The Birth Date of Copan’s Ruler 12? 1

The two lowermost steps of Copan’s Hieroglyphic Stairway record two historical dates separated by over a hundred years in time. The earlier of the two appears only briefly on Step 2 as the abbreviated record “9 Kawak” (written as the head of Chahk — a nice variant). An associated Distance Number bridges this highly reduced statement with a full long count record of 12 Muluk 7 Muwaan. Although damaged, the DN is best reas as, resulting in this likely reconstruction of the initial date: 9 Kawak 7 Mak (Step 2)
+ 12 Muluk 7 Muwaan (Step 1)

The last date is the initial dedication of the stairway in 710 A.D., corresponding to the time Waxaklajuun Ubaah K’awil (Ruler 13) constructed the “Esmeralda” phase of Structure 10L-26 over the tomb of his illustrious father, Ruler 12. It seems the son designed this temple and the associated stairway inscription as a commemorative monument and funerary shrine for his predecessor, who had died some fifteen years earlier.

There’s little doubt that the earlier of the two dates was recorded more fully in the steps just above Step 2, perhaps among the very eroded glyphs found on Step 5. At least the abbreviated “9 Kawak” implies such an fuller record somewhere nearby. Much of the text on Steps 1-7 treat Ruler 12’s reign — his accession and death are both recorded on Step 7 — so it seems likely that the early 9 Kawak date would be relevant to that ruler’s history. In fact, there seems good reason to consider as Ruler 12’s birth. His age upon death would have been 91 years, and we know from several inscription that Ruler 12 lived to be a “Five K’atun Lord” — that is, to some age within his fifth K’atun of life (between 80 and 100). This was an important title for the king, so basic to his historical identity, in fact, that “Five Katuns” repalces his personal name glyph on the side of Altar Q.

The case is circumstantial but strong. Even if the date proposed here is incorrect, the timespan recorded in the DN suggsests the last two steps of the Hieroglyphic Stairway juxtapose Ruler 12’s distant birth with his son’s construction of “the steps for his tomb” many years later in 710.

And speaking of U signs… Reply

The last post reminded me of another interesting museum find I came across several years ago, this time on a vase in the Museo Juan Antonio Valdés in Uaxactun, Petén, Guatemala. (I’m sure others have noticed this as well.)


As seen in the photo, the vase bears a Dedicatory Formula (PSS) with the expected term for “his/her drinking vessel,” a possessed form of the instrumental noun uk’ib. The spelling, however, is unique. I was interested to see that instead of the initial yu- found in standard forms, we see two sequential u signs (U-u-k’i-bi). Scribes typically represented the surface phonetics in the possessed form (u)y-uk’ib through the spelling yu-k’i-bi, so it’s remarkable that the scribe here has chosen to emphasize the underlying morphemic structure with u- before uk’ib, ignoring the transitional -y-.

The choice of the two back-to-back variants is interesting. The initial “bracket” U- is the far older sign, used far and wide to represent the u- pronoun. Its use here, in contrast to the second, more “innovative” u, may reflect the scribe’s sense of this history and convention.

A nice U variant 1

During a brief visit to the local museum at Tonina a few years ago, I noticed this interesting stucco glyph among the many displayed in the glass case. One can see it’s a conventional ‘K’atun’ with a 3 or 4 number coefficient, but the prefix is what caught my eye. The initial sign clearly represents a strand of hair passing through a carved tubular bead, just as depicted in a few portraits (see Tikal Stela 31). This presumably is an U- variant, slightly more elaborate that a common U form that shows only the skeletal bead. As John Justeson pointed out many years ago, the latter sign surely derives from the widespread Mayan words for “bead” (also “necklace”): *uuh (proto-Mayan), later appearing in Yukatekan and Ch’olan as u, uh or uj.

U-3?-”K’ATUN” from Tonina

The Michol Celt 5

Sketch of the Michol Celt (DS drawing, ca. 1988)

Here’s an old drawing I did of an obscure inscribed celt, from a murky photo published long ago by Heinrich Berlin. The original reference is:

Berlin, Heinrich
1955 News From the Maya World. Ethnos 20(4):201-209.

Berlin noted its provenience simply as from the “Michol River,” not too far from Palenque.

The most interesting aspects of the inscription are the odd chevron arrangement of the glyphs, as well as the final possessed noun, simply reading “his celt” (U-LEEM?). I will soon be posting some thoughts on the possible LEM or LEEM phonetic reading of the “celt” sign.

The first post Reply

Hi everyone. This weblog is concerned with the dissemination and discussion of ideas on Maya hieroglyphic decipherment. As I write this and learn the ways of blogging, it’s impossible to know if the format will work the way I would like it to, so for now experimentation is the name of the game. I plan to routinely post ideas and observations on epigraphy and related topics, and invite colleagues from the world of Mesoamerican studies to provide feedback. Some of the ideas I will be sharing are certainly from “the archives,” maybe even scribbles from my notebooks of a decade or more ago, but it’s high time to get it all out there, even when they now seem old and half-baked.

My posts will be intermittent, maybe even infrequent at times, but I’m determined to keep this up as time permits. I also very much hope that colleagues will want to chime-in with their own posts, giving Maya Decipherment a life of its own as a compelling forum for discussing and sharing advances in the field.