And speaking of U signs… Reply

The last post reminded me of another interesting museum find I came across several years ago, this time on a vase in the Museo Juan Antonio Valdés in Uaxactun, Petén, Guatemala. (I’m sure others have noticed this as well.)


As seen in the photo, the vase bears a Dedicatory Formula (PSS) with the expected term for “his/her drinking vessel,” a possessed form of the instrumental noun uk’ib. The spelling, however, is unique. I was interested to see that instead of the initial yu- found in standard forms, we see two sequential u signs (U-u-k’i-bi). Scribes typically represented the surface phonetics in the possessed form (u)y-uk’ib through the spelling yu-k’i-bi, so it’s remarkable that the scribe here has chosen to emphasize the underlying morphemic structure with u- before uk’ib, ignoring the transitional -y-.

The choice of the two back-to-back variants is interesting. The initial “bracket” U- is the far older sign, used far and wide to represent the u- pronoun. Its use here, in contrast to the second, more “innovative” u, may reflect the scribe’s sense of this history and convention.

A nice U variant 1

During a brief visit to the local museum at Tonina a few years ago, I noticed this interesting stucco glyph among the many displayed in the glass case. One can see it’s a conventional ‘K’atun’ with a 3 or 4 number coefficient, but the prefix is what caught my eye. The initial sign clearly represents a strand of hair passing through a carved tubular bead, just as depicted in a few portraits (see Tikal Stela 31). This presumably is an U- variant, slightly more elaborate that a common U form that shows only the skeletal bead. As John Justeson pointed out many years ago, the latter sign surely derives from the widespread Mayan words for “bead” (also “necklace”): *uuh (proto-Mayan), later appearing in Yukatekan and Ch’olan as u, uh or uj.

U-3?-”K’ATUN” from Tonina

The Michol Celt 5

Sketch of the Michol Celt (DS drawing, ca. 1988)

Here’s an old drawing I did of an obscure inscribed celt, from a murky photo published long ago by Heinrich Berlin. The original reference is:

Berlin, Heinrich
1955 News From the Maya World. Ethnos 20(4):201-209.

Berlin noted its provenience simply as from the “Michol River,” not too far from Palenque.

The most interesting aspects of the inscription are the odd chevron arrangement of the glyphs, as well as the final possessed noun, simply reading “his celt” (U-LEEM?). I will soon be posting some thoughts on the possible LEM or LEEM phonetic reading of the “celt” sign.

The first post Reply

Hi everyone. This weblog is concerned with the dissemination and discussion of ideas on Maya hieroglyphic decipherment. As I write this and learn the ways of blogging, it’s impossible to know if the format will work the way I would like it to, so for now experimentation is the name of the game. I plan to routinely post ideas and observations on epigraphy and related topics, and invite colleagues from the world of Mesoamerican studies to provide feedback. Some of the ideas I will be sharing are certainly from “the archives,” maybe even scribbles from my notebooks of a decade or more ago, but it’s high time to get it all out there, even when they now seem old and half-baked.

My posts will be intermittent, maybe even infrequent at times, but I’m determined to keep this up as time permits. I also very much hope that colleagues will want to chime-in with their own posts, giving Maya Decipherment a life of its own as a compelling forum for discussing and sharing advances in the field.