Pehk and “Parliaments”

by Stephen Houston, Brown University

Mayan languages often refer to assemblies, convocations, and gatherings.

Colonial Tzotzil speaks of ch’akob k’op, a meeting marked by deliberative speech. In the same language, tzoblej, “gathering,” denotes an accumulation of people (Laughlin 1988, I:174, 195, 257). A language of roughly of similar date, Ch’olti’ offers molo, “gather” [congrejar], and pacte, “gather people” [congregar jente] (Robertson et al. 2010:307, 327).

Such encounters can take subtle shadings. Ch’orti’, a descendant of Ch’olti’, labels one kind of meeting—a person overtaking another—by its own special descriptive. This is tahwi, perhaps in the sense of “find,” or, as embedded within a phrase, intahwi a’ani ni tatar ta bi’ir, “I met (or overtook) my father on the trail” (Wisdom 1950:659; see also Robertson et al. 2010:63). What these words emphasize is the act of people moving in space to interact with others.

Another word, pehk, beckons here. First studied by perceptive colleagues (Beliaev and Davletshin 2002; Beliaev and Safronov 2004, 2009; Hull 2000:17), its detection in Maya writing stems, it seems, from an unpublished observation by Werner Nahm (Schele and Grube 1997:96-97). Pehk is attested in all Ch’olan languages. Examples from Ch’olti’ are largely nominalized, including pehcahel [pehkahel] as well as the more weighty, even judicial chacpehcahel, “final [great] judgment” or “sentence” (Robertson et al. 2010:327). The sense is of serious language, words that communicate power, command, and consequence. In Morán’s “religious section,” our best source on fuller phrases in Ch’olti’, pehkahel is a benediction from saints and angels and, ultimately, the word of God (Robertson et al. 2010:46, 48, 52, 59, 88, 101, 102 103, 105, 106, 107, 109-110, 164, 165, 168, 198). The momentous, confessional implications are clear. A pehkahel promises salvation; as a satanic lie, it endangers the soul.

Pehk goes back to Common Ch’olan *pehk-ä , a transitive verb meaning to “call” or to “talk” (Kaufman and Norman 1984:128). There are many descendants. Modern Chontal employs pekän, “call to conversation” (Smailus 1975:163), Ch’ol the very similar pejkan, “speak with” or “read aloud,” but also the more racy (and presumably related) “fall in love” and “copulate with” (Aulie and Aulie 1998:92). Ch’orti’, too, the gold standard for glyphs, presents a full range of terms, some verbal, others transformed into nouns (Wisdom 1950:562-563; sources marked “PM” are from Pérez Martínez et al. 1996:166).

pehk, “a call, a shout”
pehka, “call or shout to, call one’s name, speak”
pejka, “call, invite, invoke, read” (PM)
pehkar, “call, shout, greeting”
pehkse, “command, summon”
pehksah, “command, summons, a summons”
ah pehksah, “Indian summoner (called ‘third alcalde’) at the pueblo juzgado”
pejna’r , “call, invitation, convocation” (PM, note the elided /k/)

These terms involve (1) vocalizations, often loud ones, (2) an insistent summons to serious talk, and (3) at least two parties. There is a summoner and another who hears and obeys that command. Pehk strongly encourages others to come close for further talk.

Figure 1. The pe syllable in Landa’s abecedario (photograph by George Stuart).

Figure 1. The pe syllable in Landa’s abecedario (photograph by George Stuart).

As Nahm had doubtless noticed, pehk is detectible in Maya writing by means of Bishop de Landa’s abecedario (Figure 1). The relevant sign, a syllable, lurks to the side, accompanied by an inverted “v” to signal insertion. The sign itself is an animal head, at least to judge from its dots for whiskers near the snout and long dropping ear. Above, the letter p advertises its syllabic value.

Landa’s abecedario is quite consistent in the matter of contrast. It places an unglottalized consonant just before a glottalized one. Accordingly, ka appears before k’a and ku before k’u. Landa’s p’e [pp by Colonial Yukateko spelling, a glyph that occurs in Classic texts too) should thus follow pe. Obviously, there was a mistake, and the scribe had to improvise with an awkward insertion. As for the vowel, e, that would be expected from the Spanish pronunciation of the letter.

But why did Landa, or whoever copied the manuscript, drop the syllable and then fuss to insert it? The answer may come from the way in which the Relación was assembled. When transferred from some earlier source—the manuscript cannot be original to Landa himself—the list of syllables was botched, I suspect, by mechanical and inattentive copying. The mistake is telling. Historians have increasingly seen the Relación as a “complex and messy” document compiled over one or two centuries (Restall and Chuchiak 2002:664).

With the abecedario, the challenge has always been, from Knorosov’s time on, to relate a particular sign to its Classic-era precursor. As observed by Nahm et al., the most obvious candidate is the rabbit head, T759 in Eric Thompson’s signary, with its distinctive flint markings in the ear. The sign is neither common nor vanishingly rare. (I do not regard all rabbit heads in the script as having this reading, e.g., the ko-?-ma on K5164 and Dos Pilas Panel 15:F1; the extension of pe to other examples warrants caution; cf. Beliaev 2004:122, fig. 2.) One context, from the name for the kingdom and place of La Mar, Chiapas, appends an ‘e syllable (Figure 2; see also Beliaev 2004:129 fn. 1). This expanded spelling reinforces the likely vowel of the rabbit head—a feature indicated by the abecedario itself—and argues that, as a proposal, pe is correct. For specialists, it also yields a probable reading of pe-‘e TUUN-ni AJAW for the La Mar title (see Tonina Monument 91:pD1) or pe-‘e-TUUN-ni for its physical location (Piedras Negras 4:H1, in a reference to the founding, K’OT?-yi, of that city in the late 6th century AD).

Figure 2 pe'tuun

Figure 2. Glyphs for La Mar and its lord: (a) Piedras Negras Panel 4:H1 (photograph by Teobert Maler); and (b) Tonina Monument 91:pD1 (drawing by Ian Graham, Corpus of Maya Hieroglyphic Inscriptions Project, Harvard University).

The meaning of pe’ remains elusive, but the word could highlight a feature of the landscape. Chontal pe’, “crest,” is suggestive in this respect (Keller and Luciano 1997:191), and, in fact, Charles Golden informs me that La Mar lies at the base of a sierra—the “crest”?– separating the city from the Santo Domingo Valley to the west (personal communication, 2014). For his part, David Stuart wonders whether some of the rabbit heads deploy a “doubler,” perhaps to write pe-pe (personal communication, 2014; see Piedras Negras, Stela 16, D5). Other examples may elucidate the matter.

Figure 3. Summons of gods (Dresden 8a).

Figure 3. Summons of gods (Dresden 8a).

As noted by colleagues, pehk occurs in the Postclassic Dresden Codex. There, it appears as a passive verb, pehkaj, invoking, calling to, inviting, particular gods (Figure 3). The agent is unspecified, however—was it the person doing the reading and, in a sense, “activating” the document? In the Dresden, a few pehk appear to be nominalized (D14a). Two features need added mention. The first is that almost all the deities extend their hands, a gesture indicating speech, as Karl Taube pointed out to me long ago. On one page, where speech itself may be intended (D14a), their mouths gape open, as though projecting sound. The second feature is that the examples on D14a surely cue pehk but use only pe. There are no ka syllables to complete the spellings. I suspect the final velar consonant was omitted with no loss of meaning. Perhaps it was uttered as a glottal—and, to be sure, it gives pause about the reading of the La Mar sign, which may connote other possibilities than simply pe’. Modern Ch’orti’ shows the operation of consonant assimilation in one secure case: *pejkna’r > pejna’r. Under certain conditions, the k appears, then, to be optional or elided, an attribute to be revisited below.                       

What intrigues us here is the appearance of pehk in the Usamacinta drainage and beyond, all during the Classic period. Beliaev, Davletshin, and Safronov draw useful attention to the spellings on the Denver and Brussels panels (so-named from the repositories of these works), as well as a reference on Bonampak (BPK) Sculptured Stone 5. However, I wish to explore the broader implications of these references and others, beyond the details of local history.

Figure 4. Bonampak Sculptured Stone 5 (close-up from Claudia Brittenham).

Figure 4.

The act of pehk, “call, summon, invite,” occurs in very particular contexts. One of them is BPK Sculptured Stone 5 (Biro 2011:50-51). It presents a well-defined succession of events. Exactly 4 winal (80 days) before a Bonampak ruler’s accession on 9.10.10.8.16, June 1, AD 643, a figure labeled ju-chi-? was “called, summoned” or “invited,” pehkaj. The reference occurs at position H8-H9 on the monument and dates to 9.10.10.4.16, March 13, AD 643 (Figure 4). (The chi occurs in both “hand” or “agave” variants, perhaps with another conflated sign, an animal head.) Apparently, ju-chi-? needed to be in place prior to enthronement. What kind of person was this? High-resolution photos of Bonampak Sculptured Stone 1 suggests that the same person, or at least someone with the same name, also participated in an accession ceremony (Figure 5; Alexandre Tokovinine convinced me the name was not merely a title). It may be that this individual stored or held royal regalia and then proffered them to the new monarch. The main image on Sculpture Stone 5, which depicts a lord lifting a headband jewel of kingship, must pertain to this action. But the main point for this blog: he was “called” or “invited” from somewhere else, by royal summons.

Figure 5. Bonampak Sculptured Stone 1 (close-up from Claudia Brittenham).

Figure 5. Bonampak Sculptured Stone 1 (This and Figure 4 from Claudia Brittenham).

The Denver and Brussels panels have been plausibly interpreted by Beliaev and Safronov as recording a sea change in local politics (Figure 6, Beliaev and Safronov 2009). A ruler of Bonampak was captured on April 8, AD 693 (9.13.1.1.5 3 Chicchan 8 Zip), followed one day later by the summons of a long list of minor figures. Most have toponymic identifers only, suggesting they did not merit more personal references. In Beliaev and Safronov’s interpretation, these lordlings, two of them former companions of the vanquished king of Bonampak, were now compelled to switch sides and present themselves at the court of rival kingdom. Simon Martin tells me that Palenque Hieroglyphic Stairway 1 yields a similar expression, albeit with different historical characters. The Palenque Stairway text also uses the highly enigmatic yi-ta-ji phrase, perhaps in the sense of “co-capture” or “co-submission.”

Figure 6. Brussels Panel (drawing by Alexander Safronov).

Figure 6. Brussels Panel (drawing by Alexander Safronov).

Figure 7. Summons or invitation in Mural of the 96 Glyphs, N1, Acropolis, Room 29sub, Ek Balam (drawing by Alfonso Lacadena).

Figure 7. Summons or invitation in Mural of the 96 Glyphs, N1, Acropolis, Room 29sub, Ek Balam (drawing by Alfonso Lacadena).

The Usumacinta is not the only area to refer to pehk. The Mural of the 96 Glyphs at Ek Balam records what may be a nominalized version of the word. It shows the summons of the “head-throne” attendant (ba-tz’a-ma) of a foreign lord, Chak Jutwi Chan Ek’, by the local ruler, U Kit, (Figure 7, Lacadena García-Gallo 2004:fig. 18b)—the eroded beginning of this text may allude to other figures, too. A yet more intriguing case of geopolitics occurs on the recently discovered Panel 1 of La Corona (Figure 8). Already enthroned as a lord or ajaw, a young magnate from La Corona set off for Calakmul. Six days later, his overlord, Yuknoom Ch’e’n of Calakmul, performed a “calling” or “inviting” (u-pe-ji-?). I believe this expression is a nominalization in which, by expected phonological process, the –k of pehk has been assimilated to its suffixes, ji-?.

The historical scene is easy to imagine. Close your eyes: the sweaty-palmed lord of La Corona paces, cooling his heels after an arduous, mandatory journey. He is then brought into the royal presence on Nov 13, AD 673. An honor but probably fraught with danger. Meeting an overlord always is.

Figure 8. Summons by Yuknoom Ch’e’n. La Corona Panel 1:G4-H6 (drawing by David Stuart).

Figure 8. Summons by Yuknoom Ch’e’n. La Corona Panel 1:G4-H6 (drawing by David Stuart).

The sculptor did not need to indicate who the invited lord might be, for the context made that clear. The motivation must have been to prepare for an event 12 days later. At that time, the sons of Yuknoom Ch’e’n—there were 7 of them—undertook an important ritual, possibly involving the hands, k’ab, that involves elements not yet fully deciphered (?-ba-ja tu-k’a[ba]). My impression is that young lords of a kingdom were asked to attend or witness a ceremony involving more exalted youths.

In larger perspective, pehk resonates with practices elsewhere. Consider the concept of “parliaments” in the European past. These were occasions when, at royal summons, people assembled to talk, negotiate, advise, hear, and obey. They were not always about the Younger Pitt, the assertion of non-noble rights or Charles Fox and Whiggism. In this respect, later associations are unfortunate and unhelpful. Rather, as a word, “parliament,” comes from the plain idea of speaking and talking, parler, in a time of consultation and formal assembly. The English parliament, for example, descends from the Anglo-Saxon witenagemot or witan, a conciliar gathering of high nobles (Maddicott 2010; Roach 2014; but see Fletcher 2011/12:423-424, for distancing of the Parliament from earlier institutions in England). These assemblies established consensus at difficult times, threaded through or adjudicated difficult cases, and allowed noble participation within a framework of regal will. Much the same, as Karl Taube reminds me, inflected the selection of Aztec rulers by a council of lords or some of the deliberations attested for Late Postclassic Yucatan. So too, perhaps, for the Classic Maya. In acts of pehk, underlings were called and invited, summoned to the royal presence. That these events coincided with dynastic turbulence—war, succession, perhaps the acknowledgement of successors and overlords—hints at how certain kings ruled, by decree and suasion, through spoken invitations that had to be accepted.

Acknowledgements:

Alexandre Tokovinine and, indirectly, Dmitri Beliaev, were most helpful with sources and access to a public presentation by Dmitri and his colleagues, Albert Davletshin and Alexandre Safronov. Alex and Simon Martin, too, corrected my view of certain dates and passages. Charles Golden helped with the physical positioning of La Mar, and Claudia Brittenham came to the rescue with high-resolution images of panels at Bonampak.

Sources Cited:

Aulie, Wilbur, and Evelyn W. de Aulie. 1978. [ed. Emily F. Scharfe de Stairs] Diccionario Ch’ol de Tumbalá, Chiapas, con variaciones dialectales de Tila y Sabanilla. Instituto Lingüístico de Verano, Mexico City.

Beliaev, Dmitri D. 2004. Wayaab’ Title in Maya Hieroglyphic Inscriptions: On the Problem of Religious Specialization in Classic Maya Society. In Maya Religious Practices: Processes of Change and Adaptation, Graña Behrens, Daniel, Nikolai Grube, Christian Prager, Frauke Sachse, Stefanie Teufel and Elisabeth Wagner, eds., pp. 121-130. Acta Mesoamericana, 14. Verlag Anton Saurwein, Markt Schwaben.

Beliaev, Dmitri D., and Albert Davletshin. 2002. Syllabic Sign for [pe] in the Classic Period. Unpublished manuscript.

Beliaev, Dmitri D., and Alexander Safronov 2004. Ak’e I Shukal’nakh: Istoriia I Politicheskaia Geografiia Gosudarstv Maiia Verkhnei Usumasinty [Ak'e and Shukalnah: History and Political Geography Maya states of the Upper Usumacinta]. In Drevnii Vostok I Antichnyi Mir. Trudy Kafedry Istorii Drevnego Mira Istoricheskogo Fakulteta Mgu, pp. 119-142. vol. 6, Moskva.

Beliaev Dmitri D., and Alexander Safronov. 2009. Saktzi, Ake, and, Xukalnaah: Reinterpreting the Political Geography of the Upper Usumasinta Region. Paper presented at the 14th European Maya Conference (November 13–14, 2009), https://www.academia.edu/7982378/Saktzi_Ake_and_Xukalnaah_Reinterpreting_the_Political_Geography_of_the_Upper_Usumasinta_Region_with_Alexander_Safronov_.

Bíró, Péter. 2011. Las piedras labradas 2, 4 y 5 de Bonampak y los reyes de Xukulnah en el siglo VII. Estudios de Cultura Maya XXIX:31-61.

Fletcher, Christopher. 2011/12. Review of John R. Maddicott, The Origins of the English Parliament, 924-1327. Revue historique 658: 423-424.

Hull, Kerry. 2000. Cosmological and Ritual Language in Ch’orti’. Report to the Foundation for the Advancement of Mesoamerican Studies, Inc. http://www.famsi.org/reports/99036/99036Hull01.pdf

Kaufman, Terrence S., and William M. Norman. 1984 An Outline of Proto-Cholan Phonology, Morphology, and Vocabulary. In John S. Justeson and Lyle Campbell, eds., Phoneticism in Mayan Hieroglyphic Writing, 77-166. Publication No. 9. Albany: Institution for Mesoamerican Studies, State University of New York at Albany.

Keller, Kathryn C., and Plácido Luciano Gerónimo. 1997. Diccionario Chontal de Tabasco. Instituto Lingüístico de Verano, Mexico City.

Kettunen, Hari, and Christophe Helmke. 2011. Introduction to Maya Hieroglyphs: XVI European Maya Conference. 12th ed. http://www.wayeb.org/download/resources/wh2011english.pdf.

Lacadena García-Gallo, Alfonso. 2004. The Glyphic Corpus from Ek’ Balam, Yucatán, México. Report to the Foundation for the Advancement of Mesoamerican Studies, Inc. http://www.famsi.org/reports/01057/.

Laughlin, Robert M. 1988. The Great Tzotzil Dictionary of Santa Domingo Zinacantán. 3 vols. Smithsonian Contributions to Anthropology, Number 31. Smithsonian Institution Press, Washington, DC.

Maddicott, John R. The Origins of the English Parliament, 924-1327. Oxford University Press, Oxford.

Pérez Martínez, Vitalino, Federico García, Felipe Martínez, and Jeramias López. 1996. Diccionario Ch’orti’, Jocotán, Chiquimula. Proyecto Lingüístico Francisco Marroquin, Antigua Guatemala.

Restall, Matthew, and John F. Chuchiak. 2002. A Reevaluation of the Authenticity of Fray Diego de Landa’s Relación de las cosas de Yucatán. Ethnohistory 49(3):651-669.

Roach, Levi. 2014. Kingship and Consent in Anglo-Saxon England, 871–978: Assemblies and the State in the Early Middle Ages. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.

Robertson, John S., Danny Law, and Robbie Haertel. 2010. Colonial Ch’olti’: The Seventeenth-Century Morán Manuscript. University of Oklahoma Press, Norman.

Schele, Linda, and Nikolai Grube. 1997. Workbook for the Maya Hieroglyphic Workshop: The Dresden Codex. March 8 -9, 1997. The University of Texas at Austin

Smailus, Ortwin. 1975. El Maya-Chontal de Acalan: Análisis lingüístico de un documento de los años 1610-1612. Centro de Estudios Mayas, UNAM, Mexico City.

Wisdom, Charles. 1950. Materials of the Chorti Language. Middle American Cultural Anthropology Microfilm Series 5, item 28. University of Chicago Library. [Retyped by Brian Stross]

Lagunita’s Unusual “Six Ajaw Stone” Reply

by David Stuart, The University of Texas at Austin

Stela 2 of Lagunita, Campeche. Photo: Ivan Sprajc.

Stela 2 of Lagunita, Campeche. Photo: Ivan Sprajc.

The rediscovery of the ruins of Lagunita, Campeche, by Ivan Sprajc and his team has been widely cited in the news of late. This is indeed an exciting development. The site was first visited back in the 1970s by Eric von Euw, who was then working with Harvard’s Maya Corpus program. He photographed and sketched a few stelae, but after his visit the site of Lagunita became “lost,” at least to archaeologists. When I was working on the Corpus Project, Ian Graham often mentioned to me how much he wanted us to go find Lagunita, but we never had the time given our other commitments in the field.

Figure 2. Lagunita, Stela 2. Photo: Ivan Sprajc.

Figure 2. Lagunita, Stela 2. Photo: Ivan Sprajc.

The hieroglyphic text on Lagunita, Stela 2 is perhaps the most interesting of those I know from the site (solely from von Euw’s photos and drawings; the new project there may reveal more cool things). It is read in individuals rows, not columns, and opens with the date 9.14.0.0.0 6 Ahau 13 Muan (711 A.D.). Thereafter we find a very unusual appearance of the Dedicatory Formula (or, more awkwardly, the “Primary Standard Sequence”) — the stock phrase we so often see on inscribed portable objects, especially ceramic vessels, but hardly ever on stelae. Here the “step” (T’AB?-ya) glyph is the main dedicatory verb, followed by a possessed noun referring to the stele itself: “his carved Six Ajaw stone (wak ajaw tuun).” Back in 2005 I commented on this odd Lagunita text in my overview of the Dedicatory Formula (Stuart 2005) (Figure 3).

Figure 3. Drawing od Dedicatory Formula on Lagunita, Stela 2. From Stuart 2005.

Figure 3. Drawing of Dedicatory Formula on Lagunita, Stela 2. From Stuart 2005.

The name of the ruler is eroded unfortunately, but he seems to be called a “four k’atun lord.”

It’s exciting that Lagunita is now found again, and it will be very interesting to see what other tidbits, epigraphic and otherwise, come from the site.

SOURCES CITED:

Stuart, David. 2005. Glyphs on Pots: Decoding Classic Maya Ceramics. Excerpt from the 2005 Sourcebook for the Maya Meetings, The University of Texas at Austin. Department of Art and Art History, UT Austin, Austin, TX.

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 west 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 9.15.16.7.17 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.

 

References Cited:

Ashmore, Wendy. 1992. Deciphering Maya Architectural Plans. In New Theories on the Ancient Maya, edited by Elin Danien and Robert J. Sharer, pp. 173-184. University Museum, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia.

Braswell, Geoffrey E., and Nancy Peniche May. 2012. In the Shadow of the Pyramid: Excavations of the Great Platform of Chichen Itza. In The Ancient Maya of Mexico: Reinterpreting the Past of the Northern Maya Lowlands, edited by Geoffrey E. Braswell, pp. 229-263. Equinox, London.

Christenson, Allen J. 2007. Popol Vuh: The Sacred Book of the Maya. University of Oklahoma Press, Norman.

Coe, William R. 1990. Excavations in the Great Plaza, North Terrace and North Acopolis of Tikal. Tikal Report 14. 6 vols. University Museum, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia.

Demarest, Arthur, Héctor Escobedo, Juan-Antonio Valdés, Lori Wright, Kitty Emery, and Stephen Houston. 1991 Arqueología, epigrafía y el descubrimiento de una tumba real en el centro ceremonial de Dos Pilas, Peten, Guatemala. U tz’ib 1(1):14-28.

Graham, Ian. 1996. Corpus of Maya Hieroglyphic Inscriptions, Volume 7, Part 1: Seibal. Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology, Harvard University, Cambridge, MA.

Houston, Stephen D. 1993. Hieroglyphs and History at Dos Pilas: Dynastic Politics of the Classic Maya. University of Texas Press, Austin.

Houston, Stephen, Héctor Escobedo, and Zachary Nelson. 2008. Encontrando el contexto para la historia y la historia para el contexto: Excavaciones en la estructura K-5 de Piedras Negras, Guatemala. Mayab 20: 45-63.

Pontrandolfo, Angela, and Agnès Rouveret. 1992. Le tombe dipinte di Paestum. Franco Cosimo Panini, Modena.

Potter, David. 2012. The Victor’s Crown: A History of Ancient Sport from Homer to Byzantium. Oxford University Press, Oxford.

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://decipherment.wordpress.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 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.