The “Cloud-Bird” Emblem Glyph


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”


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.

A tablet fragment from Miraflores, Chiapas


Here’s a drawing of an inscribed tablet fragment from Miraflores, an important subsidiary center of Palenque. It will appear in my upcoming Palenque book to be publsihed in 2007 or 2008 by Thames and Hudson.

This and a few other carved panel fragments were seen by Heinrich Berlin, who published photos in his Ethnos article “News from the Maya World” (see my previous Michol Celt posting for the full reference). Karl Herbert Mayer later published good enlargements of these and other Berlin images now archived at the Peabody Museum, Harvard University. Author Karena Shields took a photograph of this piece as well sometime in the 1950s, details of which were key in producing this drawing.

The text identifies the standing figure as a Yajawk’ahk’ — a priestly or military office of some sort — who was a Sajal of K’inich Janab Pakal.

Its current location is unknown.

Palenque’s Temple of the Skull

The sole surviving portion of the stucco decoration on the Temple of the Skull (Temple XII) at Palenque is — no surprise — a skull. Visitors to the ruins might notice it just as they enter the ruins, looking up at the temple’s one remaining pier. The skull was clearly part of a larger composition, and its position at the base suggests it served as a pedestal for a standing figure, much like the skeletal heads (seeds?) beneath the feet of the royal portraits on piers of the Temple of the Inscriptions.

Looking recently at the deer skull, I noticed that its shell ears (or ear ornaments) have a distinctive and telling appearance. At first they appear to be the same as the spondylus shell ears characteristic of the gods Chahk or GI, but on closer look one can see that he upper halves of each shell are half-covered in jaguar pelt. This odd feature occurs in only one other setting in Maya art and writing: on the rather strange long-lipped head that substitutes for WAY-wa-la or WAY-la, written several times in Palenque’s inscriptions (see second jpg attached with this post). We don’t know the exact reading of the head (I’ll provisionally refer to it as WAYWAL?), but it’s consistently paired with BAAK, BAAK-le or BAAK-la in a title used by two Palenque kings, K’inich Kan Bahlam and K’inich K’uk’ Bahlam. The entire combination my read something like Baakel Waywal, but the semantics are obscure to me; baak, “bone,” is perhaps related to the standard Palenque emblem glyph, the head variant of which is a deer skull. At any rate, the two main elements of the strange title, BAAK and WAYWAL?, therefore seem to be conflated in the stucco decoration on the temple. It’s an iconographic version of the hieroglyph.

The identification should point to a close association between the Temple of the Skull and one of the two rulers mentioned, K’inich Kan Bahlam or his great nephew K’inich K’uk’ Bahlam. To me the style of the stucco looks not too terribly late and more in line with the earlier king.


(So, could the rich tomb discovered beneath the Temple of the Skull in 1994 be that of K’inich Kan Bahlam? I would never put this in print, so forget you ever read it…)

Galindo’s Glyphs


In his 1831 visit to Palenque, explorer Juan Galindo removed four stucco glyphs from the Temple of the Inscriptions, most likely from one of its inscribed outer piers (Piers A or F). Drawings of the glyphs – truly excellent for the time — were published in Galindo’s report of 1834, and Heinrich Berlin reproduced these in his 1970 article “Miscelánea Palencana” (Journal de la Société des Américanistes, vol. LIX, pp. 107-108). Even so, the glyphs remain obscure today and seldom studied. Last year I did these drawings, based solely on the old images Galindo published. I’ve never seen photographs of the glyphs, if they exist.

Three of the glyphs seem to be part of the opening I.S. from Pier A. Considering these in connection with other date elements from Pier A (a “Kawak” day sign and an I.S.I.G. with a Pax patron), Berlin rightly proposed this as the best solution for reconstructing the opening date: 9 Kawak 17 Pax G9

The fourth and last of Galindo’s glyphs is ye-TE’-na-hi, probably a variant spelling of the proper name (9-(Y)EHT(?)-NAAH) given to the tomb and temple on the west panel of the Inscriptions text. If they were removed together, it suggests that the peir I.S. corresponds to the dedication of the Temple of the Inscriptions. Dedication dates on stucco piers may be a pattern at Palenque, also seen on House A of the Palace and on the Temple of the Sun.