The Stucco Portraits on the Temple of the Inscriptions (Part I) 1

This is the first of several anticipated postings about new interpretations of the various stucco sculptures associated with Palenque’s Temple of the Inscriptions.

First the piers of the upper temple.


The last published interpretation of the piers appears as Chapter 3 in The Code of Kings, by Linda Schele and Peter Mathews (1998). I’ve reproduced their illustration above, which nicely summarizes their thoughts on the identities of the four standing figures on Piers B, C, D and E. Flanking the central doorway are a female (Pier C) and a male (B), both of whom are heavily damaged. The outer portraits are somewhat better preserved, showing key details in their headdresses. As has been known for many years, the figure of Pier E, at far right, wears a fused snake-and-jaguar helmet, clearly a name glyph corresponding to Kan Bahlam, “Snake Jaguar.” Schele, Mathews, and many others (myself included) have equated him with Pakal’s distant predecesor Kan Bahlam I.

Detail of the headdress from Pier B, showing the name glyph of K'an Joy Chitam (Sketch by David Stuart).

Detail of the headdress from Pier B, showing the name glyph of K’an Joy Chitam (Sketch by David Stuart).

The headdress on Pier B is also fairly well preserved, although I was recently very surprised to see that all previously published drawings are innacurate in many important details. My own sketch of the head of the Pier B figure is reproduced here above, based on a careful examination of the Maudslay photograph taken in early months of 1890. This portrait exhibits is another name glyph headdress, identified by Schele and Mathews as the lineage founder K’uk’ Bahlam I. However, the details of the photo, as indicated in my sketch, clearly show it to be a peccary head with an infixed k’an cross in the eye. This can only be K’an Joy Chitam, the name of another early ruler of Palenque as well as the second of Pakal’s sons.

I take the woman and man on the innermost piers (C and D) to be a wife and husband pair, possibly Ixtz’akbu Ajaw and K’inich Janab Pakal, or alternatively Pakal’s parents, Ix Zak K’uk’ and K’an Hix Mo’. I see no way of choosing between these options, but I doubt there are other possibilities to seriously consider. As earlier interpretations have suggested, the outer figures, now identifiable as K’an Joy Chitam and Kan Bahlam, could represent earlier royal ancestors, but I now believe another possibility is well worth considering. The two outer figures on Piers C and E may also be portraits of Pakal’s two important sons, one of whom (K’inich Kan Bahlam or Kan Bahlam II) oversaw the completion of the Temple of the Inscriptions. This king is named prominently in the interior tablets of the temple, as well as in the surviving portion of the long stucco text on Pier F. Both of Pakal’s sons were well into adulthood at the time of their father’s death, and I suspect their portraits on the piers, possibly in the company of their deceased parents, helped convey a strong sense of dynastic continuity.

My next post (Part II) on the Temple of the Inscriptions stuccoes will focus on the infants cradled by each of the four figures, widely interpreted over the last few decades as images of the deified K’inich Kan Bahlam.

Carnegie photo archive on-line Reply

As many readers already know, a wonderful photo resource for Maya archaeology and epigraphy is Harvard University’s Visual Information Access archive. It contains readable scans of field photos from various projects overseen by the Carnegie Institution of Washington from the 20s through the 50s (Uaxactun, Chichen Itza, Copan, etc.). Just enter a site name in the search engine and you’ll see lots of unsorted images, including many unpublished gems.

More on Galindo’s glyphs Reply

Following up on my earlier posting on “Galindo’s Glyphs”:

Sabastian Matteo of the Musées royaux d’Art et d’Historie in Brussels kindly wrote me with the news that photos of at least two of the four stucco glyphs collected by Galindo in 1831 do in fact exist, among the Heinrich Berlin archival materials he is now cataloging. The actual stucco glyphs are presumably still in the collections Musée d’el Homme in Paris, although I have no direct confirmation of this. Anyway, a big thanks to Sebastian for sending this image along and allowing me to post it here.


The “Cloud-Bird” Emblem Glyph 3


The Early Classic king list inscribed on the door lintels of Yaxchilan’s Structure 12 mentions a number of foreign lords and dignitaries, all involved in some way with the inaugurations and reigns of the first ten kings of the Yaxchilan dynasty. The prevailing interpreation today sees these non-local people as war captives, but there is little evidence to support this. Instead, I prefer to see them as names of visiting abassadors to the local court, as had been suggested in earlier analyses of these important texts by Mathews and others.

Among the foreign names on the lintels we find these two identical titles depicting a bird descending through the dotted spiral “cloud” sign (Steve Houston and I deciphered this as MUYAL, “cloud,” back in 1989.). The structure of the inscription leaves little doubt that this “Cloud-Bird” is a previously unidentified emblem glyph. (It occupies the same position as the emblems of Piedras Negras, Bonampak-Lakamha, Lakamtun, and Tikal in neighboring parallel passages from the Structure 12 lintels). The bird’s head moreover shows the ajaw headband, a key confirmation that we here have an emblem glyph. With this final AJAW element the title reads something along the lines of “the ‘Cloud-Bird’ Lord.” I wouldn’t hazard a guess as to the full phonetic reading of the emblem, but it could well incorporate the word muyal. The location of the “Cloud-Bird” polity remains unknown, but it seems to have been an important player in Early Classic Maya history near the Usumacinta River, at least.

On a side note, the very same “Cloud-Bird” appears on the back-rack (paat piik) of a woman portrayed on Dos Pilas, Stela 16. It is interesting that similar back-racks worn by “Holmul Dancers” depicted on Maya vases also incororporate the symbols of mountains as emblematic place names.

The “Place of Cedars” Reply


A toponym mentioned on Lintel 10 of Yaxchilan reads K’UH-TE’-la, based in all likelihood on the name for cedar tree (cedro) in Ch’olan, Tzelatalan and Yukatekan languages (and Western Mayan in general). For example:

CH’OL (Aulie and Aulie) ch’ujte’, cedro (literalmente árbol santo; se utiliza para hacer los palitos de los tambores que se usan en las fiestas)

YUKATEK (Bolles) k’u che, native cedar. Literally “god tree”, thought to be so called because the wood was often used for making idols.

On Lintel 10 the place name is spelled with a final -la sign, probably giving a – Vl suffix to derive the toponym from the noun root — possibly K’uhte’eel or Ch’uhte’eel, “Place of Cedars.” As shown in the illustration, this location follows a “shell-star” war verb, indicating it names a community conquered by Yaxchilan. So far it’s geographical location is unknown.