by David Stuart, The University of Texas at Austin
A great many inscribed Maya ceramics from the Classic period were marked according to their intended contents, with glyphic terms for various types of drinks, foods and other consumables. In this note I discuss a new reading for a glyph as “chili (powder or sauce).” I only know of two examples, but they shed a small bit of light on the use of some vessels and the culture of food and food preparation in Maya courtly life.
One vessel is now in the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston and bears an unusual dedicatory text (Figures 1, 2). It is labelled as a certain type of jay (ja-ya), a word that Kerry Hull and Alfonso Lacadena each deciphered some years ago as “clay vessel” (for example Mopan, jaay, “clay bowl” [Hofling 2011:207]). The full sequence of signs in reference to the object is a bit more complex, however, reading yi-chi-li ja-ya. This is then followed by a personal name for the vessel’s owner, named ? TI’-ku-yu, or ? Ti’ Kuy (“? is the mouth (or speech) of the owl”). He may have been a young lord or prince from the eastern Petén region.
At first glance it might be assumed that yi-chi-li is related to the very common and enigmatic term spelled ji-chi, found on a great many examples of the Dedicatory Formula in the section before the possessed noun. Here though it is surely different. The first indication of this the ja-ya glyph, which is noticeably unmarked for possession. Nearly all other glyphs for jay or jaay take the third-person possessive prefix u-, as in u jay, “his/her clay bowl.” Here, however, we would seem to have a base noun jay with an adjective beforehand, which in turn takes the prevocalic form (y-) of the third-person pronoun. The root of this possessed modifier is ich, followed by a –il suffix.
Throughout Ch’olan-Tzeltalan Mayan languages the word ich means “chili (chile).” This is cognate to the Yucatec root iik, and both forms descend from the proto-Mayan form *iik (Kaufman 2003). It therefore seems reasonable to suppose that “chili” the intended meaning of the ich root in y-ichil jay, for “his chili vessel.” The form ich-il may incorporate a -Vl suffix that derives an adjective from a root noun, but it may also be a derivation to form another related noun, as in Yukatek iikil, “chili sauce.” The form of the MFA bowl suggests it could have been used for a liquid-based sauce, or it might also have been a container for powdered chile as well.
A slightly different uses of the the word ich occur in an incised text found on a sherd excavated at Calakmul (Figure 3). Here we see a partial text in a somewhat unusual arrangement, reading down in a single column and then to the two glyphs that run outward to the right.
We can analyze the vertical portion of the text as:
yo-to-ti yi-chi yu-ku-no-ma CH’EEN-na K’UH-ka-KAN y-otoot y-ich Yuknoom Ch’een K’uhul Kanul Ajaw “the container (literally ‘house’) for the chile of Yuknoom Ch’een, the divine Kanul lord.”
The word otoot is customarily translated as “house” or “dwelling” in most contexts, but when found on vessels it clearly serves as a metaphorical term for a “container”(Stuart 2005). A small flask bearing the glyphs for y-otooch may is a “tobacco snuff container,” for example. The owner’s name is familiar to many as that of Yuknoom Ch’een II, the powerful ruler of the Kaan or Kaanul dynasty who ruled from 636-686 A.D.
The sherd goes on to mention, in the two glyphs running toward the right, a phrase familiar from the MFA vessel discussed above:
i-chi-li ja-yi ich-il jaay
“(it is) a chile (sauce?) vessel”
This seems to be an unusual reiteration of the pot’s contents, added in case the name-tag construction just beforehand wasn’t clear enough. In this instance the -il suffix on ich may simply derive the adjectival form before jaay, or alternatively we are looking at the derived noun ichil, “chili sauce,” as described above. For now “(it is) a chili vessel” or “(it is) a chili sauce vessel” seem equally plausible readings of the two hieroglyphs.
Another vase (K555) bears a text that may indicate chili as a possible ingredient in a cacao beverage (Figure 4). Two badly repainted glyphs on the rim of the vessel may identify its intended contents as i-chi ka-wa for ich kakaw, “chili cacao,” but this reading must remain highly tentative.
So in summary, two inscribed Classic Maya vessels can now be identified as as pots for chili, either as a powder a sauce that could be added to a wide variety of delicacies prepared in Maya royal households. In light of the recent detection of chemical traces of chili in early ceramic vessels from Chiapa de Corzo (Gallaga Murrieta, et. al. 2013, Powis, et. al. 2013) it would be worthwhile to test the two vases described here for any similar signals of Capsicum, much in the same way chocolate and tobacco reissues have been chemically identified on other ancient ceramics (Hall, et. al., 1990; Zagorevski and Loughmiller-Newman 2012).
Note: My initial thoughts on the ich reading arose from discussions with Simon Martin, who kindly showed me an image of the Calakmul sherd back in 2008. The reading has circulated among some epigraphers for a few years now, cited in some public presentations and articles (Martin 2008, Martin 2009). Most recently it found its way into the recent publication by Gallaga Murrieta, et. al. (2013), a portion of which is also available online. This note on Maya Decipherment serves as the first overview of the epigraphic and linguistic arguments behind the decipherment.
Acknowledgements: My thanks go to Simon Martin and Guillermo Kantun for sharing images of the Calakmul sherd, a drawing of which was later published by Gallaga Murrieta, et. al. (2013:Fig. 5a). My own quick sketch of its glyphs should be considered preliminary.
Gallaga Murrieta, Emiliano, Terry G. Powis, Richard Lesure, Louis Grivetti, Heidi Kucera, Nilesh W. Gaikwad, Roberto López Bravo. 2013. El uso prehispánico de los chiles en Chiapas. Arqueologia Mexicana 130:74-79.
Hall, Grant D., Stanley M. Tarka Jr., W. Jeffrey Hurst, David Stuart and Richard E. W. Adams. Cacao Residues in Ancient Maya Vessels from Rio Azul, Guatemala. American Antiquity, 55(1): pp. 138-143.
Hofling, Charles Andrew. 2011. Mopan Maya-Spanish-English Dictionary. The University of Utah Press, Salt Lake City.
Kaufman, Terrance. 2003. A Preliminary Mayan Etymological Dictionary.
Martin, Simon. 2008. Reading Calakmul: Epigraphy of the Proyecto Arqueológico de Calakmul 1994-2008. Paper presented at the VI Mesa Redonda de Palenque, November 16-21 2008, Palenque, Mexico.
___________. 2009. The Snake Kingdom: History and Politics at Calakmul and Related Courts. Presentation at the UT Maya Meetings, University of Texas at Austin, March 1, 2009.
Powys Terry G., Emiliano Gallaga Murrieta , Richard Lesure, Roberto Lopez Bravo, Louis Grivetti, Heidi Kucera, and Niles W. Gaikwad. 2013. Prehispanic Use of Chili Peppers in Chiapas, Mexico. PLoS ONE 8(11): e79013.
Stuart, David. 2005. Glyphs on Pots: Decoding Classic Maya Ceramics. Sourcebook for the 29th Maya Meetings at Texas, The University of Texas at Austin, March 11-16, 2005.
Zagorevski, D. V. and Loughmiller-Newman, J. A. 2012. The detection of nicotine in a Late Mayan period flask by gas chromatography and liquid chromatography mass spectrometry methods. Rapid Communications in Mass Spectrometry 26:403–411.
Among the great surprises of epigraphy was the discovery of “parentage statements” by Christopher Jones (1977). With this breakthrough, relationships of descent between dynastic figures could be identified and strung into longer sequences. Yet much remains unclear. A more recent study questions the broad distribution of such relationships—was there only one, rather static Maya system (Ensor 2013:57-58)? There is always, too, a set of fundamental uncertainties. Did such terms correspond to real or fictive relations? Did they extend laterally or by generations?
Answering these questions is well-nigh impossible. But at least we have some new data. Royal kinship among the Classic Maya became a bit clearer, and another sprig added to the family tree, when David Stuart (1989:5–7, 8, fig. 7) noted a term for “maternal uncle” in glyphic texts at Yaxchilan. The possessed form, spelled yi-cha-ni, y-ichaan, descended, according to one reconstruction, from Common Mayan *ikaan (see Kaufman and Norman 1994:120). At Yaxchilan, this term for collateral kin most likely appeared for unusual dynastic reasons. The uncle probably served as an éminence grise, acquiring unusual prominence for someone of sajal (high noble) rank. His sister was the mother of the king, his nephew a mere teenager at time of accession to the throne. Under these circumstances, a calculating uncle could rise far indeed.
Two other bonds (or claims to them) can now be discerned in glyphic texts.
One is a rare and highly localized expression that is nonetheless repeated on nearly identical, molded texts from the Alta Verapaz of Guatemala (Pérez Galindo 2006; also Dieseldorff 1926–1933). It occurs in a little-studied corpus of glyphs on broken ceramics collected over a century ago by Erwin Dieseldorff. A German immigrant to Guatemala, Dieseldorff was the scion of a family with longstanding mercantile ties to Central America (Náñez Falcón 1970:36–63). His own business concerned coffee cultivation and export. (A descendant firm still operates, with an aptly named website, kaffeekup.com.) In the 1880s, travels with the explorer and linguist Karl Sapper awakened Dieseldorff’s interest in archaeology, leading him to do a grubbing sort of archaeology to the east of Cobán, Guatemala. There he found “a series of broken idols during the excavation of a temple (cúe) in Chajcar, to the east of San Pedro Carchá, Alta Verapaz” (Pérez Galindo 2006:9). Evidently, most if not all came from a single building.
I first saw this collection of texts in 1984 while exploring the stygian basement of the Museo Nacional de Arqueología y Etnología (MUNAE) in Guatemala City. In a later, well-documented study, Mónica Pérez Galindo [2006:fig. 35], then employed at the MUNAE, presented an admirable record of that collection, noting, as part of her research, that other such glyphs occur in the (former) Museo Príncipe Maya in Cobán. As I understand it, that collection has since passed to the Fundación Ruta Maya.
Glyphs on these fragments range from pseudo-writing to legible signs (Figure 1). Many refer to literate skill. There are glyphs for “raising up” (t’abayi) and “molding/carving/shaping” (the so-called lu-“BAT,” which eludes, I believe, any confident reading), SAK-wo-jo, sak woj, “white, pure signs,” tz’i-ba, tz’ihb, “painting”; ma-xi, ma’x, “spider monkey; AJAW-wa, ajaw, “lord”; u-wi-WINIK, u winik, “his man, servant”; ya-na-bi-IL SAK-CHUWEEN, probably specifying the “owner” or master of a particular sculptor. There is even a Calendar Round, 10 Imix 19 Yaxk’in, perhaps assignable to 10.0.0.4.1, a date close to a momentous Period Ending and the “end of Yaxk’in” position that fascinated the Classic Maya (I have long wondered if this had something to do with seasonal observances, such as the beginning of the rainy season; for images, see Pérez Galindo 2006). To judge from style, the general date of these texts is at the very end of the Late Classic period, extending into the 9th century AD.
Figure 1. Legible texts in the Dieseldorff Collection, MUNAE (top row, photographs by Stephen Houston, 1984; bottom row, photographs by Mónica Pérez Galindo; not to scale but widest fragment is ca. 4-5 cm).
Several molded texts embellish small ceramic thrones. These votive objects measure—at least in surviving elements—16 cm long, 12.5 wide, and about 14 high (Grube and Gaida 2006:#24). The presence in MUNAE of broken-off embouchures, all of about the right size for edge breaks on some thrones, raises the chance that the effigies were in part musical. They could have been “performed” as whistles with keening notes. Otherwise, their dimensions, well beyond that of most figurines, suggests a more steady repose, perhaps in small shrines or other places of cult veneration. A few bear vestiges of paint. There are bold yellows, intense Maya blues, all post-fire. At first glance, several go so far as to resemble plumbate, so-called because of its similarity to lead-based glazes. Their surfaces glisten with a metallic sheen. But that appearance is more likely to result from spot scorching of post-fire pigments, a point I have discussed with plumbate experts like Hector Neff and Katie Williams.
At one time, all thrones had at least one seated figure on top, perhaps a young lord, of which fragments occur in Berlin’s Museum für Völkerkunde, the other repository for many of Dieseldorff’s pieces (Figure 2). To the side, almost at the top and front corner, sits a male companion in cross-legged, “tailor” position. Shattered pieces of larger figures are in the Dieseldorff collection, and it seems reasonable to link them to the thrones. Each side of the thrones shows a seated figure. Both have fire or solar attributes. The long sides feature a blunt-nosed person. Bordering on the grotesque, he leans over with a double-headed centipede “bar.” As noted by Karl Taube, the Classic Maya equated centipedes with beams of sun-light, a trait readily seen in the ancestral solar cartouches on stelae at Yaxchilan, Mexico. The figure wears a distinct headband with extruded curls. These traits help to identify a ch’ajoom,“incenser” (Scherer and Houston 2014). The shorter side of the throne, its figure now in profile, has the solar, centipede attributes highlighted in the depiction of 18 Ubaah K’awiil on Copan Stela A. The spear and shield hint that this is a more martial aspect of the Sun God. Heat and fire inflect the iconography. The later indications of scorching point to similar emphases in the ritual use of the thrones.
Figure 2. Sides of fragmentary ceramic throne collected by Dieseldorff, Ethnologisches Museum, Berlin, Ident.-Nr IV Ca 21058 (photograph, Grube and Gaida 2006:#24).
Most relevant here, however, are the molded glyphs below the ch’ajoom figure: ba tz’a-ma yi-cha-k’a SAK-ki-nu-chi k’u K’UH ? (Figure 2). The first glyph is surely baah tz’am, “head [person of the] throne,” a title elucidated in other contexts by Marc Zender. The reference reveals an unambiguous tie to the molded throne. What follows is y-ichak’ along with a second name. Widespread in Mayan languages, ichak’ corresponds to “nephew” or even “cousin,” with attestations in all Ch’olan languages (Kaufman 2003:120). The unusual spelling of sak, which implies vowel complexity, is harder to understand, although a comparable spelling occurs on a Tepeu 1 plate in the Gardiner Museum of Ceramic Art (#G83.1.120, Zender 2000:1044, fig. 10, fn. 7). The k’u syllable may reinforce the term for “god,” k’uh, but that is less clear. As on other texts in the assemblage, the strong degree of syllabicity draws our attention. Logographs exist, yet the overall tendency is to emphasize phonic transparency. In a comment to me, David Stuart wonders if rarer terms such as ichak’ needed to be spelled out precisely because they were uncommon. By contrast, logographs served as effective markers of parent-child relationships. It may also be that a high level of syllabicity reflected the challenges of recording a Ch’olan/Ch’olti’an language–the local speakers may have been Q’eqchi’.
Figure 3. Close-up of throne text in the MUNAE (photograph, Stephen Houston, 1984).
A second collateral relation occurs on a Tepeu 1 text from the area of Tikal (K5452, Figure 3). Dating to the reign of Wak Chan K’awiil (fl. AD 537-562), it appears on a pot that may record a rare example of multiple possession. The second owner is a royal youth, with a less likely possibility that this name simply referred to the first. (In my view, the presence of a full, second “dedicatory” text makes this unlikely.) What follows the name of Wak Chan K’awiil is yi-TAHN-na. I interpret this as spelling y-ihta’n, “her brother,” preceding the titles of a female. Ihta’n is the possessed form of a word reconstructed by some scholars as “man’s sister” (e.g., Kaufman and Norman 1985:121). However, in Ch’orti’, the term was “used between a man and a woman and vice-versa, but not between men nor between women” (my translation Pérez Martínez, García, Martínez, and López 1996:66). “Cross-sex sibling” fits the reference on the vase.
Figure 4. Vase from area of Tikal, Guatemala, c. AD 550 (K5452, photograph copyright Justin Kerr).
Such expressions are useful, even intriguing. But their rarity is obvious. Explicit labeling of collaterals seemed of little interest to scribes of the Classic period.
Postscript, Nov. 21, 2016: Simon Martin urged me to study a higher resolution version of K5452, which I have just obtained from Justin Kerr. The sign in front of TAHN is, I now believe, an unusual version of 1, preceded by an equally rare u sign (note its resemblance to the u in spellings of u tz’i ba li, all free-standing glyphs). This would make the woman on the vase the mother of the first owner, her relation being specified by u 1-TAHN-na.
Dieseldorff, Erwin P. 1926–1933. Kunst und Religion der Mayavölker im Alten Und Heutigen Mittelamerika. 3 vols. Berlin/Hamburg: J. Springer.
Ensor, Bradley E. 2013. Crafting Prehispanic Maya Kinship. Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press.
Grube, Nikolai, and Maria Gaida. 2006. Die Maya: Schrift und Kunst. Berlin: SMB-DuMont.
Jones, Christopher. 1977. Inauguration Dates of Three Late Classic Rulers of Tikal, Guatemala.” American Antiquity 42:28-60.
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.
Náñez Falcón, Guillermo. 1970. Erwin Paul Dieseldorff, German Entrepreneur in the Alta Verapaz of Guatemala, 1889-1937. Ph.D. dissertation, Tulane University.
Pérez Martínez, Vitalino, Federico García, Felipe Martínez, and Jeremías López. 1996. Diccionario Ch’orti’, Jocotán, Chiquimula. Antigua Guatemala: Proyecto Lingüístico Francisco Marroquín.
Scherer, Andrew, and Stephen Houston. 2015. “Blood, Fire, Death: Covenants and Crises among the Classic Maya.” In Smoke, Flames, and the Human Body in Mesoamerican Ritual Practice, organized by Vera Tiesler and Andrew Scherer, Dumbarton Oaks Fall Symposium, Oct. 9.
Stuart, David. 1997. Kinship Terms in Mayan Inscriptions. In Martha J. Macri and Anabel Ford, eds., The Language of Maya Hieroglyphs, 1–11. Pre-Columbian Art Research Institute, San Francisco.
Zender, Marc. 2000. “A Study of Two Uaxactun-Style Tamale-Serving Vessels.” In Barbara and Justin Kerr, eds., The Maya Vase Book: A Corpus of Rollout Photographs of Maya Vases, 1038–1055. New York: Kerr Associates.
by James Doyle (The Metropolitan Museum of Art) and Stephen Houston (Brown University)
In 2014, we investigated a long-lost fragment of a wooden lintel, probably from Tikal, that is now stored in Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History. The fragment may have derived from one of three lintels in Temple II. Two lintels of that pyramid are missing. But the third, Lintel 2, which spanned its middle doorway, was documented by Teobert Maler, Herbert Spinden, and the Tikal project of the University of Pennsylvania (Coe, Shook, and Satterthwaite 1962:35; Doyle and Houston 2014:143; Jones and Satterthwaite 1982:100, Fig. 71). Lintel 2 survived only in part, in two beams. Yet enough remained to pose a mystery. Was the surviving figure, a woman, the main person in the carving? Or did she stand to the side as a peripheral character?
This was important. The dominant presentation of a royal lady would be unprecedented in the Tikal lintels. It would also lend weight to the argument, made long ago by Clemency Coggins (1975:455, 549-551) and Mary Miller (1985:8), that Temple II housed the remains of a royal consort. That lady would have been the wife of “Ruler A” (Jasaw Chan K’awiil), whose spectacular tomb lay under Temple I, just across from Temple II. For Miller, the Great Plaza at Tikal represented more than a set of buildings. It crystallized social relationships. Consorts “faced” one another, the male to the east, the female to the west. Implicitly, too, a royal son, a king, was there to bury the parents. This would have been “Ruler B” (Yik’in Chan K’awiil), whose final resting spot is still subject to debate. The usual candidate, the gargantuan Temple IV, seems not to have had such a tomb (unpublished excavations by the Centro Universitario de Petén [CUDEP] have penetrated deeply into the building). But there is another option, the extraordinarily rich Burial 196. This lies under Str. 5D-73, some 30 m to the south of Temple II. Notionally at least, his tomb would triangulate with those of his parents’.
There is new evidence. In December 2015, we were able to view the original beam of Temple II Lintel 2, now in the collections of the American Museum of Natural History in New York.
Figure 1. (a) “Tikal: Fragment of Carved Beams from Lintel of Doorway Leading to Second Chamber of Temple II,” photograph by Teobert Maler (1911: Plate 18-2).
Maler had photographed the two fragments of Temple II Lintel 2 at Tikal itself. The second, less well-preserved piece went missing by the time Spinden arrived to collect the carvings for the AMNH (Figure 1). The beams taken to New York, including another from Tikal Structure 10, were on joint display in the 1920s–a photograph exists to prove it. Only the Temple II beam remained on exhibit, however, when the Structure 10 beams were lent for an exhibit at the Museum of Primitive Art in 1966. In response to a loan request, Gordon Ekholm wrote on January 20, 1966, that the “larger one is in storage and the smaller one has been on exhibit.” In her response, Julie Jones (curator emerita from the Metropolitan Museum, then assistant curator of the MPA) confirmed that “the one in the exhibition hall is from Temple II.” In the records of the Museum of Primitive Art exhibition, “Tikal 1956-1966: Excavations in Maya Guatemala,” the Structure 10 lintel is the sole carving to appear in the checklist and installation photos (Figure 2).
Figure 2. “Tikal 1956-1966: Excavations in Maya Guatemala,” Museum of Primitive Art Exhibition 41, Installation Photo. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Museum of Primitive Art-Curatorial Files (AR.1999.3.5).
Thanks to the staff at the AMNH – Senior Scientific Assistant Sumru Aricanli and collections manager John Hansen – we were able to view and re-photograph the Temple II beam. This may be the first time in 50 years that the lintel has been examined by specialists. The surviving fragment is exceptionally well-preserved, and the surface retains a high polish that must have been achieved by applying an abrasive. Close inspection reveals that the ends of the beam had been burned in order to remove the slab from the doorway (Figure 3), a horrifying process described by Maler (1911:43). The beam had been sawn in two pieces of equal length, presumably by Spinden’s team. This would have eased transport out of the site, which could only have been done by mules. A portion of the surface from the lower right-hand corner, depicting part of the figure’s garment, had suffered a loss between the time of Maler’s photograph and the lintel’s arrival at the AMNH. The relief of the carving is 3-4 cm in some places. In several areas, the carvers had blocked out the raised portion and polished or finished the area around it first; only then did they hack into the raised portion for finer detail (Figure 3). This practice is also known on stone carvings at Palenque and elsewhere. A final detail is that the burned ends of the beam show the annular striations of the chicozapote (Manilkara zapote) from which the slab was carved. The inner core was at the center of this beam, its outer rings on its edges, suggesting that a medium-sized log—the wood is staggeringly heavy and unwieldy—had been split across its diameter and then trimmed down (see Figure 3; Ralph 1965: Fig. 2). The AMNH preserves many samples of wood shaved from the lintel. In the 1950s these had been prepared, it seems, for Linton Satterthwaite and colleagues to perform early C14 assays at the University Museum in Philadelphia. The samples hold out the promise for further, more refined testing.
Figure 3. (above) Detail of charred superior end of the beam showing tree rings (below). Detail of outline for deep relief carving. Courtesy of the Division of Anthropology, American Museum of Natural History (30.0/ 2955). Photos by James Doyle.
The carver was masterful. The beam depicts a female wearing an elaborately woven textile dress, a quetzal-feather headdress, and fine jade regalia. The headdress also contains knotted cloth and vegetal elements, as well as shorter, spotted feathers. The jade collar consists of plaques, beads, and masquettes. A representation of what could have been a jade hu’n element appears halfway down the body (Figure 4). The garment itself is highly complex. There are alternating fields of geometric brocades and elements of the sky band, including so-called “Zip-monsters,” angular muyal glyphs as symbolic clouds, along with a field that contains a Tlaloc-like visage close to the hem. The Tlaloc designs recall the Central Mexican imagery inserted by woodworkers into a portrait of Jasaw Chan K’awiil in the lintel of Temple I across the Great Plaza.
Figure 4. Details of the textile: (left) Hu’n jewel, (right) Tlaloc. Courtesy of the Division of Anthropology, American Museum of Natural History (30.0/ 2955). Photos by James Doyle.
The lady’s identity is impossible to confirm without an accompanying text or a tomb. Most likely, she was the person we now call Ix Lachan Unen Mo’ (“Lady 12 Baby Macaws”), the wife of Jasaw Chan K’awiil, the ruler of Tikal from AD 682-734 (Coggins 1975:455, 549-551; Martin and Grube 2008:46; Miller 1985:8). The late 7th– or early 8th-century date for the lintel accords well with the radiocarbon dates from Temple I’s lintels. Researchers found that one of the beams from Lintel 3 was cut and carved between AD 658-696 (Kennett et al. 2013:4; cf. Satterthwaite and Ralph 1960; Ralph 1965).
Figure 5. Ankle of Ix Lachan Unen Mo’. Courtesy of the Division of Anthropology, American Museum of Natural History (30.0/ 2955). Photos by James Doyle.
In the original publication by Pennsylvania (Coe, Shook, and Satterthwaite 1961: Fig. 17), the authors reconstructed the lintel with the help of a new photograph. The damage after Maler’s time was clear, as evidenced by surface losses and the bisecting saw cut. In this photo, too, the ankle is clearly visible where it was not in the original plate from Maler’s publication (Figure 5). Yet William Coe, a superlative draftsman, seems to have relied exclusively on Maler’s photo for his rendering. In it, the queen’s ankle is no longer visible.
Fig. 6. Tikal Str. 5D-2-1st (Temple II): Li. 2., modified by James Doyle after drawing by William R. Coe (Jones and Satterthwaite 1982: Fig. 71), Courtesy of the Penn Museum.
As we confirmed on our recent visit, the queen’s left foot does indeed emerge from the hem of the skirt below the Tlaloc image. What’s more, the ankle and instep of the foot are clearly distinguishable in the relief of the carving, the left foot turning outward (Figure 6). This indicates that the queen stood with splayed feet, a pose used by figures at the center of a composition. Cloaked in sky imagery, the lady was thus the main image of the lintel. Most likely, Temple II pertained to her, and, as Coggins and Miller suggested, the pyramid needs to be understood as a gendered feature of Tikal’s ancient landscape.
Special thanks to Dr. Charles Spencer, Curator of Mexican and Central American Archaeology, and Sumru Aricanli of the AMNH for facilitating a viewing of the lintel and allowing permission to publish the study photographs here.
Coe, William R., Edwin M. Shook, and Linton Satterthwaite
1961 Tikal Report No. 6, The Carved Wooden Lintels of Tikal. The University Museum, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia.
Coggins, Clemency C.
1975 Painting and Drawing Styles at Tikal: An Historical and Iconographic Reconstruction. Unpublished Ph.D. Dissertation, Department of Fine Arts, Harvard University, Cambridge.
Jones, Christopher, and Linton Satterthwaite
1982 Tikal Report No. 33 Part A, The Monuments and Inscriptions of Tikal: The Carved Monuments. The University Museum, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia.
Kennett, Douglas, Irka Hajdas, Brendan J. Culleton, Soumaya Belmecheri, Simon Martin, Hector Neff, Jaime Awe, Heather V. Graham, Katherine H. Freeman, Lee Newsom, David L. Lentz, Flavio S. Anselmetti, Mark Robinson, Norbert Marwan, John Southon, David A. Hodell, and Gerald H. Haug
2013 Correlating the Ancient Maya and Modern European Calendars with High-Precision AMS 14C Dating. Scientific Reports 3 (1597).
1911 Explorations in the Department of Peten, Guatemala. Tikal. Memoirs of the Peabody Museum, vol. V, No. I, pp. 3–91. Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology, Harvard University Press, Cambridge.
Martin, Simon, and Nikolai Grube
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Miller, Mary E.
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Ralph, Elizabeth K.
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Satterthwaite, Linton, and Elizabeth K. Ralph
1960 New Radiocarbon Dates and the Maya Correlation Problem. American Antiquity 26(2): 165–184.
With the recent passing of the winter solstice it seems a good time to revisit some ideas I penned in 2009, regarding a possible ancient Maya record of the shortest day of the year. This appears on Zacpeten, Altar 1, an inscribed disc-shaped stone discovered broken and re-used as blocks in Postclassic masonry (Pugh, et. al. 1998) (Figure 1). It was originally dedicated on or near the important period ending 10.0.0.0.0, in the year 830 C.E.. The design of the altar is a carefully conceived cosmogram emphasizing four lateral points around a circle and center-point, a layout that echoes the familiar Mesoamerican model of space-time. The 36 hieroglyphs are arranged as a play on the important cosmological numbers 20 and 4 (20 + 4 x 4). And, as I argued some years ago, its self-contained text just might present the only Classic Maya description of the solar “birth” at winter solstice.
One date is written on the altar: 220.127.116.11.17 8 Caban seating of Cumku. In the standard GMT correlation (584283) this falls on December 21, 809, whereas on the newer Martin-Skidmore correlation (584286) is falls on December 24 (Martin and Skidmore 2012). Either way, it falls on or reasonably close to the winter solstice.
A few details of the inscription suggest that the text describes the cosmic rebirth of the sun, later linking this cosmological event to the life of a historical ruler. The main event, recorded after the CR date, is birth (Figure 2). Here though we see the unique addition of locational information, recorded in several hieroglyphs after the birth verb (no record of a historical birth states location in this way, as far as I’m aware). The place(s) mentioned strongly suggests a mythological setting, beginning with the glyph immediately following “birth,” a prepositional phrase based on the hieroglyph often described as the “portal” sign or “centipede’s maw” (see the fourth hieroglyph in Figure 2). This logogram is perhaps read as WAY, with the related meanings“chamber, basin, cistern” (Lacadena, personal communication 2003; see Grube, Lacadena and Martin 2003) (not to be confused with the very different term wahy, referring to demonic, transforming wizards and animal-spirits).
It has long been known that this “portal” sign represents a vertical hole or cavity in the earth. Some contexts suggest that it has architectural associations as well, referring to inner vaulted chambers of buildings (Carrasco and Hull 2002; Carrasco 2012). I believe its essential meaning is as a vertical hole in the earth — a planting hole, a chultun-like waterhole, or perhaps (in Yucatan) an open-air cenote. It refers to places that hold water, from where plants grow, and by extension as spatial and temporal points of emergence. Its common presence in the hieroglyph for the month Uayeb is probably related to this general idea, reading in full U-WAY?-HAAB, perhaps for the place or point of the year’s emergence and beginning. In iconography the sun god is sometimes shown emerging from such a space, depicted in its animate form as the jaws of a bony snake or centipede (see Taube 2003:411) (Figure 3). These probably are in reference to the sun’s rise from (or descent into) the earth. Long ago I argued that images of emergence from open maws of serpents and bony snakes — one of the most common tropes in Maya iconography — were visual metaphors for birth (Stuart 1988). Here on the Zacpeten altar the “maw” or “portal” sign thus marks the location of the birth event, a usage related to these same emergence themes.
The altar’s text goes on to specify a place called K’inich Pa… Witz, “the solar ? hill,” which is described as a chan ch’een, “sky-cave,” a spatial term that I believe describes ritual centers and nodes of ceremonial activity (Stuart 2014). The choice of terms and phraseology may again point away from a typical record of a ruler’s birth, and more towards an event of religious or cosmological importance. If we consider the solar references, the “maw,” and the date recorded, it seems natural to think that the Zacpeten altar shows a Classic Maya record of a winter solstice, using language that describes the event as the birth of the sun from the earth.
Nevertheless there seems to exist an important historical dimension to this inscription as well. After the record of the solar birth at the “maw” and mountain we find the name of a local ruler who ruled over the Mutul dynasty in the later years of the Classic period, sharing the same emblem glyph we know from the ruling family of Tikal. The names of his mother and father complete the circular text. The father is named Bahlaj Chan K’awiil, identical to the name of the noted ruler of Dos Pilas (also a claimant to the Mutul title) who ruled in the seventh century.
The protagonist’s name looks to to begin as K’inich ? Tahn, and follows directly after the location statement. It’s probably significant that he carries the same solar honorific k’inich in his name, indicating that the sun is embodied either as the living king or as a recently deceased royal ancestor. Yet there’s some ambiguity in all of this since we’re unsure of the name of the living king at the time the altar was dedicated. It remains possible that the altar records a local king’s historical birth which happened to fall on or near a winter solstice, prompting its description as an event of cosmic renewal. In any case, there seems to be something more “cosmic” going on here than we would expect with a straightforward historical record of a king’s birth.
As noted in my 2009 paper, the altar’s possible mention of a solar birth from a maw-like “portal” may offer a textual parallel of one of the most famous images in Maya art and iconography – the sarcophagus lid of K’inich Janab Pakal (Figure 4). This scene also features a figurative birth, with Pakal centrally placed as both infant (embodying the patron deity Unen K’awiil) and as adult at the moment of his resurrection as the rising eastern sun. He also appears at the base the large cruciform tree (the “shiny jewel tree”) that is emerges from the centipede’s maw (the earthly “portal”) at the lower part of the scene, enclosing the front-facing skull that I believe represents as an animate seed from which the tree emerges. The skull is in turn is conflated with the solar k’in bowl that we other know as an incense burner or sacrificial container, as Taube (1998) has demonstrated (many elaborate clay incense burners are, I believe, conceived of as “seeds” that “sprout” through emanating smoke). It is surely significant that the k’in bowl beneath Pakal serves as the hieroglyph for EL, “to emerge, come out,”which in turn is the basis for the word and hieroglyph for “east,” elk’in. In sum, the infantilized Pakal, in death, is the newborn manifestation of Palenque’s patron deity, shown rising as the eastern sun and ascending into the sky.
Pakal’s (re)birth and death are conceptually fused in this design, an interpretation that is bolstered by the text on the viewer’s “front” (or southern) edge of the sarcophagus (Figure 5), which may serve as a sort of caption for the scene atop the lid. This glyph sequence is integrated to the larger text around the perimeter which records a long series of deaths (och bih, “road-enterings”) of Pakal’s prominent ancestors (see Lounsbury 1974; Josserand 1995; Stuart and Stuart 2008; Hopkins and Josserand 2012). However, when viewed from the doorway of the tomb this band of glyphs also can serve as a self-contained statement about the scene and its protagonist. The inscription first gives a chronological statement of Pakal’s lifespan, from birth to road-entering, and then notes how his passing “follows the actions” of his many deceased ancestors (mam). The longer text around the perimeter of the lid provides the background and larger story, but the band of glyphs on this southern edge – what Josserand rightly called the ”peak” of the overall written narrative — operates on its own in conjunction with the scene. The king is born and the king dies, and the iconography emphasizes the conceptual unity of these two life events.
What isn’t so clear on the sarcophagus is an obvious connection to the winter solstice. Pakal entered his own path in late August of 683, in the height of summer, as the time of the sun’s daily presence was visibly waning. Other inscribed dates surrounding Pakal’s death and the dedication of the tomb and temple offer no obvious connection, either. However, it is perhaps important to point out Alonso Mendez’s interesting analyses of solar alignments associated with the Temple of the Inscriptions, elaborating on a connection Linda Schele first posited many years ago. As Alonso recently notes, the sun sets directly behind the Temple of the Inscriptions on the winter solstice when viewed from the doorway of House E of the Palace, Pakal’s very own throne room, built in the early years of his reign. While subtle, I suspect that solstitial symbolism is inherent in the design of both the funerary building and in the iconography of the tomb.
Of course the winter solstice is widely viewed across the globe as the rebirth of the sun, the point at which is begins its annual journey to gain heat and strength. The Maya are no different in this view (Gossen 1974:39). Among the Kiche’ Maya, the solstices are in addition considered as “changes of path,” or xolkat be, a term that emphasizes the sun’s new movement rather than its stationary position (Tedlock 1982: 180). The sarcophagus lid presents an image of the sun’s eastern rise and perhaps also of its new solsticial movement in the winter months. It is perhaps no coincidence then that the event repeated throughout the lid’s inscription is och bih, “road- or path-entering,” a common Classic Maya expression for death. The connection to between roads and the solstices is also indicated by the fascinating mention of chan u bih k’in, “four are the roads of the sun,” in the iconography of Caracol’s Stela 6 (Figure 6). This may be a reference to the four solsticial points on the horizon (see Stuart 2011:82).
Getting back to the main point of my discussion, the Zacpeten altar has a very suggestive inscription with a date that falls on or near the solstice, with a text commemorating birth and a solar protagonist. And like most Maya texts that might pique the interest of archaeo-astronomers, the real point wasn’t about detached observations of solar or astral phenomena — rather it was about how these cosmological structures and movements pertained to the kings who physically and conceptually embodied them.
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Gossen, Gary. 1974. Chamulas in the World of the Sun. Harvard University Press, Cambridge.
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The 2016 Maya Meetings are coming to UT-Austin on January 12-16. It should be a fun and exciting event wit presentations on the latest developments in Maya studies, centered on various workshops and a two-day symposium. The theme of several symposium presentations will focus on the archaeology and history of the lower Río Pasión region, focusing on sites of Ceibal, Dos Pilas, Aguateca, and others. Research over several decades has shown this distinctive area was a key “hot spot” of turmoil during the Classic period – an area of conflict, alliance-building, and ever-changing political structure. Very recent excavations reveal that the region also includes some of the earliest-known sites in the Maya lowlands. No previous large conference has ever focused on this important area, so the presentations and discussions will be break new ground, weaving together information form archaeological projects old and new. Please join us in Austin in January for what will be an exciting several days presentations and discussions.
Workshops and presentations by: Jeremy Sabloff, Daniela Triadan, Markus Eberl, Nicholas Carter, Maria Eugenia Gutierrez, Danny Law, Tim Beach, Nick Dunning, David Stuart, Takeshi Inomata, Jessica McLellan, Melissa Burham, Karen Bassie-Sweet, Marc Zender, Maline Werness-Rude, Kaylee Spencer, Marcello Canuto, Ruud van Akkeren, Arthur Demarest, Stephanie Strauss, Lucia Henderson, and Nikolai Grube.