A New Drawing of the Marcador Inscription

by David Stuart

The Marcador from Group 6C-XVI of Tikal. Note the name of Eagle Striker in the center of the upper rosette, prossibly a war shield.

Posting a new drawing of the hieroglyphic texts on the famous Marcador sculpture of Tikal. I made this as part of my upcoming publication on aspects of Teotihuacan-Maya history, slated to appear next year with Dumbarton Oaks. The drawing is based on inspection of photos and digital scans, and corrects a few minor errors in other drawings that have appeared since the Marcador was discovered back in the early 1980s.

Each text panel focuses on a particular event. The first recalls the conquest of Tikal in 378 CE led by the famous Sihyaj K’ahk’, who in some capacity seems to have acted at the behest of the Teotihuacan ruler who I prefer to call Eagle Striker (“Spearthrower Owl” being an old nickname). Sihyaj K’ahk’ arrival to the Peten in that year was a transformative political event, broadly affecting the Maya political order of the Early Classic. The second text panel focuses on the dedication of the Marcador itself sixty years later in 414, highlighting its association with Eagle Striker, whose name is also prominently displayed within the center of sculpture’s rosette-like shield. As background for this, Eagle Striker’s accession in 374 is cited at the beginning of the second text panel (E1-E5).

Early Classic Co-Rulers on Tikal Temple VI

by Simon Martin, University of Pennsylvania Museum

The oversized inscription that runs down the back and sides of Tikal Temple VI—featuring the largest glyphs in the Maya world—presents many problems of interpretation, although most of them a simple consequence of its highly dilapidated condition (Figure 1). Three studies have established key details of its chronology and subject matter (Berlin 1951; Jones 1977:53-55; Stuart 2007a), but a number of problematic areas remain. Photographs and field drawings dating to 1965, now held in the Tikal Archive at the University of Pennsylvania Museum, offer an important resource for further investigation. I rely on these materials to examine a single extended passage that runs from C13-D19, a section that refers to a fascinating period in the dynastic governance of Tikal (Figure 2).(1)

Figure 1. Tikal Temple VI, back of roof comb (Photograph by Jorge Pérez de Lara)
Figure 1. Tikal Temple VI, back of roof comb (Photograph by Jorge Pérez de Lara)
Figure 2. The Period Ending, Tikal Temple VI (C13-D19): a) Photographs by Gordon Echols b) Drawing by William R. Coe.
Figure 2. The Period Ending, Tikal Temple VI (C13-D19): a) Photographs by Gordon Echols b) Drawing by William R. Coe.

The passage begins with the Calendar Round position 13 Ahau 18 Yax, which equates to the Period Ending from 514 CE (Satterthwaite and Jones 1965). This placement is confirmed by the following pair of glyphs: u-4-WINIKHAAB uchan winikhaab “(it is the) fourth K’atun” and the verb K’AL-TUUN-ni k’altuun “(it is) a stone raising/presenting”.(2) Next, at C15, we find yi-chi-NAL for yichonal “before, in the sight of,” a term with the general sense of “oversight” (Stuart 1997:10; Houston and Taube 2000:287-289; Stone and Zender 2011:59). Where calendrical ceremonies are concerned this oversight role is almost invariably assigned to a deity. In this case it is a character called SAK-HIX-MUUT “White Jaguar Bird,” whose battered but recognizable name appears at D15. This was a special deep-time patron of the Tikal dynasty who constitutes the focus of the Temple VI inscription (Martin and Grube 2000:50; Stuart 2007a). Repeating a formula seen in several other portions of this text, ceremonies are further supervised by a human agent introduced by means of the u-KAB/CHAB-ji-ya ukabjiiy/uchabjiiy term. Though much degraded by years of exposure to the elements the sign at C16 shows the nose of the anthropomorphic version of KAB/CHAB, the standard form used on Temple VI.

The personal name of this agent, seen at D16, is by any standards highly eroded. However, by comparing photographs taken in daylight with others shot at night under raking artificial light the outlines of an initial female agentive IX can be discerned (Figure 3a, b). The rest of the block consists of two signs, neither of which is truly legible today. Nevertheless, the IX prefix is enough to suggest that we have here the so-called Lady of Tikal, who was the incumbent ruler at the turn of in 514, having come to the throne at the age of just six years old in 511 (Martin 1999, 2003:18-21).

Figure 3. The celebrant of the Period Ending, Tikal Temple VI (D16): a) Photograph by Gordon Echols; b) Drawing by the author.
Figure 3. The celebrant of the Period Ending, Tikal Temple VI (D16): a) Photograph by Gordon Echols; b) Drawing by the author.
Figure 4. The names of the Lady of Tikal: a) Tikal Stela 23 (C4); Tikal Stela 23 (B6); Tikal Stela 12 (B6) (drawings by the author).
Figure 4. The names of the Lady of Tikal: a) Tikal Stela 23 (C4); Tikal Stela 23 (B6); Tikal Stela 12 (B6) (drawings by the author).

She bore two distinct names. The first is a childhood moniker associated with the record of her birth in 504 (Figure 4a). This features MUT, the well-known toponym of Tikal, as well as AJAW “lord/ruler.” However, it differs from a conventional emblem glyph by the inclusion of a twisted cord glyph of unknown value (see Stuart 2005:28-29). The same sign turns up as a prefix to the Tikal emblem MUT-AJAW on Stela 15 (B5) (Jones and Satterthwaite 1982:Fig.21a) and again, perhaps more significantly, with IX and MUT on Stela 26 (zB9) (Jones and Satterthwaite 1982:Fig.44a), this time in the name of a patron goddess.

The accession phrase for the Lady of Tikal survives only in part on Stela 23 (Figure 4b). The verb is surely the same form as that found on Tikal Stela 31 (E10) (Jones and Satterthwaite 1982:Fig.52b), which either features an early version of the bird-head JOY “wrapped, encircled” joined to ti-AJAW “into lord(ship),” or, alternatively, an attenuated version in which the bird-head lacking its usual “toothache” wrap serves only as ti and ti ajaw(il) stands in place of the proper sequence johyaj ti ajawil. The adjoining sign on Stela 23 includes a crosshatched forelock that makes clear that the Lady of Tikal is its subject.

To follow her later career we must turn to other monuments, especially Stela 6, where she celebrated the aforementioned period ending, and the better-preserved Stela 12, where she marked in 527 (Jones and Satterthwaite 1982:Fig.9, 10, 17, 18). Both of these identify her by means of a regnal name with two parts: a vegetal sign that looks very much like UUN “avocado” and another whose portrait version closely resembles K’IN/K’INICH “sun/radiant” (see Zender 2004:335) (Figure 4c).(3) The former usually has a slanted, upward orientation, which is reminiscent of the strangely pointed head on Stela 23, as if that sign has been conflated with IX in this instance (Figure 4b).

Returning to Temple VI, for the rest of this passage we must cross down from Panel W to Panel X, where the text continues uninterrupted. Very little of this section now survives, but we can surmise that it once included further names or titles for the queen. The best-preserved glyph comes at C19, where we see an old man’s head distinguished by its underbite, snaggletooth, and stingray spine piercing the nose (Figure 5a, b).(4) These attributes identify the Stingray Paddler, one of a pair of Charon-like deities that propel a canoe carrying the Maize God across a primeval body of water (Mathews 2001[1979]:399, Fig.40.4; Stuart 1984:11; Schele 1987) (Figure 6a-c). The name of this ferryman is undeciphered, but both here and elsewhere it bears a ti phonetic complement and must therefore end in –t (see Figure 6c).

Figure 5. The Stingray Paddler on Tikal Temple VI (C19): a) Photograph by Gordon Echols; b) Drawing by the author.
Figure 5. The Stingray Paddler on Tikal Temple VI (C19): a) Photograph by Gordon Echols; b) Drawing by the author.
Figure 6. The name of the Stingray Paddler: a) Quirigua Stela C (B8); Dos Pilas Stela 8 (G18); c) Ixlu Altar 1 (C4) (drawings by the author, 6b after Ian Graham).
Figure 6. The name of the Stingray Paddler: a) Quirigua Stela C (B8); Dos Pilas Stela 8 (G18); c) Ixlu Altar 1 (C4) (drawings by the author, 6b after Ian Graham).

At first sight, we might assume that the role of the Stingray Paddler here is the familiar one in which both Paddler deities are said to “oversee” a period ending ceremony. However, this is not repeated for other such events in the Temple VI text and, more to the point, oversight of this particular ceremony has already been assigned to the Sak Hix Muut character. We should therefore seek an alternative explanation. Notably, the Stingray Paddler name plays a part in the moniker of the Lady of Tikal’s male co-ruler, an older consort or guardian that I have earlier nicknamed Kaloomte’ Bahlam (Martin 1999:5; 2003:20). His personal appellative can be recognized in three Tikal inscriptions (Figure 7a-c).

Figure 7. The names of Kaloomte’ Bahlam: a) Tikal Stela 12 (D5); Tikal Miscellaneous Text 11 (yA); Tikal Stela 10 (C7-D7) (drawings by the author).
Figure 7. The names of Kaloomte’ Bahlam: a) Tikal Stela 12 (D5); Tikal Miscellaneous Text 11 (yA); Tikal Stela 10 (C7-D7) (drawings by the author).

Here the Stingray Paddler is usually conflated with, and somewhat overshadowed by, BAHLAM “jaguar.” Additionally, there are elements resembling those of MAM “grandfather/ancestor” (Stuart 2007b), including a forehead dot that we also see on the glyph at C19 on Temple VI. It is not entirely clear if this is part of the aged identity of the Stingray Paddler—a type of “carrier” sign—or whether it takes an independent role, presumably as a title signaling the advanced years of the bearer. Helpfully, Stela 10 shows the MAM-style head in second position (Figure 7c), offering some constraint to the reading order, but erosion prevents us from seeing if the diagnostic nose-spine appeared there or on the preceding jaguar head. Stephen Houston points out that a further element on the Stela 12 example, an upward pointing “serpent nose,” is that associated with the Central Mexican fire deity xiuhcoatl (Figure 7a). In Early Classic Maya script this is carried by the sun god K’INICH (AJAW)—especially at Tikal—and it is possible that this is a further part of his name, although perhaps an optional one.

A formula in which the Lady of Tikal conducts a Period Ending while Kaloomte’ Bahlam appears in some secondary context is mirrored on Stela 12 (Jones and Satterthwaite 1982:Fig.17, 18). The rear face of that stone details her ritual acts and genealogy (the latter now sadly broken away), while its left side describes the monument itself as his possession—a point emphasized by the male portrait carved on its front. The left side further tells us that Kaloomte’ Bahlam was counted as Tikal’s 19th king, placing him as the next male ruler after Chak Tok Ich’aak II, who had died in 508.(5) Taking these clues together, we can infer that the Lady of Tikal was a queen by right of descent from an earlier king—presumably Chak Tok Ich’aak II—whereas Kaloomte’ Bahlam probably gained his position only via his association with her. The simplest explanation is that they were a married couple, even though the age difference between them may have been considerable (Stela 10 suggests that Kaloomte’ Bahlam was militarily active as early as 486). The partially surviving sign at C18 on Temple VI seems to be a possessed noun of some kind and could define the relationship between them. The destroyed block at D18 offers room to complete the name of Kaloomte’ Bahlam, while D19 may be the beginning of a new Distance Number.

Exactly when he assumed his kingly office is unclear. A different male, a bearer of the noble ti’huun epithet who used the same personal name as the later king Animal Skull, was another close associate of the Lady of Tikal. Depicted on Stela 8, he may have been the guardian of her early reign (see Zender 2004:333-338). Clarifications of her relationships were doubtless once supplied on other monuments from this period, most of which are now in a sorry state of preservation. An important inauguration statement on one of them, Stela 10, concludes with the plural suffix –taak, apparently directly after an ajaw title, as if to mark the ascent of more than one character. Complicating matters, the badly effaced date of this accession does not seem to match the one cited on Stela 23 for the Lady of Tikal. Much remains to be learned here.

Despite the unconventional nature of a female monarch this does not appear to be a period of significant weakness for the kingdom and the Lady of Tikal might even be credited with foreign influence, possibly presiding over a lesser ruler at Tamarindito in 534.(6) We do not know the length of her tenure, but it is assumed that she was out of office by the time the 21st Tikal king “arrived” at the city in 537 (Martin 2003:23).(7) At that point she would still have been only 33 years old. That her reign was memorialized on Temple VI, over two centuries after the fact, confirms that there was nothing illegitimate about her status or that of the co-rulership arrangement in general. While no mention of building activities are made in this passage, the unexplained insertion of these two characters into the narrative could imply that an earlier version of Temple VI was built under their direction (Stuart 2007a; Martin, forthcoming).


My thanks go to Stephen Houston and Marc Zender for helpful comments on a draft of this posting and Jorge Pérez de Lara for supplying the image used in Figure 1. I also wish to acknowledge Philippe Galeev, whose own investigations and queries about the Temple VI text provoked my return to the monument, and an informative correspondence with Dmitri Beliaev based on his work with the Atlas Epigráfico de Petén project.


(1) For the complete inscription, as drawn by William Coe, see Jones 1977:Fig.9, 18, 19 or, in its proper architectural context, Miller 1986:Fig.42a, b.

(2) Marc Zender suggested the nominalized form of k’altuun used here.

(3) Versions of both the childhood and regnal names for the Lady of Tikal appear in their expected temporal sequence on an unpublished stela Vilma Fialko excavated at Tres Cabezas, a site in the periphery of Tikal. This again recounts the queen’s completion of the Period Ending of 514.

(4) My thanks go to Dmitri Beliaev for checking this observation with the collection of photographs he took in 2014 in collaboration with Oswaldo Gómez of IDAEH and a complete re-documentation of the Temple VI inscription under the auspices of the Atlas Epigráfico de Petén.

(5) To judge from evidence elsewhere queens were omitted from official dynastic counts. David Stuart (pers. comm. 1999) noted the death-date for Chak Tok Ich’aak II on Tonina M.160 (Graham et al. 2006).

(6) Tamarindito Stela 2 (Gronemeyer 2013:Pl.5) records the Period Ending performed by a local king who appears to be supervised by someone bearing the distinctive name of the Tikal founder YAX-EHB-(XOOK) superimposed with the female agentive IX.

(7) At some point we must account for the missing 20th Tikal king, though it is quite possible that he was a further spouse or guardian of the queen in the later part of her reign.

Sources Cited

Berlin, Heinrich. 1951. El Templo de las inscripciones—VI de Tikal. Antropología e Historia de Guatemala 3(1):33-54.

Graham, Ian, Lucia R. Henderson, Peter Mathews, and David Stuart. 2006. Corpus of Maya Hieroglyphic Inscriptions, Vol. 9, Part 2: Tonina. Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology, Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Gronemeyer, Sven. 2013. Monuments and Inscriptions of Tamarindito, Peten, Guatemala. Acta Mesoamericana 25. Verlag Anton Saurwein, Markt Schwaben.

Houston, Stephen, and Karl Taube. 2000. An Archaeology of the Senses: Perception and Cultural Expression in Ancient Mesoamerica. Cambridge Archaeological Journal 10(2):261-294.

Jones, Christopher. 1977. Inauguration dates of three Late Classic rulers of Tikal, Guatemala. American Antiquity 42:28-60.

Jones, Christopher, and Linton Satterthwaite. 1982. The Monuments and Inscriptions of Tikal: The Carved Monuments. Tikal Report No.33, Part A. University Museum Monograph 44. The University Museum, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia.

Martin, Simon. 1999. The Queen of Middle Classic Tikal. In Pre-Columbian Art Research Newsletter 27:4-5. Pre-Columbian Art Research Institute, San Francisco.

__________. 2003. In Line of the Founder: A View of Dynastic Politics at Tikal. In Tikal: Dynasties, Foreigners, and Affairs of State, edited by Jeremy A. Sabloff, pp. 3-45. School of American Research Advanced Seminar Series, School of American Research Press and James Curry, Santa Fe and Oxford.

__________. Forthcoming. The Dedication of Tikal Temple VI: A Revised Chronology. In The PARI Journal.

Martin, Simon, and Nikolai Grube. 2000. Chronicle of the Maya Kings and Queens: Deciphering the Dynasties of the Ancient Maya. Thames and Hudson, London and New York.

Mathews, Peter. 2001[1979]. Notes on the Inscriptions on the Back of Dos Pilas Stela 8. In The Decipherment of Ancient Maya Writing, edited by Stephen Houston, Oswaldo Chinchilla Mazariegos, and David Stuart, pp.394-415. University of Oklahoma Press, Norman.

Miller, Arthur G. 1986. Maya Rulers of Time: A Study of Architectural Sculpture at Tikal, Guatemala. The University Museum, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia.

Satterthwaite, Linton, and Christopher Jones. 1965. Memoranda on the Text of Structure 6F-27 at Tikal (“Temple of the Inscriptions,” “Temple VI”). Unpublished manuscript in the Tikal Project Archive, University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, Philadelphia.

Schele, Linda. 1987. New Data on the Paddlers from Butz’-Chan of Copán. Copán Note 29. Copan Mosaics Project and Instituto Hondureño de Antropologia e Historia.

Stone, Andrea, and Marc Uwe Zender. 2010. Reading Maya Art. Thames and Hudson, London.

Stuart, David. 1984. Royal Auto-sacrifice among the Maya: A Study of Image and Meaning. Res: Anthropology and Aesthetics 7/8:6-20.

_________. 1997. Kinship Terms in Mayan Inscriptions. In The Language of Maya Hieroglyphs, edited by Martha J. Macri and Anabel Ford, pp. 1-11. Pre-Columbian Art Research Institute, San Francisco.

_________. 2005. The Inscriptions from Temple XIX at Palenque: A Commentary. Pre-Columbian Art Research Institute, San Francisco.

_________. 2007a. “White Owl Jaguar”: A Tikal Royal Ancestor. Maya Decipherment: http://decipherment.wordpress.com

_________. 2007b. The Maya Hieroglyphs for Mam, “Grandfather, Grandson, Ancestor”. http://decipherment.wordpress.com

Zender, Marc Uwe. 2004 A Study of Classic Maya Priesthood. PhD thesis, University of Calgary.

Deathly Sport

by Stephen Houston, Brown University

On a scorching day in July 2006, my wife and I happened to visit a Roman necropolis at Carmona, just east of Sevilla, Spain – not for nothing is this called the sartén de Europa, with temperatures in excess of 46° celsius! But there, at Roman “Carmo,” the tombs were cool, richly painted in parts. Some dozens of meters away, we saw a triclinium (formal dining room) for funerary banquets and an amphitheater to house games in honor of the dead.

The ancient Mediterranean has a long tradition of such games. Homer, in the Iliad, speaks with appreciative bloodlust of the sporting events for Patroclus, the late, beloved companion of Achilles: “Raising their arms, their powerful fists, they [the participants] went at one another. Their hands exchanged some heavy punches, landing with painful crunches on their jaws. From their limbs sweat ran down everywhere” (Bk 23, lines 847-851, trans. Ian Johnston). Ultimately, the tradition passed to the Lucanians at Paestum, south of Naples —where the scene of a gladiatorial fray embellishes the walls of a tomb—to what may be the first gladiatorial contests, also funerary, held at Rome in 264 BC (Potter 2012:187-190). In all such cases, the games pulsed with recollection of once-vibrant dead. As John Bodel, a friend and Latin epigraphist reminds me, the nuances were further layered to include the most basic struggle of all, between life and death (see Ville 1981).

Was some Maya ballplay of a mortuary nature too? Did the hurly-burly of sacred sport—a celebration of chance but also of preparation and athletic skill—link to royal tombs?

The grimmer features of the Post-Classic (to early Colonial) ballgame bear repeating. The Xibalba of the Popol Vuh, an abode of gods with names like mortal diseases, thudded with ballplay. It was in a ballcourt that the lords of Xibalba buried the defeated brothers One Hunahpu and Seven Hunahpu (Christenson 2007:125). Hunahpuh and Xbalanque, miraculous sons of One Hunahpu, later played in the “ballcourt of their father,” “sweeping [it] clear” (ibid.:125). When they bested the lords of Xibalba, the twins “left behind” the “heart of their father [One Hunahpu]…at Crushing Ballcourt” (ibid.:191). “Here you will called upon’…‘They shall worship you first. Your name shall not be forgotten’” (ibid.:191).

The Popol Vuh, a much later source, does not always resonate with practices and beliefs of the Classic period. Yet here it might, in what appear to be precise or notional alignments between the central axis of a ballcourt and a known royal tomb.

The more precise examples:

(1) At Dos Pilas, Guatemala, the ballcourt composed of Structures L4-17 and L4-16 (Houston 1993:Site Map 1) defines an axis that passes directly south to a pyramid, Structure L5-1. Excavations in 1991 showed that the pyramid contained the tomb of Dos Pilas’ Ruler 2, in a crypt almost precisely aligned with the axis of the ballcourt (Figure 1; Demarest et al. 1991). The sculptures on the ballcourt, Panels 11 and 12, deploy a version of the Dos Pilas Emblem that dates a generation or so later than the pyramid (Houston 1993:Figures 3-17, 3-18).

Figure 1. Alignment of ballcourt and pyramid at Dos Pilas, Guatemala, with red rectangle indicating location of royal tomb (map by Stephen Houston).
Figure 1. Alignment of ballcourt and pyramid at Dos Pilas, Guatemala, with red rectangle indicating location of royal tomb (map by Stephen Houston).

(2) The small ballcourt near Temple I at Tikal, Guatemala (Structure 5D-74-1st), has a central axis aligning with Burial 116, tomb of Jasaw Kaan K’awiil, ruler of Tikal (Figure 2; Coe 1990:Figures 257b, 284-86). There is an earlier ballcourt—said vaguely to be “within a regional ‘Early Classic’ era (whatever this attribution may communicate to reader)” (Coe 1990:650). It aligns almost exactly with Burial 116. Conceivably, the earlier ballcourt dictated the placement of Burial 116, which is off-center in the pyramid, below ground level and towards the front. Again, the crypt lines up with the axis of Structure 5D-74-1st and 2nd.

Figure 2. Alignment of Str. FD-74 with Burial 116 under Temple 1; earlier ballcourt, where it survives, cue in green (map by the Tikal Project, University of Pennsylvania).
Figure 2. Alignment of Str. FD-74 with Burial 116 under Temple 1; earlier ballcourt, where it survives, cue in green (map by the Tikal Project, University of Pennsylvania).

Then the ballcourts with rougher alignments:

(3) The first ballcourt at Copan, Honduras, dating to ca. AD 470, has a central axis that points to the front stairway of the Margarita tomb, and to the vicinity of Hunal, the probable tomb of the founder (Figure 3; Sharer et al. 2005:Figure 5.2). The axes of the crypts have the same orientation as the ballcourt (Sharer et al. 2005:Figure 5-7).

Figure 3. Alignment of Copan ballcourt with the Margarita building, Hunal building marked in blue (map by the Early Copan Acropolis Program, directed by Robert J. Sharer).
Figure 3. Alignment of Copan ballcourt with the Margarita building, Hunal building marked in blue (map by the Early Copan Acropolis Program, directed by Robert J. Sharer).


(4) A suggestive example comes from Ceibal, Guatemala (Figure 4). Hieroglyphic Stairway 1, in Structure A-14, refers to the “fire-entering” of a tomb on Nov. 4, AD 747 (Graham 1996:59, Tablet 5:DD1). Presumably, the tomb lay nearby, perhaps behind the stairway, which seems to have been re-set in Classic times. Across from the stairway, but not precisely aligned with its axis, is the Structure A-19 ballcourt; its orientation leads to the join between Structures A-12 and A-14. Takeshi Inomata, who has been digging at Ceibal over the last years, kindly reports on what his project found. Digging in the southern end of Structure A-12, they discovered that the “construction mass dates to the Late Preclassic. Thin Late and Terminal Classic layers were sitting on the Preclassic building”; Takeshi also noted some evidence of an earlier Late Classic building beneath Structure A-14 (personal communication, July 2014). The question remains whether there is still a tomb to be found. The hieroglyphic text would indicate so (Stuart 1998:398, fn. 13).

Figure 4. Alignment of Ceibal A-19 ballcourt with possible tomb to the east (map by Ian Graham, Corpus of Maya Hieroglyphic Inscriptions Project).
Figure 4. Alignment of Ceibal A-19 ballcourt with possible tomb to the east (map by Ian Graham, Corpus of Maya Hieroglyphic Inscriptions Project).

(Incidentally, we have long assumed that the tomb mentioned on the Hieroglyphic Stairway belonged to a figure from the Early Classic period—someone named K’an Mo’ Bahlam. But I see no compelling reason to believe this, as the only date here is firmly Late Classic. To be sure, there is an Early Classic lord of Ceibal mentioned on Tablet 7, position MM1, of the Hieroglyphic Stairway, but with a different name. Notably, he is said to have played ball, pi-tzi!)

(5) A final example appears at the more distant location of Chichen Itza, Mexico, with a date some centuries later than #1-4. There, the Great Ballcourt lines up, at least approximately, with the enigmatic but suitably named Osario or “High Priest’s Grave,” the sole locus of attested royal burials at Chichen (Figure 5; Ruppert 1935; also Thompson 1938). The Great Ballcourt and the Osario date to about the same time, c. AD 1000-1100 AD (Braswell and Peniche May 2012:238).

Figure 5.  Alignment between the Great Ballcourt and the Osario at Chichen Itza (map by J. O. Kilmartin and J. P. O’Neil, with emendations by Karl Ruppert, Carnegie Institution of Washington).
Figure 5. Alignment between the Great Ballcourt and the Osario at Chichen Itza (map by J. O. Kilmartin and J. P. O’Neil, with emendations by Karl Ruppert, Carnegie Institution of Washington).

An empirical pattern doth not a theory make. Yet, at some sites, the Maya may have configured two buildings in unison. One contained a known or likely tomb or tombs, as at Chichen. (There must have been sustained knowledge of sub-surface remains.) The other was a ballcourt, its corridor pointing to a tomb, often at the same orientation. Several alignments seem more notional than precise, uncertain to satisfy a skeptic. And a few, as in my excavations with Héctor Escobedo at Structure K-5, Piedras Negras, could even be cenotaphic (Houston et al. 2008). A ballcourt, Structure K-6, lines up with a pyramid to a deceased queen but not, alas, to her tomb…or at least not one that we could find! (It could still lie off-axis, as we were only able to dig by means of a 2x2m shaft.) We do know the pyramid came first, and that the ballcourt, with its famous image of boxers, was a slightly later construction. In a personal communication, David Stuart also wonders whether Monument 171 at Tonina might be relevant (Stuart 2013): it shows a deceased lord playing with one still living.

Wendy Ashmore has written about ballcourt locations, emphasizing their southern position as “underworld” places of “transition” (Ashmore 1992:178, 179). I would mute her emphasis on “south” and suggest instead the dead could be to the north, south, and east too. Direction did not matter in these examples. Far more important was a specific mortuary intent and not, in Wendy’s words, a “cosmic template.” The fact that the glyph for tombs so often resembles half of the sign for a ballcourt—distinguished solely by the skull inside, nestled within a dark space (Stuart 1998:Figure 13)—raises the specter of a proposal. As in the Popol Vuh, some ballcourts bustled with the living but directed that activity towards the dead.

Acknowledgements: Takeshi Inomata of the University of Arizona generously responded to my questions about his excavations at Ceibal; Dave Stuart, too, helped with comments, as did John Bodel. I prepared some of these remarks for a workshop on Piedras Negras at Dumbarton Oaks, as facilitated by Dr. Colin McEwan, Joanne Pillsbury, and Mary Pye.


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Ruppert, Karl. 1935. The Caracol at Chichen Itza, Yucatan, Mexico. Carnegie Institution of Washington, Publication 454. Carnegie Institution of Washington, DC.

_____________. 1952 Chichen Itza: Architectural Notes and Plans. Carnegie Institution of Washington, Publication 595. Washington, D.C.: Carnegie Institution of Washington.

Sharer, Robert J., David W. Sedat, Loa P. Traxler, Julia C. Miller, and Ellen E. Bell. 2005. Early Classic Royal Power in Copan: The Origins and Development of the Acropolis (ca. A.D. 250-600). In Copán: The History of an Ancient Maya Kingdom, edited by E. Wyllys Andrews and William L Fash, pp. 139-199. School of American Research Press, Santa Fe.

Stuart, David. 1998. “The Fire Enters His House”: Architecture and Ritual in Classic Maya Texts. In Function and Meaning in Classic Maya Architecture, edited by Stephen D. Houston, pp. 373-425. Dumbarton Oaks, Washington D.C.

Stuart, David. 2013. Tonina’s Curious Ballgame. http://mayadecipherment.com/2013/06/11/report-toninas-curious-ballgame/

Thompson, Edward H. 1938. The High Priest’s Grave, Chichen Itza, Yucatan, Mexico. Anthropological Series, Field Museum of Natural History 27(1). Chicago.

Ville, Georges. 1981. La gladiature en Occident des origines à la mort de Domitien. Bibliothèque des écoles françaises d’Athènes et de Rome, fasc. 245e. Ecole française de Rome, Rome.

Naachtun’s Stela 24 and the Entrada of 378

by David Stuart (The University of Texas at Austin)

A recent press announcement in Guatemala revealed the discovery of two important early stelae at the site of Naachtun. The monuments are in bad shape, but one stela contains interesting and important information on aspects of the now famous entrada of Sihyaj K’ahk’ into the Peten region in 378 A.D.

Stela 24 from Naachtun, Guatemala. Photograph by Ignacio Cases.
Stela 24 from Naachtun, Guatemala. Photograph by Ignacio Cases.

As the project epigraphers Alfonso Lacadena and Ignacio Cases note, Stela 24 names a local ruler of Naachtun who is said to be the y-ajaw or y-ajawte’ (“vassal”, roughly) of Sihyaj K’ahk’ himself. The inscription references the dates 9 Oc 13 Mac and  10 Chuen 14 Mac — two sequential days before the stated arrival of Sihyaj K’ahk’ to Tikal on 11 Eb 15 Mac. One might surmise that this indicates Sihyaj K’ahk’s actual presence at Naachtun as he was making his way to Tikal, but it should be cautioned that the text merely states a political relationship, not an itinerary. This is itself important, for the inscription might well imply that Sihyaj K’ahk’ had some sort of political infrastructure in place in the Peten before his arrival to Tikal. Remarkable.

Back in 2000 I published an analysis of the historical texts surrounding the “11 Eb episode” in which I made the case that Sihyaj K’ahk’s arrived into the central Peten from the west and caused a major political disruption at Tikal and Uaxactun (Stuart 2000). Whoever Sihyaj K’ahk’ was — and we still don’t know much — he apparently had some significant political backing from Teotihuacan. Today we take the Teotihuacan entrada interpretation largely for granted, yet it is important to remember that in the late 1980s and 1990s the prevailing interpretation of the 378 event was very different, seeing it as a far more localized conflict between Tikal and Uaxactun. This was presented in dramatic fashion in Chapter 4 of Schele and Friedel’s A Forest of Kings (1990:130-164). My 2000 paper went against that grain and was quite controversial when it appeared. Nevertheless, subsequent finds at sites such as El Peru, La Sufricaya, and now Naachtun have demonstrated how the arrival of 378 was indeed a major disruption involving “strangers” from afar (to echo Proskouriakoff’s original insights) and resulting in wide-ranging changes in the politics and history of the Early Classic Maya.

Marcador och-ch'een
The och ch’een conquest glyph from the Marcador of Tikal.

In the years since that paper was written I’ve become even more convinced that the arrival of Sihyaj K’ahk’ was an outright conquest. Perhaps the most compelling and direct textual evidence comes from the so-called Marcador text of Tikal, in the passage that describes the arrival event in some detail. Here we see a secondary phrase introduced by the verb och ch’een, “enters the town,” or “enters the territory.” It’s a gorgeously rendered glyph (see photo) showing a snake’s tail (OCH) entering into the eye of the owl that is the head-variant of CH’EEN. There can be no mistake of its reading; och ch’een is awell-known term for military conquest found throughout Maya inscriptions, at sites such as Palenque and Dzibanche. This key piece of evidence supports the conquest model very explicitly, although I didn’t have it well-formed in my mind when I wrote that earlier analysis. (The CH’EEN reading came in 1998 or so, just as I wrote and circulated a first draft).

Of course there is still much we do not understand about the 378 entrada and its long-lasting repercussions. Even so, the broad outlines are discernible enough to allow us to say that the conquest of that year was a turning point in ancient Maya history. We now know that it was not a local conflict, but a transformative episode for the Early Classic period in general, instigated one way or another by Teotihuacan and its powerful political influence and military might. Its memory lasted for generations among the elite of the Maya lowlands, and had far-reaching effects on the political and ideological culture of the later Classic Maya.

Sources Cited

Schele, Linda, and David Freidel. A Forest of Kings: The Untold Story of the Ancient Maya. William Morrow, New York.

Stuart, David. 2000. The “Arrival of Strangers”: Teotihuacan and Tollan in Classic Maya History. In Mesoamerica’s Classic Heritage: From Teotihuacan to the Aztecs, ed. by D. Carrasco, L. Jones, and S. Sessions, pp. 465-514. University Press of Colorado, Boulder.

Deciphering the Tikal Emblem Glyph

The Tikal emblem glyph, MUT-la.
The Tikal emblem glyph, MUT-la, from the inscription on Tikal, Stela 31 (photograph by D. Stuart).

by David Stuart

Back in 1993 — over a k’atun ago — I circulated a short note to colleagues about a proposed decipherment of the Tikal emblem glyph main sign as the logogram MUT. Around the same time, working independently, my colleague Christian Prager developed much the same argument. The details behind this proposal weren’t ever circulated much more widely or published, so I here share a copy of the original hand-written note (I now must wonder why I wrote it out by hand and didn’t type the thing!).

As one can see in the short note, the evidence for the reading was fairly simple. I first pointed out that the principal variants of the Tikal emblem sign (also used for a time in the Petexbatun region at Dos Pilas and Aguateca) originated as representations of tied hair. This was perhaps best revealed to me by jade figurine I excavated in Copan back in 1987 (in the dedicatory cache of the Hieroglyphic Stairway) and illustrated in the note. The figure wears a tied huun headband, and the back of the figure’s head looks identical to the most familiar variant of the Tikal emblem. I next pointed out that another version of the knotted hair emblem sign used in the Petexbatun region often takes a mu- syllable prefix. Further, in a personal name at Yaxchilan, the emblem sign also takes a -tu suffix, presumably also as a phonetic complement (an eroded text from nearby Dos Caobas my show a full mu-tu substitution, but it’s hard to confirm at the moment). These clues pointed to MUT as a possible reading, and the following entry in the Diccionario Maya Cordemex of Yucatec Mayan seemed to lend support to the possibility: mut pol, rodete hacer la mujer de sus cabellos (a plait or braid women make with their hair).

In the context of the emblem glyph the knotted-hair sign routinely takes a -la suffix (as do a number of other EG main signs, as in BAAK-la at Palenque, KAAN-la for Dzibanche and Calakmul). This would indicate that the court name centered at Tikal and also in the Petexbatun region was Mutal or, more likely, Mutul — forms probably reflected in the historical place names Motul de San Jose and Motul, Yucatan.

The 1993 note on the Tikal emblem glyph decipherment.