text panels are integrated within the scene and identify the actors and the time-frames of the game depicted. The central and right-hand sections form one continuous text, with the text at the the far left as a stand-alone caption for the left-hand figure. (Note: In the accompanying illustration I have re-lettered the columns to reflect the true reading order, so that columns A-B are at the center of the composition, above the large ball; columns A-B in the Corpus publication are here given as F-G).

Figure 2. Drawing of Monument 171 by Ian Graham, with new column designations to reflect true reading order.

Figure 2. Drawing of Monument 171 by Ian Graham, showing new column designations to reflect true reading order. (Adapted from Graham, et. al. 2006)

The date opening the main caption (A1-A2) is  7 Eb 5 Kankin, or October 31, 727 AD, during the reign of the Tonina ruler known as K’inich Yich’aak(?) Chapat, who had assumed the throne a few years earlier in 723 (See Mathews 2001 for a useful tabulation of Tonina’s dates and history).  The event phrase (B2-A3) is very clear as u baah ta pitz, “(it is) his image in (the act of) ball-playing,” repeating a sequence of glyphs found also in the secondary caption at the far left (a curious echoing of phrase that is meaningful, and which we will return to).

So who’s playing ball? One might think that the text would simply name the two players, but in fact there are three people named in the accompanying glyphs. As I hope to explain, the added complexity reveals interesting aspects about how Maya artisans sometimes layered narrative history and manipulated text-image relationships in order to point emphasize certain important narrative elements involving actors and time-frames that might otherwise be obscure.

The subject of the main ball-playing expression is named in blocks B3-C1, and here we find something of a surprise. This is not the name of the local Tonina king, but instead looks to be that of the king who was ruling at distant Calakmul, an important character known in the literature as Took’ K’awiil (a provisional nickname; see Martin and Grube 2000:112). His name phrase is quite clear, reading across the body of the right ballplayer to highlight his identity, and identical to examples known from Calakmul and surrounding areas. After the name and the accompanying kaloomte’ title (C1) we come upon an undeciphered glyph — clearly a possessed noun (U-ma-?-li) (D1) — followed by the name of the local ruler K’inich Yich’aak(?) Chapat (E1-D2) and his two royal court titles (emblem glyphs), followed in turn by another example of the honorific term kaloomte’. The undeciphered glyph at D1 must express some relationship between the ballgame or the Calakmul king and the contemporary Tonina ruler, although the nature of this connection still remains unclear (I recall seeing one other example of this same odd relationship glyph in another Tonina inscription that remains unpublished).

The ballplayer to the left is named in the caption behind him. This reads, in loose translation:

He is playing ball, the one k’atun kaloomte’, K’inich Baaknal Chahk, the Holy Lord of Po’

Here we have another ruler familiar from the Tonina’s history. However — and this is the truly odd aspect of the scene — at the time of the ballgame K’inich Baaknal Chahk had not been a ruler for nearly twenty years. He had been an important king who waged several notable wars against Palenque and its allies, but who died probably around the year 709, shortly before his young successor, Ruler 4, came to power on 9 Etznab 6 Muan. The next ruler after him, in turn, was K’inich Yich’aak(?) Chapat. So we have an odd situation at hand: a scene from the year 727 depicting a long-deceased Tonina ruler playing ball with a foreign Calakmul lord, with the current king named but not even shown.

So what gives? I believe we have here an excellent example of a common but little known convention in Maya art where times and identities can intentionally “merge” for narrative effect. One might even call it a form of visual poetics used by artists to carefully draw parallels and connections that, while not explicit on the surface, were nonetheless readable and knowable to those familiar with the conventions of Maya imagery. The 727 ballgame was probably real, a ritual contest involving the ruler of Calakmul Took’ K’awiil and the Tonina king who was alive at the time, K’inich Yich’aak(?) Chapat. Such royal ballgame scenes were frequently commissioned as a means of documenting long-distance alliances and hierarchical connections, and were used especially in the sphere of the Calakmul (Kaanal) court (examples are known from La Corona, Uxul and Hixwitz, among other places). The point of adding K’inich Baaknal Chahk’s image to this scene is, I think, to collapse this 727 event with a similar ballgame of a prior generation, involving the same Calakmul king and a deceased Tonina hero. The Calakmul ruler Took’ K’awiil was alive and on the throne in both time-frames, having acceded to the throne in 698. I suspect that he may held some important role in the complex geopolitics of Chiapas at the end of the seventh century, perhaps turning his attention westward after the defeat of the Kaanal kingdom by Tikal in 695. It’s probably no accident that Calakmul would find an ally in Tonina, who had for years been in conflict with its northern neighbor Palenque, itself an old enemy of the Kaanal kingdom. At any rate, the connection between the two ballgame events isn’t described textually or in conventional narrative fashion, yet it seems implicit in the juxtaposition of time with the actors shown.

Similar depictions of two subjects “out of time” with one another appear with some frequency in Maya sculpture. For example, La Corona Panel 1 shows two standing figures facing one another, each identified as the same ruler, K’inich ? Yook, on different ritual occasions. The scenes of the three tablets of the Cross Group at Palenque offer a similar juxtaposition of two inward-facing portraits of one king, K’inich Kan Bahlam, at different stages of life (as a young boy and as a middle aged man). A better parallel perhaps comes from the bench tablet of Temple XXI from Palenque, showing the deceased ruler K’inich Janab Pakal overseeing the bloodletting rites of his grandsons. In many of the Palenque narratives, earlier events and subjects are presented on the left, with later or contemporaneous protagonists on the right (the more “dominant” side of a composition).

I suggest that the Tonina ballgame scene presents a similar artistic stratagem. The written date and the subjects are carefully specified but are historically incompatible, a incongruence that serves to highlight the artist’s underlying message, linking an episode of current history with something parallel and similar in the past. I suspect this is why we have the apparent redundancy of two repeating phrases in the scene that simply state “he is playing ball” — each is needed because they serve in different historical moments. In Maya texts, the rhetorical links between such like-in-kind episodes are extremely common, and I would argue that Maya artists were just as keen in showing such connections, though perhaps not so linearly or directly. This then is a figurative ballgame, documenting to a old alliance between Tonina and the Kaanal court during the reign of K’inich Baaknal Chahk, and collapsing it with a more current relationship during the reign of K’inich Yich’aak(?) Chapat.

So this small elegant carving gives us with a fine example of how the ancient Maya conveyed layered and complex meanings involving time and identity, offering much more than first meets the eye.


Graham, Ian, David Stuart, Peter Mathews, and Lucia R. Henderson. 2006. Corpus of Maya Hieroglyphic Inscriptions, Volume 9, Part 2: Tonina. Peabody Museum, Harvard University, Cambridge, MA.

Martin, Simon, and Nikolai Grube. 2000. Chronicles of the Maya Kings and Queens: Deciphering the Dynasties of the Ancient Maya. Thames and Hudson, London.

Mathews, Peter. 2001. The Dates of Tonina and a Dark Horse in Its History.  The PARI Journal 2(1):1-5. Link to pdf here.

Leaf Glyphs: Spellings with yo and YOP 3

by David Stuart

yo sign

Figure 1. The sign yo or YOP. (Drawings by D. Stuart)

Decipherment’s progress isn’t always measured by big leaps forward, nor marked by completely new readings of signs or radically new analyses of spellings. More often our work involves fairly small refinements of things we “thought we knew” but which turned out not to be quite correct. A good example might be the familiar sign I long ago proposed as having the value yo (Stuart 1987) (Figure 1). This reading is now widely accepted, but after many years I realized that the syllabic yo reading wasn’t always quite workable in certain contexts. Over a decade ago I came to the realization that the same sign might carry the related logographic value YOP on certain occasions, forcing a few adjustments to readings that had already made their way into print and the epigraphic literature. For students of Maya epigraphy it’s probably a bit confusing to come across this sort of minor tweak or change to seemingly established readings, especially when the arguments behind them remain unpublished, usually circulated as emails among colleagues. Here, therefore, I’ll discuss the yo and YOP values, clarifying how the sign is used in some distinct settings.

yo-yop Fig 2

Figure 2. The yo sign as a prevocalic possessive pronoun. (a) yo-OTOOT-ti, y-otoot, “his/her house,” (b) yo-OHL-la, y-ohl, “his/her/its heart/center.” Drawings by L. Schele and I. Graham.

Most familiar uses of the yo syllable are as a sign prefix, to indicate the pre-vocalic third-person pronoun y- before a word beginning in o-. Thus yo-OTOOT for y-otoot, “his/her dwelling,” or yo-OHL-la for y-ohl, “his/her heart” (Figure 2a and b). On rarer occasions the yo sign is used in non-initial

syllabic yo

Figure 3. The syllable yo in final position. (a) from Comalcalco, Bone Pendant 17A (drawing by M. Zender), (b) from Pomona-area panel (drawing by N. Grube)

position as part of spellings of certain roots (Figure 3a and b), as in xo-yo, perhaps for xoy, “round”(?), or po-mo-yo for the place name Pomoy, an unknown site in the lower Usumacinta region (the toponym is based on the noun pomoy, attested in modern Ch’ol as “capulín cimarrón” (small shrub-like tree, possibly a trema) (Aulie and Aulie 1978:211).

yop Fig4

Figure 4. Spellings of yopte’, “leaf”. (a) yo-po-TE’-NAL, yopte’nal, “leaf place(?),” (b) AJ-YOP-TE’, aj yopte’, “Yopte’ person.” (Drawings by D. Stuart and I. Graham)

Many years ago I noted an interesting use of yo in the glyph yo-po-TE’-NAL, written as part of a caption on the large stucco frieze from Tonina (Figure 4a). This is surely for yopte’, “tree leaf,” with -nal perhaps being a place name suffix. Yop and yopte‘ is a widespread root for “leaf” in Ch’olan langauges, and no doubt the leaf-like form of the yo sign has its origin in this word. This is surely related to another glyph from an early inscription at Yaxchilan (Figure 4b), where the leaf element is combined with TE’ in a personal title. Here, flanked by two logograms, reading the leaf as syllabic yo value seems unlikely (AJ-yo-TE‘); rather it seems natural to see the sign here as a direct logogram for YOP, “leaf,” in the sequence AJ-YOP-TE’, aj yopte’, “he of yopte’” or “the yopte’ person” (here Yopte’ is most likely a place name). There is a reasonable chance therefore that the leaf sign is both the logogram YOP and the syllable yo, depending on context.

Such a direct connection between a logogram and a syllable is not terribly surprising. The use of the simple “fish” sign for ka as well as for KAY/CHAY is perhaps a good parallel, as is the “gopher” logogram BAAH used at times as the syllable ba (although usually in late settings). But in the case of yo and YOP it has led to some misunderstandings and confusions about certain readings, especially this important element we find within royal names at Copan, Quirigua, Naranjo and elsewhere (Figure 5).

yop Fig5

Figure 5. Names of the Copan ruler Yax Pasaj Chan Yopaat. Note the substitution of the YOP-AAT-ti/ta glyph by the Chahk-like deity in final position. (Drawings by D. Stuart and L. Schele)

For many years, the final glyph on this sequence — evidently the name of an important deity related to Chahk — has been read as yo-AAT, although never precisely translated. Aat is “penis” and yo never made much sense as its prefix. If however we read this grouping as YOP-AAT we at least have a more comfortable juxtaposition of two logograms (even if the inescapable translation “leaf-penis” doesn’t make much sense to our ears). For this reason, I have long preferred to read the sequence in such royal names (i.e. the final two glyphs in Figure 5a and b) as CHAN-na YOP-AAT-ti/ta, “Sky Yop-aat.”

Figure 6. Yop-aat headdress from Naranjo St. 13. (Drawing by I. Graham).

One more interesting bit of information supports the YOP-AAT analysis. As just noted, Yopaat seems to refer to a deity with close relations to Chahk, the god of lightning and storms. Visually he seems identical, with the exception of having curved dotted elements on his head — perhaps representations of clouds or mist — and a hammer-like stone in his upraised hand. Yopaat is often represented in the ritual costumes of kings, for example as a small figure dangling from a belt, or else as an elaborate helmet or headdress (Figure 6). Intriguingly, the Yopaat headdress seems to be mentioned in the Yucatec Diccionario de Motul, where the entry yopat is glossed as “una manera de coraza o mitra que usavan los indios antiguos” (Martinez Hernández 1929:456).

I hope this clarifies what might seem a very minor issue over  alternate readings of a single sign, one syllabic and the other logographic. There are a number of other signs that similarly have two related values with different functions, one syllabic and another logographic. While subtle, the case of yo and YOP demonstrates how small changes used in the methods of decipherment over the last couple of decades can lead to slightly better and more refined notions of just what the Maya were writing down.


Aulie, H. Wilbur, and Evelyn W. de Aulie. 1978. Diccionario Ch’ol-Español, Español-Ch’ol. Mexico, D.F.: Instituto Linguístico de Verano.

Martinez Hernández, Juan. 1929. Diccionario de Motul. Mérida: La Compañia Tipográfica Yucateca.

Stuart, David. 1987. Ten Phonetic Syllables. Research Reports on Ancient Maya Writing, no. 14. Washington D.C.: Center for Maya Research.

An Update on the Tonina Captives 1

The latest issue of Arqueologia Mexicana has an article by Juan Yadeun in which he illustrates the two recently unearthed prisoner sculptures mentioned in the previous post. The printed version of the article includes this reasonably good photograph of the more damaged of the two sculptures, which was difficult to see in the previously available images.

Photograph of unnumbered Tonina sculpture (from Yadeun 2011)

The text here is shorter and simpler than on its better preserved partner, with four glyphs on the front giving the captive’s name and place title. Let’s begin with the clearest two glyphs at the bottom, where we have a place name familiar from texts at Tonina and well beyond. This consists of a rabbit element (p’e?? — it’s reading remains doubtful) and a reptile-like critter, perhaps a turtle or toad (e?), followed by a clear TUUN-ni in the final block. This same grouping appears with some slight variations in a handful of other Tonina texts as a place name in connection with defeated opponents, so it’s appearance here isn’t too terribly surprising (see Mon. 91). Reading backwards to the second glyph of the text, more or less over the prisoner’s navel, we have the “flaming ak’bal” variant of the agentive prefix AJ- identified by Marc Zender some years ago (Zender 2005). These three glyphs taken in total amount to a toponymic title for the prisoner, AJ ?-e? TUUN-ni, “He of ? Tuun.” There’s some suggestive evidence that this “Rabbit Stone” place (as it’s sometimes called in the epigraphic literature, though not as a literal translation) can be equated with the small ruins of La Mar located near the Usumacinta River, which for much of the Late Classic was a secondary center allied to the court of Piedras Negras.

The top-most glyph over the captive’s chest, though damaged, is surely his personal name. Although it remains a little murky in the photo. I think it likely to be that of a prisoner otherwise familiar in other Tonina texts whose name is spelled 4-ma-su, possibly for Chan Maas, “Four Crickets(?)” (ancient Maya personal names can sometimes be very odd-sounding; I’m reminded of a somewhat similar and bizzare name cited at Piedras Negras, Chan Chiwoj, “Four Tarantulas”!). Chan Maas appears also on Monuments 72 and 84, and in the latter case also in association with the “Rabbit Stone” toponym.

Monument 84 states he was captured on the day 8 K’an, which may correspond to 8 K’an 7 Woh, or March 12, 693 AD (this is cited as an important capture date on another Tonina monument). This falls only a few months after the celebrated capture of the Palenque nobleman named Buk’ ?, as discussed in the previous post, who is portrayed on the better preserved companion sculpture from the Tonina ballcourt.

So we have in the second bound warrior sculpture another celebrated captive from the reign of K’inich Baaknal Chahk. The ballcourt commissioned and dedicated by this ruler in 696 was apparently covered in these powerful images and texts, many if not all documenting his recent military exploits against different enemies to the north and northwest. It’s important to stress, as before, that far distant Copan was not among them.


Yadeun Angulo, Juan. 2011. K’inich Baak Nal Chaak (Resplandeciente Señor de la Lluvia y el Inframundo) (652 -707 d.C.). Arqueología Mexicana vol. XIX, num. 110, pp. 52-57.

Zener, Marc. 2005. ‘Flaming Akbal’ and the Glyphic Representation of the aj-Agentive Prefix. The PARI Journal 5(3):8-10. Electronic version.

New Captive Sculptures from Tonina 19

Within the past few months important inscriptions and sculptures have been recovered during excavations near Tonina’s ballcourt overseen by archaeologist Juan Yadeun. Nothing has been presented formally, but two well preserved captive sculptures have recently been featured in the news, alongside the claim that one beautifully preserved sculpture depicts a bound warrior from distant Copan (Figure 1). As I present here, the Copan connection seems dubious, with a Palenque affiliation for the prisoners far more likely, based on comparative evidence from Tonina’s written history.

Figure 1. The captive "Buk' ?" of Palenque. The Tonina sculpture is as yet un-numbered (AP photo by Moyses Zuniga).

Eight glyphs grace the captive’s body — one on each shoulder and a vertical column of six blocks running down the chest and loincloth. The shoulder glyphs mark the beginning and end-point of the text.


uxlajuun(-eew) buluch winikij
k’altuun ta Juun Ajaw
i uht ochk’ahk’ ta ?n
Buk’ ? bolon eht?

“Thriteen-and-eleven score days (before)
the stone binding on 1 Ahaw,
then occurs the fire-entering at the ballcourt.
(It is) Buk’ ? of the nine companions(?).”

The final two glyphs present an interesting question in term of discourse and syntax. The captive’s name (Buk’ ?) at the base of the loincloth seems to “hang” somewhat relative to the surrounding syntax and the fire-entering verb — how would be be connected with that event as either an agent or patient? As my translation above indicates, one might cosnider a rhetorical transition occurring after the ballcourt term, with the personal name serving as a simple caption for the figure, much like we see in other Tonina captive sculptures. It’s possible, too, that the name is cited in this context as part a supplemental clause of some sort, in the sense that the fire-entering at the ball-court takes place “with regard” to the named prisoner. In any case, it’s a rare structure.

The text juxtaposes two dates that can be easily identified. “1 Ahaw” is surely the period-ending 1 Ahaw 3 Pop (February 15, 697 AD), cited here as a future anchor to the contemporaneous event, the ritual dedication of the ballcourt. The distance number that opens the text would place this earlier och-k’ahk’ event at 2 Manik’ 15 Yaxk’in (June 27, 696). This same date is cited also on M. 140 (at pBa and pCb), although the associated event description is missing (see Graham and Mathews 1999:171).

Figure 2. Monument 145 from Tonina, citing the capture of "Buk' ?" on the day of battle with Palenque (CMHI photo by I. Graham).

The captive Buk’ ? is cited also on Monument 145 (Figure 2), which states that he was taken prisoner (chuhk-j-iiy) on 3 Ak’bal 11 Keh (October 2, 692) (see middle glyph block of bottom row).  This is the same date given on Monument 172 as the military defeat of Palenque, when the captive K’awiil Mo’ was captured by the Tonina ruler K’inich Baaknal Chahk (see Miller and Martin 2004:185; Graham, Henderson, Mathews and Stuart 20o6: 117). Evidently, then, Buk’ ? was another prominent prisoner taken in this same battle with Palenque.

Despite claims in the media, I doubt Copan was part of this Tonina-Palenque conflict, at least on the evidence available. The confusion here may lie in the fact that a name that is visually similar to Buk’ ? occurs in a number of Copan texts. There a name is spelled k’u-yu-?-AJAW (K’uy ? Ajaw) and refers to a patron deity of the Copan kingdom. The two names are utterly distinct, however, and on present evidence there is little reason to draw any connection between Copan and the prisoners so vividly depicted at Tonina.


Graham, Ian, and Peter Mathews. 1999. Corpus of Maya Hieroglyphic Inscriptions, Volume 6, Number 3: Tonina. Cambridge: Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology.

Graham, Ian, Lucia Henderson, Peter Mathews and David Stuart. 2006. Corpus of Maya Hieroglyphic Inscriptions, Volume 9, Number 2: Tonina. Cambridge: Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology.

Miller, Mary Ellen, and Simon Martin. 2004. The Courtly Art of the Ancient Maya. New York: Thames and Hudson.

Let Thy Glyphs be Few: Abbreviations in Maya Writing 6

by Stephen Houston and Simon Martin

“Let thy words be few,” says the Bible.  Yet concision is not a description that ordinarily applies to Maya texts.  Some inscriptions preserve the lush cadence and structure of formal orations. A few stretch across a dozen columns or more. But, undeniably, many Maya inscriptions are terse.  This feature arises from several things: a reliance on set formulae that communicate little more than essential information (date, event, “arguments” in the linguistic sense); restrictive formats that are inhospitable to prolix writing; the role of ancillary images in fleshing out a story, especially in descriptive detail; and the basic, innate challenge of being too prosy in bas-relief carving.

Terse texts can also be understood as ways to achieve “textual completeness,” i.e., the state resulting from the question, “what information is necessary and sufficient in this particular text?” What set of words in sequence is neither too much nor too little, in this place, at this time?  Someone had to make that deliberation as part of the compositional process. If textual economy were a consideration, there might be a further impulse to shorten the text. For clarity, however, the compositor might still signal the presence of a particular element by the expedient of abbreviation. By this orthographic alchemy, a word or sound is removed yet its presence implied.  A vacancy exists that the compositor asks the reader to fill.

English is full of abbreviations.  Presumably, these helped save expense at the typesetters or, in the yet more remote past, reduced copy-time for scriveners and economized on expensive materials like vellum. Thus, in English, a university might record “A.M.” for the degree of artium magister, and more formal writing would employ “et al.” (et alii, “and others”) or “e.g.” (exempla gratia, “for the sake of an example”).  Such abbreviations serve as sociolinguistic gates, at multiple levels. The reader must decode the notations by connecting them to words and meanings in fuller form. Ideally, in a fine display of erudition, that act would link one language, Latin, to another, English. In point of fact, few readers today would recognize the ablative case or masculine plural in Latin. The terms have become word- or idea-signs that launch directly into English.  But they still convey a surface gloss of more refined knowledge.

An ongoing debate in Maya glyph studies is the extent to which there were “underspellings” in the writing system. These would be examples where the compositors could not be bothered to add a final consonant or to include a certain pronoun or verbal suffix.  Such underspellings certainly existed—the variable presence of the ergative U in Glyph F is a case in point—but another essay would be needed to address whether they were rampant or systematic.  Interestingly, they are most common in personal names—in many cases surely because their local recognition factor was high, although this could not be true where foreigners were concerned.

What interests us here is an example of abbreviation that appears to date to the final years of the Late Classic period (c. AD 769 to 799).  This is an underspelling at the level of an inflected word.  It elides a pronoun and focuses on a relatively late homophone or near-homophone, the terms for “4” (kan/chan), “sky” (ka’n/cha’n), and “snake” (kaan/chaan) (Houston 1993; Robertson et al.  2007:43, 44) (Endnote 1). The context is the still-enigmatic “captor/guardian/master” expression that specifies a relationship between a captive and a captor. In two cases, it identifies a person looking after a royal youth, rather like our terms, “governor” and its female equivalent, “governess” (Dos Pilas Panel 19, and, on K7055, with a woman).

There are several examples of this abbreviation. The favored form always uses “4” or, in one case, ‘SKY’ in place of U-‘SNAKE’. To put this another way, the marked, more unusual forms (‘4’ and ‘SKY’) occur in these shortened spellings, not the older, more established glyph (‘SNAKE’). One kind of marking, for near-homophones, lends itself to another kind of marking, for abbreviation:

1) Tonina Monument 159 (F5) gives ‘4’-AJ-chi-hi, the name of a person from Pomoy who was captured on 2 Muluk 12 Ch’en (Julian July 13, AD 789). The name recurs on Tonina Monument 152 at A1-A2 as ‘SKY’-na-AJ chi-hi and in an unabbreviated spelling on Tonina Monument 20 at E8-F1 of U-‘SKY’-na AJ-chi-*hi (Figure 1). These forms make it clear that the captive was himself the captor of another figure known as Aj Chih.  Monument 159 itself dates to AD 799, Monument 20 to AD 790 (Monument 152 is undated).  See discussion in Martin and Grube (2008:188-189) (Endnote 2).

Fig. 1. Captor of Aj Chih from TNA Mons. 159, 152, and 20 (photograph by Stephen Houston, inkings by I. Graham and L. Henderson, Corpus of Maya Hieroglyphic Inscriptions Project, Harvard Univ.).

2) An unprovenanced panel from the kingdom of Yaxchilan (at A4) gives ’4’-TAJ-MO’ (Stuart and Houston 1994:Fig.89). This text is dated to 1 Kawak 2 Wo (Julian Feb. 18, AD 769), although the date of carving may well be rather later. The same form is also found on El Kinel Monument 1 at A6 with ‘4’-TAJ-MO’ (Golden and Scherer 2006:fig. 13), this time placed to, Julian Oct. 7, AD 790 (the same date as Tonina Monument 20). Both refer to Shield Jaguar IV’s most notable captive Tajal Mo’, and can be contrasted with several texts at Yaxchilan and Bonampak where the name is rendered with the ergative pronoun—illustrated here by a fragment of Yaxchilan Stela 29 (Mathews 1997:Fig.7-12) (Figure 2).

Fig. 2. Captor of Tajal Mo’ on an unprovenanced panel, El Kinel Mon. 1 (drawings by S. Houston), and Yaxchilan St. 29 (drawing by P. Mathews).

3) Room 2, Bonampak, in a building dated to AD 791, Captions RM II-23, 26, 30; cf. a fuller version on a shield RM II-13 (Figure 3).  These can now be seen as abbreviated versions of “captor” expressions, as in the example of RM II-30, *U-‘4’ BAAH-AJAW. Most occur in Room 2 of the Murals Building, the chamber dedicated to martial exploits.

Fig. 3. Captions from Bonampak Structure 1 (Murals Building), II-13, 23, 30. (Infrared images by S. Houston and G. Ware, painting by H. Hurst after sketch by S. Houston, Bonampak Documentation Project, M. Miller, Director, Yale Univ.).

What is striking about this set of abbreviations, all seemingly restricted to displays of relations to captives, is their narrow chronology. Aside from the outlier on the unprovenanced panel from the area of Yaxchilan, all date to within a little more than a 10-year span.  For unknown reasons, the Maya sought concision in these cases, at this time, and let their glyphs be few.


Endnote 1. In an unpublished paper, still in progress, Daniel Law and others (n.d.) propose from glyphic and linguistic evidence that the shift from the velar stops k/k’ to the affricates ch/ch’ was fairly late, an areal diffusion rather than a shared inheritance. A more established model places the shift at the inception of “Greater Tzeltalan,” presumably many centuries prior to the Classic period (Kaufman and Norman 1984:83).

Endnote 2. David Stuart (personal communication, 2010) suggests that a similar construction with ‘4’ may occur at Tonina: ‘4’-ma-su, with a captive, perhaps from La Mar (Monument 72:A2 and Monument 84:G1, CMHI 6:114).  The agentive AJ, rabbit-head of the pe? sign, and the ‘e are quite clear in both spellings, although the TUUN is missing, likely because of breakage in the inscriptions. Monument 91 at Tonina also records a conflict with La Mar, in this case against a higher-ranking lord of the site, one NICH-TE’-MO’ (CMHI 6:119). Monuments 72 and 84 are probably from c. AD 700, decades prior to the other examples cited here.  Monument 91 is not securely dated.


Golden, Charles, and Andrew K. Scherer. 2006. Border Problems: Recent Archaeological Research along the Usumacinta River. The PARI Journal 7(2):1-16.

Houston, Stephen. 1984. An Example of Homophony in Mayan Script.  American Antiquity 49(4):790-805.

Kaufman, Terrence S., and William M. Norman. 1984 An Outline of Proto-Cholan Phonology, Morphology, and Vocabulary. In John S. Justeson and Lyle Campbell, eds., Phoneticism in Mayan Hieroglyphic Writing, 77-166. Publication No. 9. Albany: Institution for Mesoamerican Studies, State University of New York at Albany.

Law, Daniel, John Robertson, Stephen Houston, David Stuart, and Marc Zender. N.d. Drift, Diffusion, or Genetic Inheritance? The Notorious Case of Velar Palatalization and Fronting in Certain Mayan Languages.  Unpublished ms. in revision.

Martin, Simon, and Nikolai Grube. 2008. Chronicle of the Maya Kings and Queens: Deciphering the Dynasties of the Ancient Maya. 2nd ed. Thames and Hudson, London.

Mathews, Peter. 1997. La escultura de Yaxchilán. Colección Cientifica 316. México City: Instituto Nacional de Antropología e Historia.

Robertson, John S., Stephen D. Houston, Marc Zender, and David Stuart. 2007. Universals and the Logic of the Material Implication: A Case Study from Maya Hieroglyphic Writing. Research Reports on Ancient Maya Writing, Number 62.

Stuart, David, and Stephen Houston. 1994. Classic Maya Place Names. Studies in Pre-Columbian Art and Archaeology 33. Washington D.C.: Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection.