Around this time of year I often give my “Maya Spooks” lecture to students here at UT-Austin, highlighting the grisly and fright-filled demons (wahyoob) of Classic Maya art and religion. The lecture title is “Spooks, Witchcraft and the ‘Dark Side’ of Maya Art and Rulership (a.k.a. The Halloween Lecture).” This semester I’m teaching on the Aztecs, so in lieu of lecturing I hereby post my brief treatment of the subject written back in 2005. This write-up was part of the larger sourcebook I put together for the Austin Maya Meetings that year, devoted to “Glyphs on Pots: Decoding Classic Maya Ceramics.”
My own thinking on wahy beings keeps being refined somewhat. I still see them as animate dark forces wielded by court sorcerers, perhaps even rulers themselves, in order to inflict harm or disease on others. But wahyoob can be exceedingly complex and multi-layered, and they certainly aren’t really the benign, shamanistic “animal companion spirits” as we often described them a couple of decades ago. I’m hoping to find time write something more in-depth on the fascinating topic of royal sorcery one of these days, perhaps even as a book on Classic Maya witchcraft.
The ritual role of paper is by now a commonplace in studies of Classic Maya royalty. Kings show their station by wearing headbands, presumably made from the cortex of the strangler fig or amate (Ficus sp.), kopo’ in some Mayan languages.(Note 1)
Much could be written about Classic paper. There is the matter of its manufacture with “bark beaters.” Lashed to wooden handles, these grooved tools helped to mash and fuse fibers for eventual smoothing, sizing with lime-powder, and painting.(Note 2) Epigraphers might pay more attention to the reading of “paper” in Maya texts: hu’n, a term cueing “book,” “headband,” even “diadem” or “crown.” (Note 3) (The material came first, other meanings later.) Yet not all head coverings were Ficus. Some years ago, Michael Coe noted the probable use of henequen fibers in some headdresses (Coe 1973:49). An uncomfortable material, perhaps, but it was also durable, shapable, dramatic in effect, light to wear.
Two glyphic spellings indicate a third material for headgear. A paper, hu’n, it nonetheless seems to consist of something other than Ficus. One example occurs on Aguateca Stela 1, dating to AD 741 (Fig. 1; Graham 1967:fig. 3). The text offers an
unusual lead-up to the accession of a ruler, K’awiil Chan K’inich of Aguateca and Dos Pilas, by referring to an act of ka-cha-ji u-sa-ya-HU’N. The root is doubtless related to “tying,” kach, an event entirely appropriate for a headband (Grube 1992:213). In this spelling, the hu’n itself is visible as a paper bow. The reference comes 22 days prior to enthronement and may represent the pre-accession tying of a headband or the preparation of regalia for the ceremony. Another spelling is on the famed “Princeton Vase” at the Princeton Art Museum (Fig. 2; K511; Coe 1978:pl. 1). An ‘a-sa-ya HU’N-na is clearly visible at positions L2-K3, although the context is opaque. The caption, alluding to a person—note the agentive ‘a (or is it a pronoun, “your”?)—may refer to the scene of God L and his harem.
What can be made of these references to hu’n, once in secure connection to regalia and accession to high office?
An ethnography of the Q’eqchi’ Maya draws attention to a sedge, a grass or rush-like plant known as say (Cyperus sp.; Wilson 1972: 148, 169, 260, Table 19): “Today the principal fiber plant apart from ik’e (maguey) is a sedge, say…Say is used by plaiting rather than spinning; the three faces of the stem are split apart and woven into fine mats (sayil pōp) on which to sit or sleep.” Use of say appears to have been gendered among the Q’eqchi’, as it was worked only by women. Say produces a finer product than other plaited or twilled materials, and the Ch’orti’, too, made full use of it (Wisdom 1940:153-154; yet note Ch’orti’ pohp’ for “sedge”). Ground up and mixed with oil for poultice, the sedge was employed by Ch’orti’ midwives, at least until the 1930s, to heal the umbilical wounds of babies (Wisdom 1940:288): soothing, applicable at a key moment in life’s passage. Colonial Yukatek refers to the same material, as in the Calepino Motul: “Çay [say] el coraçón o junco de que hazen petates o esteras” or “the heart or rush from which petates or mats are made” (Cuidad Real 2001:136).
There is another possibility too. Colonial and recent Tzotzil mention a tree called saya-vun [hun], “saya-paper,” a wild mulberry (Morus celtidfolia; Breedlove and Laughlin 2000: 142, 153). A plant from a related plant, like Ficus and the mulberry in the Moraceae family, was commonly used in Polynesia for tapa cloth and throughout Asia as the basis of a resilient and valued paper (Seelenfreund et al. 2010). What is striking in the image on Aguateca Stela 1 is that a lashing around the forehead is cross-hatched. This is either because it is dark—a common Maya convention—or because it renders a rougher, more textured material (Fig. 1).
The Classic Maya wove, plaited, twilled, and otherwise joined materials from the vegetal world around them. Two glyphic examples suggest that some such works were labeled as “paper” yet from fibers that were coarser and tougher than Ficus. Truly: diadems in the rough. A second option is that, as in Asia and Polynesia, where the tradition had great antiquity, the Maya transformed mulberry into a high-quality paper for ritual use.
Note 1. A useful paper by Erik Boot highlights a pot with a text reading, in part, u-ko-po-lo che-‘e-bu (Boot 1997: 64-67, fig. 4, photographed by Justin Kerr as K7786). Boot proposes u-po-ko-lo, from a root meaning “wash,” for the first glyph block. I might suggest a different order, with signs that sequence from upper left to lower left, then pass from upper right to lower right. The relevance here is that kopol could be an adjectival reference to amate, kopol, in connection to che’b, “quill, brush.” Thus, “fig-tree-quill.” Whatever the interpretation, the presence of the term in a name-tag remains enigmatic—at least we know that the owner of this bowl served a higher-ranking ajaw. In my view, a second example noted by Boot, MT347, from Burial 160 at Tikal, possibly with po-ko-lo, is fragmentary and the context uncertain. I am unsure how it relates to the spelling on K7786.
Note 2. For controversy about such objects, there is no beating Paul Tolstoy on barkbeaters, which he understood in pan-diffusionist terms (Tolstoy 1963, 1981). The first discussion of such objects appears in Uhle (1889-90), likening New World examples to comparable pieces from Sulawesi.
Note 3. Excellent discussion of the phonology and glyphic spellings appears in Grube (2004: 65-66, 73). In 1986, Don Federico Fahsen showed me two texts in Guatemala, both from the early years of the Late Classic period, both painted in similar style if not by the same hand. I immediately noticed a sign alternation of the sort that is so productive in decipherment. The number “one” alternated in crisp pattern with a sign combination that, in Glyph F of the inscriptions, represented a Maya book (this last identification was made with great style and insight by Michael Coe ). The unavoidable conclusion, for those ceramics, at the time of their painting: the word for “one,” jun, was a near-homophone of the term for “book,” hu’n. The phonological details of the words were less clear in the 1980s. Now, I would read “one” as juun, “book” or “paper” as hu’n, following the evidence and reasoning in Robertson et al. (2007:7, 48). The scribe or atelier producing these ceramics would have been unusually expansive in their embrace of homophony.
Breedlove, Dennis E., and Robert M. Laughlin. 2000. The Flowering of Man: A Tzotzil Botany of Zinacantán. Abridged edition. Smithsonian Institution Press, Washington, DC.
Ciudad Real, Antonio de. 2001. Calepino Maya de Motul, edición crítica y anotada por Réne Acuña. Plaza y Valdés Editores, México, DF.
Coe, Michael D. 1973. The Maya Scribe and His World. Grolier Club, New York.
___________. 1977. Supernatural Patrons of Maya Scribes and Artists. In Social Process in Maya Prehistory: Studies in Honour of Sir Eric Thompson, ed. by N. Hammond, pp. 327-347. Academic Press, London.
___________. 1978. Lords of the Underworld: Masterpieces of Classic Maya Ceramics. Art Museum, Princeton University, Princeton.
Graham, Ian. 1967. Archaeological Explorations in El Peten, Guatemala. Middle American Research Institute, Publication 33. Tulane University, New Orleans.
Robertson, John, Stephen 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. http://www.utmesoamerica.org/pdf_meso/RRAMW62.pdf.
Grube, Nikolai. 1992. Classic Maya Dance: Evidence from Hieroglyphs and Iconography. Ancient Mesoamerica, vol. 3, pp. 201-218. 2004. The Orthographic Distinction between Velar and Glottal Spirants in Maya Hieroglyphic Writing, The Linguistics of Maya Writing, ed. by Søren Wichmann, pp. 61-81. University of Utah Press, Salt Lake City.
Tolstoy, Paul. 1963. Cultural Parallels between Southeast Asia and Mesoamerica in the Manufacture of Bark-cloth. Transactions of the New York Academy of Sciences, vol. 25, pp. 646–662.
__________. 1991. Paper route: Were the Man the Manufacture and Use of Bark Paper Introduced into Mesoamerica from Asia? Natural History, vol. 100, no. 6, pp. 6-8, 10, 12-14.
Seelenfreund, D., A. C. Clarke, N. Oyanedel, R. Piña, S. Lobos, E.A. Matisoo-Smith, and A. Seelenfreund. 2010. Paper Mulberry (Broussonetia papyrifera) as a Commensal Model for Human Mobility in Oceania: Anthropological, Botanical, and Genetic considerations. New Zealand Journal of Botany, vol. 48, pp. 3-4, 231-247.
Uhle, Max, 1889–90. Kultur und Industrie südamerikanischer Völker. A. Ascher, Berlin.
Wilson, Michael R. 1972. A Highland Maya People and Their Habitat: The Natural History, Demography, and Economy of the K’ekchi’. Ph.D. dissertation, Dept. of Geography, University of Oregon.
Wisdom, Charles. 1940. The Chorti Maya of Guatemala. University of Chicago Press, Chicago.
As Stanley Guenter has shown, the name inscribed on the alabaster container found in the burial is the same as that of the woman depicted on El Peru Stela 34, now in the Cleveland Art Museum, dedicated in A.D. 692. She was originally from Calakmul, marrying into the El Peru dynasty as the spouse of the local ruler K’inich B’ahlam. The hieroglyphic term that labels the snail-shaped object or its contents (yu-ha?-b’a) is unique, and remains difficult to decipher at present.
This post offers a few speculative thoughts on the glyph shown at right that’s long eluded any firm decipherment, but which for many years now has been thought to refer to an important type of ritual object or space, such as an altar or shrine. In fact, in the epigraphic literature of the past couple of decades it has often simply been glossed as “stone altar.” Here I would like to offer a somewhat different interpretation and suggest that it might better be interpreted as a term referring to a more specific sort of object known as an effigy incense burner. These remarkable and ornate ceramics are elaborated vessels, with lids that assume the form fully three dimensional portraits of historical ancestors or deities. They have been found at a number of sites, perhaps most notably at Copan, Palenque and Tikal, often in funerary contexts. It is clear that these elaborate objects were imposing ritual props, even sometimes nearly monumental in scale.
We begin with the famous Altar Q at Copan (Fig. 1), a large box-shaped stone commemorating the dynastic founder, K’inich Yax K’uk’ Mo’, and his royal successors. The inscription atop the altar is best known for mentioning of the arrival of the founder, but toward the end we come to the record of then-contemporary events, including the dedication of an important monument or object under the auspices of Ruler 16, Yax Pahsaj Chan Yopaat. Interestingly, this item was “owned” or pertained to K’inich Yax K’uk’ Mo’, by them deceased for nearly four centuries. The glyph for this object (ya-?-la) has long eluded decipherment, but we have always assumed it stands in reference to either the altar itself, or perhaps even to the pyramid before which Altar Q was placed, Temple 16. In any event, it is important to note that the elusive term is for some sort of commemorative “thing” that is “of” K’inich Yax K’uk’ Mo’.
The same glyph appears again at Copan on the Temple Inscription, from the upper shrine of Structure 10L-26, the temple of the Hieroglyphic Stairway (Fig. 2). There, in beautiful full-figure glyphs, we read of another fashioning (the verb pa-ta-wa-ni at block a4) of the same class of object on 126.96.36.199.1 5 Imix 4 Kayab, and that it was “of the lord” or “of the lords” (ya-?-la-AJAW at block a6). This reference is vague, but given the parallel with Altar Q we might speculate that the term again refers to an ancestor or collectively to a group of ancestors. Importantly, Structure 10L-26 was also a major funerary monument at Copan, built by Rulers 13 and 15 above the tomb of Ruler 12. Ruler 12 died on 188.8.131.52.7 and was placed in his tomb 14 days afterwards. The funerary stairway above the tomb was built by his son many years later on 184.108.40.206.9, possibly in association with the Esmeralda construction phase of the pyramid. But the question is: what was made or dedicated in connection with this temple four years before the stairway, and over a decade after Ruler 12’s death? A building? An altar? No evidence exists of a major construction episode in 10L-26 between the times the tomb was placed and the large Esmeralda pyramid and its stairway were built above it, suggesting that the area around Ruler 12’s tomb was very accessible for a number of years. At any rate, the pattern suggests also that the glyph in question is probably not an architectural term (like “shrine,” for example).
A third occurrence of the same glyph perhaps appears in another Copan temple, Structure 10L-11. There it appears on the west jamb of the temple’s north dorrway in connection with the date 220.127.116.11.12 8 Eb 10 Zip, again with a “make” or “fashion” (pat-wan) event. In this case, its “owner” is named as Ruler 15, who died some six years earlier and who may be buried under Temple 11’s superstructure. Here once more we find our mystery term associated with a verb of “making” and owned by an ancestral figure.
Moving from Copan to nearby Quirigua, a similar pattern seems to be at work. The inscription of Zoomorph P records the Period Ending 18.104.22.168.0, at which time the local ruler “scatters incense” at a temple called the “13 Kawak House” (Fig. 3). This is in all likelihood one of the principal buildings in Quirigua’s acropolis, directly behind (to the south of) the monument (According to Zoomorph G this same “13 Kawak House” is where the great Quirigua Ruler K’ahk’ Tiliw Chan Yopaat was buried). The Zoomorph P inscription goes on to say that the incense ritual (chok ch’aaj) was performed on or with regard to the “object” of K’ahk’ Tiliw Chan Yopaat, as well as, it seems, with the same “object” of Ruler 13 of Copan. This is a remarkable statement, for Ruler 13 had earlier been the war captive of K’ahk’ Tiliw Chan Yopaat and was sacrificed at or near Quirigua in 736 A.D., decades before the zoomorph itself was dedicated in 795. Here, both the Quirigua king and his illustrious prisoner were associated with the same type of commemorative object mentioned three times at Copan, and again we find it in direct association with deceased kings and ancestors.
Turning to Palenque, we find that the same hieroglyph occurs in the tablets of the Temple of the Inscriptions, in the passages that record complex dressing rites associated with the three gods of the Palenque Triad. Chief among these was the tying of paper-cloth headbands (sakhu’n), headdresses (ko’haw) and jewels (tup) upon what must we can only presume to be effigy figures of the these deities, as Martha Macri (1988, 1997) and others suggested some years ago. A summary statement of the rites appears near the beginning of the west tablet (Fig. 4), where we have the simple mention that:
u k’alhu’n y-a..?..l u k’uh-ul
“It is the paper-binding of the ? of his gods …”
Here once more the glyph in question is a possessed noun associated with venerated figures, in this instance the gods of the Palenque Triad.
So what can this glyphic term actually mean? A few telling clues stand out thus far:
(1) The glyph must somehow refer to a class of commemorative object associated with deceased ancestral figures as well as deities.
(2) It can be “made” or “fashioned,” as revealed by its association with the verb pat.
(3) Specific actions associated with this object involve ritual dressing with paper-cloth (Palenque) and adornment with headgear and jewels. Significantly, they are also in some manner involved in incense rituals (Quirigua).
(4) The term has close ties to funerary temples at Copan and possibly at Quirigua, in direct connection to historical ancestors.
Taken together, one is tempted to think that the glyph refers to ritual statuary or figural representation, and perhaps more specifically to effigy incense burners. Such objects are known in Maya archaeology of course, perhaps the most spectacular examples being the ornate figural incensarios unearthed near Ruler 12’s tomb at Copan, inside Structure 10L-26. These objects were dressed and bejeweled (note the ear holes, etc.), and as burners were obviously used in important incense rites. The Copan censers represent all of the kings up to and including Ruler 12 himself, and so they fit well with the pattern of ancestral commemoration. And use of the verb pat would seem appropriate for this sort of object, given its known meaning in connection to the manufacture of ceramic objects (Yukatek pat kum, “hacer ollas”). And as we’ve seen, the mention of the “fashioning” of our mystery object in the Temple Inscription of Stucture 26 seems in some way to be connected with Ruler 12’s tomb. Might it specifically refer to the making of these effigy incensarios? It’s a tantalizing connection to ponder.
So, some general conclusions and speculations:
– Altar Q at Copan may refer to the dedication of an effigy censer in the form of the great ancestral ruler K’inich Yax K’uk’ Mo’. If so, the altar itself was likely intended as a pedestal or platform for its display, in front of his funerary temple.
– Copan’s Structure 10L-11 refers to the manufacture of a possible effigy censer of Ruler 15. This was perhaps intended to be displayed on the platform in the center of the north-south passageway of the temple, framed by the snake-centipede “maw” carved into the wall at either side.
– Quirigua’s Zoomporph P refers to the incense rite involving the effigy censers of two historical figures: K’ahk’ Tiliw Chan Yopaat as well as Ruler 13 of Copan, in association with the former’s funerary temple in the acropolis.
– In the case of Palenque, I suspect that some local variety of deity censer was mentioned in the Temple of the Inscriptions, each representing one of the Triad gods and ritually adorned as part of the calendar ceremonies performed by K’inich Janab Pakal.
With Structre 26 of Copan, the making of the “? of the lord(s)” may well refer to the censers discovered outside of Ruler 12’s tomb (Fig. 5). The rather anonymous and general ajawterm seems unlike any other example discussed, leading me to think it is a collective reference to the twelve ancestors. My tentative conclusion is that the Copan effigy ancestors were made collectively on 22.214.171.124.1, and that they together served for a few years as important objects of ritual veneration, perhaps at the site of Ruler 12’s tomb or somewhere else in the acropolis. At the time of the construction of Esmeralda, these were terminated around the tomb’s exterior, and buried in the construction fill for the more grandiose funerary temple that the son had designed for his father.
I’ll close with a brief word on the glyph’s possible phonetic reading. The main clue in the decipherment of the central compound sign is its ya- prefix, a clear indication that the possessed noun begins with the vowel a-. The -la suffix on the glyph likely marks a -Vl ending on the possessed noun, so we ought to look for a noun root that begins with the vowel a- and fits this semantic context, having some connection with burning, incense, or effigy forms.
The element atop our mystery glyph (T174) is part of a main sign that still resists a firm phonetic decipherment, but it is important to note that the same element also appears with another logogram (T174:T704) with the value SABAK or SIBIK, “soot, ash” — a reading proposed a number of years ago by Nikolai Grube. Interestingly, another widespread Mayan term with much the same meaning is abak, “soot, charcoal, ash.” I do wonder if the logogram at the heart of the supposed “effigy” glyph might eventually prove to be ABAK, producing ya-ABAK-la, for y-abak-al, “its soot.” The semantics might have been extended somewhat to include the containers for burnt offerings, in the forms of ash-filled effigy censers. A different possibility worth considering is that the ya- sign prefix signals the presence of the agentive prefix aj- before a still obscure root, so that the possessed noun referring to effigy figures is aj-?.
The phonetic reading still remains elusive, yet the semantic domain of the noun in question seems much firmer in its connection to effigy figures and burners, ritual objects that were of great importance in ancient Maya ceremonial practice.
Macri, Martha. 1997. Noun Morphology and Possessive COnstructions in Old Palenque Ch’ol. In The Language of Maya Hieroglyphs, edited by M. J. Macri and A. Ford, pp. 89-95. San Francisco: Pre-Columbian Art Research Institute.
Visitors to Japan, if they make it to Mie prefecture, will wonder at the Ise Grand Shrine. Rebuilt every 20 years, it is said to be exactly similar to buildings first made over a millennium ago (Wada 1995). By the tenets of Shintoism, the shrine is forever new yet perennially old, a replacement that somehow remains the same, regardless of how many times it has been rebuilt. For Mayanists, the example of Ise and its implied concern for the joining of past and present rumble into familiar terrain. After all, every Maya date is relational, existing only in reference to a point in the distant past (the Long Count) or with respect to other positions in a cycle (the Calendar Round and other counts). A present does not exist without a backloaded past and a future that gives it some framing.
A recent book, Anachronic Renaissance, by Alexander Nagel and Christopher Wood (2010), prompts further reflection on the meaning of old and the new in Maya texts and images. The main task of the volume is to examine the paradox of Renaissance art, namely, the simultaneous revival and replacement of the past during a crucial period of Western history. Nagel and Wood use a variety of terms and phrases that will resonate with Mayanists: “plural temporality….[the] doubling or bending of time…[the] cultural project of time management,” and “the temporal instability of the artwork” (Nagel and Wood 2010:8, 9, 10). The latter is a precarious state that, despite the reality of replication—think of the renewed beams and thatch at Ise–coincides with the “ontological stability” of certain objects or buildings (Nagel and Wood 2010:30). This “stability” rests on the direct claim that the essence and identity of the shrine remain intact despite the fact that not one scrap of it survives from previous versions.
A more ambitious aim of Anachronic Renaissance is to chart two modes of representation. Both can co-exist as explanations of origins, although they might also “interfere…with one another” (Nagel and Wood 2010:49). The first mode: “substitution,” a process of creation by which artifacts replace earlier, authoritative ones in a “chain of replicas” (Nagel and Wood 2010:30). Thus, in a “mystical…substitutional logic,” “[m]odern copies of painted icons were understood as effective surrogates for lost originals….and new buildings were understood as reinstantiations…of prior structures” (Nagel and Wood 2010:29, 33). By this means, “a material sample of the past could somehow be both an especially powerful testimony to a distant world and…an ersatz for another, now absent artifact” (Nagel and Wood 2010:31). The well-known propensity of the Maya to replicate and improvise new buildings atop older ones would be solid examples of “substitutes.” Although commissioned by particular kings, the buildings were probably viewed as “reinstantiations…of prior structures.” Indeed, their packaging within later construction hints at the sacred bundles of the Maya, who found no contradiction between ritual centrality and the exclusion of sacred things from sight (e.g., Christenson 2006:237). Continuity is an obvious motivation, but there may have been sociological reasons as well. In other settings, as in the Saite 26th dynasty of Egypt, acts of quotation, citation or whole-scale borrowing flourished at times when Egyptian identities were under threat by “increasing numbers of foreigners” (Der Manuelian 1994:xxxv, 402, 409). They glorified, extolled, an ethnic identity that seemed to be in danger of dilution. Yet, in these works, there was no intent to deceive, and many of these productions expressed a “contemporary originality” (Der Manuelian 1994:409). The state of being poised in two times, invoking one period while residing in another, suggests in precise parallel the “multiple” or “plural temporality” described by Nagel and Wood. (fn 1) They appeal to the past–define it as something distinct—yet nullify their distance from it.
In contrast, Nagel and Wood’s second mode, the “performative” or “authorial,” highlights the historical singularity of an object, its placement in linear time, its novelty and capacity to make fresh, unexpected connections, its attention to the “time of manufacture” and the people behind it (Nagel and Wood 2010:30, 94). This, more than the first, is a mode that finds a lodging for “forgery” or “pastiche,” “the invention of a new work in a plausible past style” (Nagel and Wood 2010:289). Some of these were definitely meant to hoodwink, especially with objects prized by collectors. Yet, many “copies,” seldom exact, had their own value (Welch 2005:288).
These modes serve as a backdrop to the role and meaning of “archaicism” in certain Maya objects. The most striking are those that display Preclassic imagery (>1700 ya) with glyphic texts that are unlikely to date to that time. Alfonso Lacadena and I have long believed, for example, that the so-called “Hauberg Stela” (now in the Princeton University Art Museum) combines an archaic presentation of the body (wide, rounded hips, narrow waist, profile legs that barely overlap) with glyphs that seem to come from some centuries later (cf. Schele 1988, who opted for an early date of AD 199). In much the same way, one Terminal Classic monument at Ceibal, St. 13, appears to have glyphs—“quotations” or “citations”?—from an earlier time (CMHI 7:37). In both cases, the “time-bending” is in the temporal slippage between image and text, albeit with different forms of latching. By means of its image, the Hauberg Stela “bends back” to earlier periods; Ceibal St. 13 does so via the style and contents of its text. At the stuccoed temple of El Diablo, which forms part of El Zotz, Guatemala, my colleague, Edwin Román, and I have found an image of the sun god, surmounted by a glyph, that appears to be far earlier than the probable date of the building, c. AD 350-375. The eyes of the god have slotted eyes that recall Preclassic models. The glyph block above, perched over the forehead, includes a face with down-turned mouth (a Preclassic feature generally, with roots in the Olmec), and an unexpectedly archaic yu sign.
The best example of “substitution” or “bending back” may be the “Diker bowl” (Coe 1973: pl. 1), now in the permanent collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art (http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/works-of-art/1999.484.3; Figures 1-3). The form of the stone vessel is of a Preclassic chocolate pot, the spouted handle being used to froth the liquid within (e.g., McAnany and Murata 2006; Powis et al. 2002). Not surprisingly, the style of the iconography is pure Preclassic, too. There are two deities, one an avian creature, the other with features of the Maya maize god. The figures float below a skyband marked by Ik’ or “wind” signs, alternating with the sloping lines associated with such bands in Preclassic contexts. Both gods seem to carry their name glyphs above their heads, of which a clear cross-tie appears at A3 in the vertical text on the handle.
The text is difficult. Nonetheless, through the kindness of Justin Kerr, I have obtained a photograph that reveals some of its details (Figure 4a, 4b). This is where interest mounts: against expectation, the glyphs appear to be fully Early Classic, not Preclassic, in date (n.b.: it is almost certain that the text and image are contemporary, in that the handle has the same relief as the images and could not have been added later). Position A1 may contain a version of the TI’ logograph identified by David Stuart, and in a schematic form that is securely Early Classic. A sign for “mouth” accords with what was surely a drinking vessel, although it is unlikely to read “drink,” uk’, in this context because of the prefixed u pronoun. Just beneath it lies what may be a reference to the vessel itself, with body and neck somewhat visible. The probable t’abayi sign that composes part of A2 conforms to this dates, as does what appears to be an admittedly aberrant spelling of a transitive verb at A4: u-K’AL-wa TUUN, doubtless in reference to the stone-bowl and its dedication. (The name of the god is, as mentioned before, at A2.) An unusual form of tu, a preposition with ergative pronoun, may figure in A5. To my knowledge, spellings of transitives come exclusively from the Classic period.
What does the Diker Bowl tell us? This: that the Maya were fully capable of executing temporally disjunctive texts and images when they needed to do so. The ease with which they accomplished this task is, in the case of the Diker Bowl, surprising, at least for me. But it fits well with the facility the Maya showed in juxtaposing (and thus hybridizing) images of radically different style. Consider the Teotihuacano “text” on the summit of Temple 26 at Copan, ably drawn by David Stuart, and now reconstituted in the sculpture museum at the site, or the various Tajinesque, Veracruz elements that interweave with Maya designs on Maya vessels (e.g., K1446). Was the invocation of ancient gods the main motivation in showing them in archaic guise, on a cult object that may purportedly have “belonged” to one of them? Whatever the answer, the ability to step out of time, to exist in two periods or two regions all at once, suggests an effortless repositioning….and an expressive domain that we have yet fully to explore.
Footnote 1: Some of these originals were not so much lost as magically created. Examples would include the acheiropoieta (“not handmade”) icons of Byzantium and elsewhere—namely, the images crafted by non-human, divine hands, as in the Shroud of Turin or the painting of Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe in Mexico. Such objects possessed a kind of “absolute singularity”—they could not transmute into “substitutables” for the reason that they uniquely and irreplaceably expressed the shaping hand of God (Nagel and Wood 2010:72; their uniqueness makes them ideal foci of pilgrimage, Nagel and Wood 2010:72)—indeed, the thought come to mind that some Maya god effigies, especially the small, hardstone ones in of Chahk that Karl Taube and I have been noting for some time, were considered acheiropoieta (or something like them) among the Maya.
Acknowledgement: Justin Kerr showed his customary generosity in sharing the photograph reproduced here.
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