January 23, 2009 will mark 100 years since the birth of the great Mayanist Tatiana Proskouriakoff (1909-1985), best known for her discovery of the extensive historical content in Maya art and inscriptions. The upcoming anniversary will be a excellent time to reflect on Tania’s remarkable career and her contributions to Mesoamerican research.
This announces the inauguration of a new and exciting learning experience on Maya art, epigraphy and archaeology, The Maya Field Workshops. Led by David Stuart, these are designed as intensive on-site seminars open to anyone interested in the latest discoveries on the ancient Maya. Unlike workshops held in Austin and other academic locales, these take place at or near ruins, so participants can study Maya history and culture in their true contexts.
The inaugural 2009 workshop will be held at Palenque, Mexico, from March 16-22. Please visit the Maya Field Workshops website to get more details.
by Stephen Houston
Epigraphers await 2012 with trepidation. There will be ill-founded claims, bad Hollywood movies (one now in production), silly reportage, and much distortion of what 2012 meant for the ancient Maya. Every imaginable anxiety will apply to this key event in the Maya calendar. If we are candid, too, there will be renewed interest in our field, which scholars can shape to positive result…if the public ever bothers to listen. A rich ethnography of misunderstanding awaits those who wish to peruse the web.
Such an ethnography is not my purpose here. Rather, I present a mea culpa and a rectification. In 1996, Stuart and I discussed part of the text on Tortuguero Monument 6, suggesting that, on 126.96.36.199.0 4 Ajaw 3 K’ank’in, Julian Dec. 10, AD 2012, a god will “descend,” ye-ma or yemal, in what was held to be a nearly unique example of Classic-era prophecy. Why unique? …because when the Classic texts refer to the future, they typically encompass “impersonal temporal events that are safely predictable” (Houston and Stuart 1996:301, fn. 7). Stuart and I left a small escape chute, admitting that “there are some technical problems with this translation” (ibid.).
The relevant, final portions of Monument 6 record a Distance Number that counts from the principal event in the inscription (Fig. 1). The earlier event is the dedication (EL?-le-NAAH-ji-ja) of the building that doubtless housed this T-shaped panel (mentioned at E6-F6, [188.8.131.52.18]). The future events are described as tzuhtzjoom u 13 pih 4 Ajaw 3 Uniiw utoom, all “impersonal” and “safely predictable” insofar as they are straightforward references to the conclusion of a major cycle at a particular Calendar Round. What follows is the discourse marker ‘i-, an eroded glyph, and ye-? 9 YOOK-TE’ ta … By one reading of the text, whatever takes place after the ‘i– elaborates and extends this future sequence of events.
Or that is what we wrote in 1996. It happens that two others texts encapsulate a very similar pattern of dates. One comes from Naranjo, Guatemala, and is now in the Museo Popol Vuh in Guatemala City (Fig. 2, Graham 1978:103). The second, recently found at La Corona, Guatemala, by Marcello Canuto of Yale, has been drawn in pencil by David Stuart. (Avid bibliophiles will discover that a recent coffee-table book published in Guatemala has full photographs of the La Corona texts as well.)
The final portion of the Naranjo text ends by counting forward to a future date, 10.0.0.0.0 7 Ajaw 18 Zip [Julian March 11, AD 830], with a rare future of a mediopassive verb, subfixed, apparently, by –[yi]mo. Thus, the inscription vaults into the future, many decades after the final contemporary date on the monument, and then, at the end, shifts back to that earlier date, (9.)184.108.40.206 5 Ajaw 3 Ch’en [Julian Aug. 22, AD 593]. This is when the current ruler scattered incense, presumably at the dedication of the text and, according to Stela 38, the consecration of two other stones as well, probably Stelae 38 and 39, both found near Structure D-1 at Naranjo. The text accordingly situates itself in present time, leaps to a future presented in highly schematic terms, and then reverts to the present.
The final passages of the La Corona panel do much the same (Fig. 3). The base date is the dedication of the panels themselves, their last truly contemporary date: 220.127.116.11.4 4 K’an 7 Mak, Julian Oct. 24, AD 677. Almost in yo-yo effect, the inscription lurches forward to 18.104.22.168.0 (Julian May 7, AD 682), then, from the 4 K’an base date, forward again to 22.214.171.124.0 (Julian April 11, AD 687), and, in like manner, forward yet again from that base date to 126.96.36.199.0 (Julian March 15, AD 692), one of the most vivid times for the Classic Maya because of its evocation of a 13th cycle. The relevant part of the text terminates the inscription: i-u-ti/tu? 4 K’an 7 Mak. The parallel with Tortuguero Monument 6 is clear, in that a future date jolts back to the present, as marked by a phrase beginning with i-.
Whatever Monument 6 has to tell us pertains to the dedication of the building associated with the sculpture. It has nothing to do with prophecy or the supposed, dread events that await us in AD 2012. About that the Maya are notably silent…or, truth be told, a bit boring.
Note – 9 Yookte’ (Bolon Yookte’) is an enigmatic expression. When postfixed by K’UH, it appears to identify some collective totality of gods. This is evident in the sequence of deities assembled or placed in order at the beginning of the last great cycle, as attested on the Ranieri “square” vessel and its counterpart, the so-called “Vase of the Seven Gods” (Coe 1973: pl. 49). Where understood, the other references to deities in this text signal the presence of pluralities, including the “Palenque Triad” (or its varying multitudes) and the “celestial” and “terrestrial gods.”
Fig. 1 Portion of Tortuguero Monument 6:pI5-pL5 (drawing by Sven Gronemeyer)
Fig. 2 Portion of Naranjo Altar 1:J5-J11 (drawing by Ian Graham)
Fig. 3 Portion of new La Corona, Panel 2:V5-V8 (drawing by David Stuart)
1973 The Maya Scribe and His World. New York: The Grolier Club.
1978 Corpus of Maya Hieroglyphic Inscriptions, Volume 2, Part 2: Naranjo, Chunhuitz, Xunantunich. Cambridge MA: Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology, Harvard University.
Houston, Stephen D., and David Stuart
1996 Of Gods, Glyphs, and Kings: Divinity and Rulership among the Classic Maya. Antiquity 70: 289-312.
The adjacent photo comparison from Tonina, Chiapas, offers sad evidence of how excavated stucco sculpture is rapidly deteriorating at some Maya sites, usually due to disinterest in conservation and an utter lack of thinking ahead. The images are of an important throne in Tonina’s acropolis, decorated with an image of a “star peccary” on its back and with three trident-flint supports. As one can see, much of the sculpted design has now disappeared.
The throne was once inscribed. In 1983 I noticed a stucco glyph (an emblem glyph, in fact) attached to the throne’s right side, but for some reason this was later detached, and eventually published as Plate 89 in Miller and Martin’s book Courtly Art of the Ancient Maya (2004).
I wish this was a unique case of a monument’s destruction-by-excavation, but tragically it’s not; there are many, many more examples out there.
Stephen Houston’s recent archival research at the Smithsonian has led to the remarkable find of images of previously unknown stucco glyphs and an associated sculpture from Palenque, all carted off to Scotland by an adventurous Englishman in the early nineteenth century. We collaborated on the preliminary essay here (in pdf form), establishing, we think, just where they came from.
“They …Accomplished the Matter Betwixt Them”: Rediscovered Stucco Fragments from Palenque, Mexico by Stephen Houston and David Stuart