Big Writing

by Stephen Houston, Brown University

The biggest text or inscription, discussed in a post by David Stuart (Most Massive Inscription), prompts another question. What is the largest writing, the most sizable character in any known script?

A recent trip to China revealed the most complex sign in that system (58 strokes, for Biángbiáng, a noodle we slurped by full moon, at Ramadan, in the Muslim quarter of Xi’an). In terms of sheer size, however, there are certain texts worth noting in the People’s Republic of China (Figure 1). Cheery red, an auspicious color for that society, they appear on separate billboards looking out from Xiamen in the People’s Republic. The intended recipient is the island of Kinmen or Quemoy in the Republic of China. Size gets the message across, “Peaceful Reunification” and “One Country Two Systems.” Built to last, a text on Quemoy, written in an older form of Chinese script, counters with its own slogan, “Three Principles of the People Unite China.” The declarations seem to be on auto-pilot, in mindless riposte to each other. Perhaps people read or notice them. I doubt it, though.  

Bigger texts, with bigger characters, occur elsewhere. The Hollywood sign, shaved down to 45 ft from its original height of 50 ft, is the most celebrated example (Figure 2). Also from China, recently spied from a rain-soaked Bund in Shanghai, is a garish nighttime display, I♥SH. Judging from floor height, each pixelated letter is about 100 feet high. Western states in the US insist on their own gigantism. To mark a school or university, they disfigure the sides of mountains with capital letters (Figure 3). The good people of Quartzsite, Arizona, intent on setting a record for Guinness, at least did so in non-permanent form. Using their own bodies, they formed a slightly wayward “Q” (for “Quartzsite”). Yet the unbeatable champions are the most ephemeral, the sky-writing that, having made its point, loses out to the wind (Figure 4). Or, in an example of pure megalomania, found for me by Steve Chrisomalis, there is the name of a sheikh in Abu Dhabi, visible from space (Sheikh’s Name from Space). Each letter is approximately 500 m long. The sheikh, a member of the royal family, has since had the letters removed, apparently at the insistence of his kin. He still owns the world’s largest jeep, built at a scale of 4:1 (Hamad). 

Bigness has a reason. It obtrudes, insists on being read. It imposes. To create or maintain such letters or characters involves a level of control or will that is beyond the ordinary. There is also sheer legibility and the intended size of an audience. The letters had better be big to be seen from Quemoy, the Bund, a valley bottom in Utah or by people spread out across Los Angeles. Yet these observations, all clearly valid, do not quite capture the local decisions or conditions behind big signs. Why should a university be allowed to impair the beauty of a mountain, a developer erect “Hollywood[land]” or the owner of a Chinese skyscraper broadcast a banal saying to thousands?  Is the owner the “I” of that display or is the love of Shanghai a sentiment that each viewer is obliged to share?

Being big, then, is to be unavoidable, to underscore clout, and to be seen by many.  The Maya evidence shows why some of this holds true, but why scale could have other motivations. There is little doubt that the large size of the stucco glyphs on the Temple of the Inscriptions, Tikal, has much to do with ensuring legibility from far below (Tikal Temple VI). Dimensions are about 85 cm across (Martin 2015:2). This also applies, probably, to the abysmally published glyphs of Early Classic date on the roof comb of Structure A-2 at Río Azul, Guatemala (Adams 1999:fig. 3-19; Figure 5). Other glyphs of large size must have had alternative motivations. Río Azul is also known for the large directional witz or “hill” glyphs that adorn the walls of now-decayed tombs (their erosion is one of the scandals of Maya archaeology; Figure 6). Then there are the inexplicably large glyphs on the sides of Yaxha Stela 3–their exact dimensions are unavailable to me now, but, if memory serves, they measure well in excess of 40 cm high (Figure 7). The real Maya champions, however, are not those on Tikal Temple VI, but the “giant ajaw” glyphs and “giant ajaw” altars that concentrate at sites like Caracol, Belize (e.g., Altar 6, Figure 8, Beetz and Satterthwaite 1981:84, fig. 21b). None of these signs ever exceed human height, evidently an operative limit. For those that stand alone, there may have been an existential property at play.  The glyphs are almost figural, glyphic but atextual. Their size reflects a mindset in which practical reasons for large scale–visibility, assertion, intrusion–gave way to signs made big because they existed as places and people.


My thanks go to Steve Chrisomalis, Simon Martin, and Felipe Rojas for their thoughts on Bigness.


Adams, Richard E. W. 1999. Río Azul: An Ancient Maya City. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press.

Beetz, Carl P., and Linton Satterthwaite, Jr. 1981. The Monuments and Inscriptions of Caracol, Belize. University Museum Monograph 45. Philadelphia: University Museum, University of Pennsylvania.

Martin, Simon. 2015. The Dedication of Tikal Temple VI: A Revised Chronology. The PARI Journal 15(3):1-10.

Early Classic Co-Rulers on Tikal Temple VI 1

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:

_________. 2007b. The Maya Hieroglyphs for Mam, “Grandfather, Grandson, Ancestor”.

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

Notes on a Sacrifice Scene 11

by David Stuart, The University of Texas at Austin

The Late Classic cacao vase K8719 (from Justin Kerr’s The Maya Vase Database) depicts one of the more grisly scenes of human sacrifice known from Maya art. (Happy Halloween!). The surrounding imagery and texts provide some interesting tidbits of information about the timing and setting of such events, and also how they related to the pomp and circumstance of royal performance in the courts of the Classic era.

Figure 1. Rollout of vase K8719  (Photograph by Justin Kerr).

Figure 1. Rollout of vase K8719 (Photograph by Justin Kerr).

In the scene we see a king seated upon what looks to be a portable throne and looking on a scene of decapitation sacrifice.  The victim, perhaps a war captive, lies prone upon a stone altar and before a small stela. His head lies atop the stone monument, placed on a surface of amate paper-cloth (huun) and suggesting some sort of corporeal metaphor involving the upright stone (see Stuart 1996 for a further discussion of stela-body symbolism). Judging by similar scenes (see K8351), the familiar stela-altar pairing one so often see at Maya sites was often a formal place for human sacrifice. Indeed, I suspect that most stelae-and-altars erected in the plazas (Figure 2) were conceived as settings for the execution of prisoners, much as we see on this vase. To the left of the dead victims are two performers in fantastic animal costumes, wearing red scarves. As Elliot Lopez-Finn points out to me, similar portly animal performers are depicted on other vessels (see K1835, K4947. K4960). And elsewhere many similar clawed figures with red scarves are explicitly identified as wahy beings, who I have interpreted as the spooky embodiments of witchcraft and dark forces wielded by Maya rulers and elites (Stuart 2005). On this vessel the costumed figures are performing in an extraordinary setting of courtly sacrifice, perhaps as executioners that embody the animated forces of the king’s power and control over life and death.

Figure 2. Uncarved stelae and altars at Tikal.

Figure 2. Uncarved stelae and altars at Tikal.

Figure 3. Main text caption from K8719. (Photograph by J. Kerr)

Figure 3. Main text caption from K8719. (Photograph by J. Kerr)

A lengthy text runs down the middle of the image above the slain victim (Figure 3). Unfortunately it shows considerable modern repainting and “touching up” by someone who knew nothing of hieroglyphs. Nevertheless, we can see that it is a complex name caption for the seated king, opening with a CR date and then perhaps the possessed noun u baah, “the person of…” (A2 and B2). The date looks to me to be 4 Ahau 13 Yax, correspond to the k’atun ending (August 16, 731 A.D.). The royal name and accompanying titles extend down into the vertical column. At B3 we see the well preserved sequence CHAN-na-K’INICH, after an initial name glyph that is largely illegible. This may well be the name Tayel Chan K’inich, in reference to the Late Classic king of the Ik’ polity who is named on a number of other vessels (Just 2012:102-123, Reents-Budet, Guenter, Bishop and Blackman 2013, Tokovinine and Zender 2013). A possible Ik’ emblem glyph might be at block A7, though again much garbled by the vase’s “restorer.”

A date of 731 A.D. agrees well with Tayel Chan K’inch, who we know from other sources to have been in power by 726 and seems to have ruled for at least a decade afterwards, perhaps a good deal more (Tokovinine and Zender 2012: 43). The k’atun ending would have been among the major ceremonial event of his reign, and I suggest that the scene on this vase depicts at least one of the ceremonies from that very day.

Ascribing this vessel to the Ik’ polity and its workshops also is in keeping with the general style and color palette of the scene. Orange-colored glyphs are known from other pots of this style. We also see elaborate animal costumes worn by rulers and other performers on many other Ik’ vessels (K533, 1439, among others). As already noted, I suspect that this pair of weird-looking performers are the sacrificers responsible for the beheading. The white color here, also worn by the king, may be significant, as we find white sacrificers also shown on K2781 and K8351.


Figure 4. The glyph aj laj, “finished one,” near the victim. (Photo by J. Kerr)

Placed near the stela and just above the legs of the sacrificial victim is a lone hieroglyph (Figure 4) readable as AJ-la-ja, for aj laj. This presumably is an agentive noun based on the root laj, meaning “end, finish, die,” found throughout lowland and highland Mayan languages (Kaufman [2003] reconstructs the common Mayan form as *laj or *laaj). The connections of this word to death are widespread, and are particularly acute in colonial Tzotzil, where we find laj meaning “be dead” and the nominalized form lajel, “death” (Laughlin 1988,I: 241). There can be little doubt that here we are meant to read the glyph on the pot as a somewhat obvious descriptor of the slain figure as “the finished one, the deceased.” As far as I am aware this is a unique example of such a title used to refer to a sacrificial victim.

Overall this vessel offers a remarkable and maybe even surprising look into the nature of Maya calendar ceremonies. Written records of k’atun endings, for example, feature the ritual acts of kings who “bind the stone” or “cast the incense.” They never directly mention human sacrifices nor the bloody anointing of stelae, and why they don’t raises an interesting issue worth pondering further. The wider canvas of a portable cylindrical vase perhaps allowed for such grisly displays, more so than the stiff and narrow face of a stone stela set in a plaza. For whatever reason, cacao vases that circulated at the courts of the Late Classic period were deemed a more appropriate media for the display of some darker subject-matter, including the gorier aspects of royal ceremony and performance.

Sources Cited:

Just, Bryan. 2012. Dancing into Dreams: Maya Vase Painting of the Ik’ Kingdom. Princeton University Art Museum, Princeton.

Kaufman, Terrence. 2003. A Preliminary Mayan Etymological Dictionary. PDF ms.

Reents-Budet, Dorie, Stanley Guenter, Ronald L. Bishop and M. James Blackman. 2013. Identity and Interaction: Ceramic Styles and Social History of the Ik’ Polity, Guatemala. In Motul de San Jose: Politics, History, and Economy in a Classic Maya Polity, edited by A. E. Foias and K. F. Emery, pp. 67-93. University Press of Florida, Gainesville.

Stuart, David. 1996. Kings of Stone: A Consideration of Stelae in Ancient Maya Ritual and Representation. RES: Anthropology and Aesthetics, nos. 29/30, pp. 148-171.

___________. 2005. Glyphs on Pots. Sourcebook for the 2005 Maya Meetings. Department of Art and Art History, The University of Texas at Austin.

Tokovinine, Alexandre, and Marc Zender. 2013. Lords of Windy Water: The Royal Court of Motul de San Jose in Classic Maya Inscriptions. In Motul de San Jose: Politics, History, and Economy in a Classic Maya Polity, edited by A. E. Foias and K. F. Emery, pp. 30-66. University Press of Florida, Gainesville.

The Reading of Two Dates from the Codz Pop at Kabah, Yucatan 3

by David Stuart and Meghan Rubenstein, The University of Texas at Austin

A few important hieroglyphic inscriptions are known from the ruins of Kabah, Yucatan, but most of them remain poorly published, much less analyzed. The site’s lengthiest inscription comes from on the so-called Hieroglyphic Platform (2B2), and remains a disordered puzzle that has thus far eluded much in the way of interpretation (Grube 1986). The dedicatory panels from the Manos Rojas structure have been only partially documented, published and studied, and require further investigation (Carrasco and Pérez de Heredia 1996, Pérez de Heredia 1998, Graña-Behrens 2002). Perhaps the best-known inscription of Kabah comes from the well-preserved carved doorjambs on the eastern side of the so-called Codz Pop (Structure 2C6), one of the most ornately decorated buildings in the long history of Maya architecture (Figure 1, 2).

Figure 1. Structure 2C6 (the  Codz Pop) of Kabah, Yucatan (Photograph by M. Rubenstein)

Figure 1. Structure 2C6 (the Codz Pop) of Kabah, Yucatan (Photograph by M. Rubenstein)

Analyses of the date inscribed on the Codz Pop jamb have been wildly inconsistent and contradictory. Here we would like to clarify the reading of this date once and for all (we hope) as well as announce a new date from the same structure, inscribed on another door jamb recently discovered in excavations conducted by INAH in 2013. We hope that pointing to these two dates will help to refine the chronology of Kabah’s architectural history, and by extension the chronology of the Terminal Classic period in the Puuc as a whole.

The Eastern Door

With the exception of the famous western façade of the Codz Pop (Figure 1), the most reproduced image from Kabah is the set of carved doorjambs located on the eastern side of the same building (Figure 2). The stone jambs from Room 21 were first excavated, photographed, and reburied between 1934 and 1935 by Harry Pollock during his architectural survey for the Carnegie Institution of Washington. Drawings of the jambs by two different illustrators are included in Pollock’s masterwork on the architecture of the Puuc region (1980: 196, 197), and their first formal publication seems to have been in Proskouriakoff’s A Study of Classic Maya Sculpture (1950: 169, Fig 103a,b).

Figure 2. The north jamb from Room 21 (Eastern Door) of the Codz Pop, (a) detail photo by D. Stuart, (b) Drawing by M. Rubenstein.

Figure 2. The north jamb from Room 21 (Eastern Door) of the Codz Pop, (a) detail photo by D. Stuart, (b) Drawing by M. Rubenstein.

The carved jambs of Room 21 mirror each other: in the upper scene, a dance is performed, and in the lower scene, a prisoner subjugated. A horizontal hieroglyphic band separates the two events. Neither Pollock nor Proskouriakoff attempted to interpret these inscriptions.

Excavations at Kabah in the early 1990s, under the direction of Ramón Carrasco Vargas at the Instituto Nacional de Antropología e Historia (INAH), renewed interest in the Codz Pop jambs known at the time. Carrasco and José Ligorred Perramón, the archaeologist who oversaw work at the Codz Pop, relocated them using Pollock’s reports. They also offered the first interpretation of the inscription (Carrasco 1991: 83; Carrasco and Pérez 1996: 302; Ligorred Perramón 1993: 196-97). The southern jamb, broken at the hieroglyphic band, is illegible. For the north jamb, they proposed a reading of the Calendar Round date as 2 Chuen 3 Xul (this and other dates are written in the Yucatecan system). Ligorred Perramón calculated its placement in the years 987 or 1195, but leaned toward the earlier of these based on associated ceramic and architectural data (1993:196). This would place the Long Count at 2 Chuen 3 Xul (March 16, 987), making for one of the very latest monument dates in all of the Maya area.

Soon after this Linda Schele and Nikolai Grube proposed a different calculation for the date on the north jamb, placing it a century earlier at 2 Chuen 3 Xul, in the year 883 (Schele and Grube 1995: 203). Schele’s field drawing, published alongside their analysis, seems to confirm the reading of the Calendar Round as 2 Chuen 3 Xul, but settling on an earlier position in the calendric cycle than Ligorred Perramón.

Grube, in his appendix to his overview of hieroglyphic inscriptions from northwest Yucatan (1994: 344), offered a different analysis of the date, reading the month as Muan and not as Xul. He lists the date for the jambs as, or October 14, 859. Daniel Graña-Behrens also noted this in his later dissertation on the Northwest Yucatan (2002: 393). Graña-Behrens does not settle on a year, however, but suggests 807, 859, or 911.

To summarize: In the short span between 1991 and 2002 no less than six(!) assessments of this inscribed date on the Codz Pop were proposed or at least considered, ranging over an almost three hundred year span: 807, 859, 883, 911, 987, or 1195. The situation raises a highly confusing and important archaeological question, and above all reveals just how little is known about the chronology of the Puuc area in the Terminal Classic period.

FIgure 3. Detail of the text on the northern jamb of Room 21. (Photograph by D. Stuart)

FIgure 3. Detail of the text on the northern jamb of Room 21. (Photograph by D. Stuart)

Here we would like to clarify that the reading of the date on the Room 21 jamb is certainly 2 Chuen 3 Muan, just as Grube and Graña-Behrens proposed. Although Schele and others had suggested Xul as the month glyph, the contours and features of the month sign clearly show it to be a bird with a –ni suffix. This can only be read as Muan (MUWAAN-ni). We can narrow this further by proposing that the two most likely placements of 2 Chuen 3 Muan in the Long Count are: 2 Chuen 3 Muan (October 14, 859) 2 Chuen 3 Muan (October 1, 911)

A placement one Calendar Round earlier, in 807, seems far too early considering other dates from buildings in this same “florescent” Puuc style. Of these two, we consider 859 to be the most likely, agreeing with the previous proposals by Grube and Graña-Behrens.

The event recorded with this date on the north jamb of Room 21 seems to be “his death” (U-KAM?-mi-ya, u kamiiy) surely in reference to the scene of a warrior being slain in the image below the text band. The text on the southern jamb of the same doorway, given further information no doubt, is unfortunately destroyed.

The Northern Door

In 2013, excavations overseen by Lourdes Toscano Hernández and Gustavo Novelo Rincón of INAH revealed two important doorjambs originally placed within the central doorway of the northern room of the Codz Pop complex. This is Room 1 of Structure 2C6. Similar to the examples from Room 21, each jamb is carved with images divided by rows of hieroglyphs. In this case, we have three scenes on the eastern jamb and three scenes on the western jamb, with a total of four bands of text separating them.

Figure 4. Text band from the jamb of the northern doorway. (Photograph by ***; Preliminary drawing by D. Stuart)

Figure 4. Text band from the jamb of the northern doorway. (Photograph by M. Rubenstein; Preliminary drawing by D. Stuart)

The upper band of the eastern jamb records a date using a variation of the Yucatecan style, where a Calendar Round is described by its position in a numbered tun within a named k’atun.

[9-CIMI] U-K’IN-ni-le tu-8-TE’-e SUUTZ’-tz’i u-ti-ya tu-4-TUUN-ni 1 a-AJAW-wa ?-cha?-ja?
[Bolon Kimi] u k’iniil tu waxak-te’ suutz’ uhtiiy tu kan tuun (ti) juun ajaw ?..aj
Nine Cimi is the day on the eighth of Zotz’, it happened in the fourth stone (year) of 1 Ahau…

1 Ahau marks a specific k’atun ending of the Maya calendar, which can only correspond to 1 Ahau 3 Yaxk’in. The date falls in the fourth tun of that k’atun, or in the 360 days after The month position 8 Zotz’ narrows this further to one possibility (again in the Yucatecan system): 9 Cimi 8 Zotz (March 9, 873)

The k’atun ending recorded on this northern doorway firmly anchors its date to 873 A.D. In doing so it should affirm the placement of the eastern door’s date (in an earlier phase of the building) to 859, only fourteen years prior.


The new jambs from the Codz Pop show a date falling in the year 873, helping to confirm one of many previous readings of the date from the eastern door as 859. It is important to note that these two dates might conform to the overall construction sequence of the Codz Pop and its modification over time. That is, the later of the two is associated with the northern extension of the structure that appears to have been a later addition to the original building. That being said, it would be a mistake to take the two dates as simple dedication records. As noted, the eastern door records the death of Kabah’s vanquished enemy, whereas the nature of the event on northern jamb remains to be determined. Nevertheless, the anchoring of these two dates should help us be confident in the chronological placement of the Codz Pop, and of its place in the wider context of archaeology in the Puuc region.


We are most grateful to our colleagues Lourdes Toscano Hernández and Gustavo Novelo Rincón for their permission to share our analysis of the date recently discovered at the Codz Pop complex. A more thorough study of the building’s dates and construction sequence will be produced by them at a future date. A formal presentation of the new Codz Pop jambs will take place at the upcoming Maya Meetings at UT-Austin in January. We also thank Sid Hollander for pointing out a couple of typos (now corrected) in our transcription of Maya dates.

Sources Cited

Carrasco Vargas, Ramón, et. al. 1991. Proyecto Kabah: Informe de los trabajos realizados en la temporada 1991. Tomo II. Instituto Nacional de Antropología e Historia, Centro Regional Yucatán.

Carrasco Vargas, Ramón, and Eduardo Pérez de Heredia. 1996. “Los últimos gobernadores de Kabah.” In Eighth Palenque Round Table, 1993. M. Macri and J. McHargue, eds. pp. 297-307. San Francisco: The Pre-Columbian Art Research Institute.

Graña-Behrens, Daniel. 2002. Die Maya-Inschriften aus Nordwestyukatan, Mexiko. Thesis, Fakultät der Rheinischen-Friedrich-Wilhelms, University of Bonn.

Grube, Nikolai. 1986. Die Hieroglyphenplattform von Kabah, Yucatán, México. Mexicon Vol. VIII (1): 13-17.

_____________. 1994. “Hieroglyphic Sources for the History of Northwest Yucatan.” In Hidden Among the Hills: Maya Archaeology of the Northwest Yucatan Peninsula. H.J. Prem, ed. pp. 316-358. Acta Mesoamericana. Möckmühl: Verlag von Flemming.

Ligorred Perramón, José de Calasanz. 1993. La escultura Puuc: Análsis iconológico del Codz Pop de Kabah. Thesis, Escuela Nacional de Antropología e Historia.

Pérez de Heredia, Eduardo. 1998. El edificio de las Manos Rojas de Kabah, Yucatán: chronologia y funcionalidad. Thesis, Facultad de Ciencias Antropológicas, Universidad Autónoma de Yucatán.

Pollock, Harry Evelyn Dorr. 1980. The Puuc: an Architectural Survey of the Hill Country of Yucatan and Northern Campeche, Mexico. Cambridge: Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology, Harvard University.

Proskouriakoff, Tatiana. 1950. A Study of Classic Maya Sculpture. Washington, D.C.: Carnegie Institution of Washington.

Schele, Linda, and Nikolai Grube. 1995. Notebook for the XIXth Maya Hieroglyphic Workshop at Texas: Late Classic and Terminal Classic Warfare. Austin: Art Department, University of Texas.

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, 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, 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 ( 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.


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.

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