Naachtun’s Stela 24 and the Entrada of 378 3

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 8.17.1.4.10 9 Oc 13 Mac and 8.17.1.4.11  10 Chuen 14 Mac — two sequential days before the stated arrival of Sihyaj K’ahk’ to Tikal on 8.17.1.4.12 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.

BOOKS: Place and Identity in Classic Maya Narratives 1

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A New Publication from Dumbarton Oaks:

PLACE AND IDENTITY IN CLASSIC MAYA NARRATIVES

by Alexander Tokovinine

Dumbarton Oaks Pre-Columbian Art and Archaeology Series

Understanding the ways in which human communities define themselves in relation to landscapes has been one of the crucial research questions in anthropology. Place and Identity in Classic Maya Narratives addresses this question in the context of the Classic Maya culture that thrived in the lowlands of the Yucatan peninsula and adjacent parts of Guatemala, Belize, and Western Honduras from 350 to 900 CE. The Classic Maya world of numerous polities, each with its own kings and gods, left a rich artistic and written legacy permeated by shared aesthetics and meaning. Alexandre Tokovinine explores the striking juxtaposition of similar cultural values and distinct political identities by looking at how identities were formed and maintained in relation to place, thus uncovering what Classic Maya landscapes were like in the words of the people who created and experienced them. By subsequently examining the ways in which members of Classic Maya political communities placed themselves on these landscapes, Tokovinine attempts to discern Classic Maya notions of place and community as well as the relationship between place and identity.

Maya Hieroglyphic Syllabary Reply

glyphpg3I recently posted a pdf of a sign syllabary here on Maya Decipherment, under the new header category “Glyph Resources.” A number of other similar charts are available on the internet but many show a few small inaccuracies.  This syllabary only displays the principal variants of some signs and is in no way exhaustive; due to space constraints it omits some less common or obscure variants and forms.

The signs more-or-less reflect the style and paleography used by Maya scribes in the Late Classic period, around 700 A.D.

This is “Version 2″ of the chart, slightly modified from one I prepared for the Sourcebooks of the UT Maya Meetings in 2005. I plan to update the syllabary form time-to-time as new readings or other changes come along.

Maya Hieroglyph Syllabary

ARCHIVES: Glyphs on Pots 1

by David Stuart

At the 2005 Maya Meetings at the University of Texas at Austin I presented a short analysis and overview of the “Dedicatory Formula,” the standardized glyphic text found on countless Maya ceramics and other (mainly) portable objects. This is also sometimes known as the “Primary Standard Sequence” (PSS), following Michael Coe’s original identification. As we came to understand during the 1980s, the Dedicatory Formula is basically a glorified name-tag for important objects and artworks.  At its core is a possessed noun for the thing itself (i.e., “her cup”) and the owner’s personal name. More extended versions add other details, such something about its decorative mode (painted or carved) and function (“for cacao,” for example). The Dedicatory Formula held great meaning in the artistic and economic life of Maya courts during the Early and Late Classic periods, marking personal connections for important prestige objects and gifts.

AltarDF

Here I’m posting a pdf of the 2005 sourcebook that accompanied my part of that year’s presentation, hoping it might be a useful resource. It should be noted that it doesn’t cover everything, and that some of the information here and there might be slightly out of date.

Glyphs on Pots: Decoding Classic Maya Ceramics by David Stuart (pdf file)

ARCHIVES: Poe on Stephens 1

by David Stuart

From time to time some small interesting item from the early days of Maya archaeology catches my eye. For example, I recently came across Edgar Allen Poe’s brief review of John Lloyd Stephens’s Incidents of Travel in Central America Chiapas and Yucatan (1839), from an 1841 issue of Graham’s Magazine. Poe chided Stephens for having mistranslated a couple of lines of Hebrew in his earlier book on Egypt and Arabia, but he had kind things to say about the new work, even though he hadn’t even read it yet(?!):

We are not prepared to say that misunderstandings of this character will be found in the present “Incidents of Travel.”  Of Central America and her antiquities Mr. Stephens may know, and no doubt does know, as much as the most learned antiquarian. Here all is darkness. We have not yet received from the Messieurs Harper a copy of the book, and can only speak of its merits from general report and from the cursory perusal which has been afforded us by the politeness of a friend. The work is certainly a magnificent one — perhaps the most interesting book of travel ever published. An idea has gone abroad that the narrative is confined to descriptions and drawings of Palenque; but this is very far from the case. Mr. S. explored no less than six ruined cities. The “incidents,” moreover, are numerous and highly amusing. The traveller visited these regions at a momentous time, during the civil war, in which Carrera and Morazan were participants. He encountered many dangers, and his hair-breadth escapes are particularly exciting.