Note 29

Update to Note 1: More Evidence for the K’UH(UL)-yi ‘It became holy’ Verbal Expression in the PSS

David F. Mora-Marín
University of North Carolina
Chapel Hill



Resumen. En la Nota 1 de esta serie (Mora-Marín 2020) se propuso que la expresión verbal basada en un signo semejante al signo T1017 de Thompson (1962) podría ser una variante gráfica de T1016 K’UH(UL) ‘dios/sagrado’, y que con el sufijo -Vy ‘incoativo’, representado parcialmente por el signo T17 yi, podría representar la expresión k’uhul-uy-i-Ø ‘fue bendecido/a’. Sin embargo, un problema importante para tal propuesta lo era el hecho de que en aquel entonces no conocía de evidencia de substitución directa entre T1017 y T1016 en otros contextos. Sin embargo, tal evidencia ha salido a luz finalmente, gracias a Looper y Polyukhovych (2022), y ésta sugiere que T1017 y T1016 fueron variantes gráficas del mismo grafema en la tradición escribal de El Zotz. Esta expresión verbal provee evidencia directa y explícita de que por lo menos algunos objetos portátiles de lujo fueron manipulados ritualmente, de hecho, bendecidos.


In the first Note of this series (Mora-Marín 2020), I proposed that a somewhat common collocation on PSS texts on pottery vessels, one characterized by a main sign resembling T1017, which in turn resembles T1016 K’UH(UL) ‘god(ly)’, was meant to be read K’UH(UL)-yi (or CH’UH(UL)-yi) for k’uhul-uy-i-Ø (or ch’uhul-uy-i) ‘it became holy’. However, the main problem in further testing this reading lies in the fact that T1017, a relatively rare sign, does not seem to substitute for T1016 K’UH(UL) ‘god(ly)’ in other contexts, but merely resembles it. Here I review new evidence in favor of the proposed reading T1017 as a logogram K’UH(UL) outside of the verbal expression context. But first, I provide a review of the original evidence I presented in its favor.


As recounted in Note 1, Grube and Schele (1991:2) in fact described T1017 as a “pseudo-God C head” or a “God C variant”; they also proposed a reading TZUK ‘partition’, which Stuart (2001: 22, footnote 2; 2005:67, footnote 20) has argued to be invalid. Also, MacLeod (1990:97-98, 508) and Zender (2000:1040) suggested a syllabographic value ja based on examples, such as Figure 1a, where it is juxtaposed to the FLAT.HAND logogram in the PSS, i.e. K’AL ‘to bind, wrap’, seemingly in substitution for T181/ZU1 ja, typically used to partially spell the bipartite passive morpheme -h-…-aj to yield k’ahl-aj ‘to be wrapped/bound’.


Figure 1


Again, in Note 1 I presented evidence that T1017 functions as a separate logogram, one which may occur in its own glyph block, with or without a nearby K’AL-ja collocation. The difference is that when it does occur in its own glyph block, it typically does so with a preposed T41 K’UH(UL) ‘god(ly)’ grapheme plus a following syllabographic sequence yi-chi, resulting in K’UH(UL)-T1017 yi-chi (Figure 2), which I take to be a verbal expression, and which I have analyzed as k’uhul-uy-i-Ø+ich (holy-INCHOATIVE-COMPLETIVE-3SINGULAR.ABSOLUTIVE+ALREADY/INDEED) ‘it became holy (already/indeed)’. As already mentioned, the main obstacle to validating this reading and analysis is the fact that T1017, with or without a preceding T41, does not seem to be used with a value K’UH(UL) elsewhere.


Figure 2


To complete the recap, in Note 1 I also observed that it is not just T1017 that can become compacted within the same glyph block as T713 K’AL. This is also the case with the GOD.N verbal expression, which also loses any syllabographic signs used to spell necessary verbal markings, as seen in Figure 3a, compared to cases where the two verbal expressions are rendered in their own, separate glyph blocks, as seen in Figure 3b. In fact, Looper et al. (2022) have proposed a grapheme labeled as PJ8 which also constitutes another example of two compacted verbal expressions in the PSS, which I will address in a separate paper. For now, what matters is that T713 K’AL could be compacted with other verbal logograms, and in the process, it and the following verbal logogram are both left without space to represent, partially, much less in full, any verbal suffixes that were needed.


Figure 3


Now that the basic facts have been reviewed, I can turn to the main point of this note: I have since found at least one good example wherein T41.1017 substitutes, in fact, for the T41:1016 K’UHUL ‘godly’. This example is found, like all cases of T1017 used as a verbal expression, on an El Zotz-style vessel, specifically a bowl at the Mint Museum recently published by Looper and Polyukhovych (2022). As the example in Figure 4a shows, T1017 appears in the title phrase of an individual, more specifically, the El Zotz Emblem Glyph sequence, k’uhul paʔ chan ʔajaw, substituting for the more common T41(.1016) K’UHUL. The examples in Figures 4b–c illustrate the same grapheme in use in the verbal expressions (T1017-yi-chi) on El Zotz-style pots. This equivalence establishes that at least in El Zotz-style PSS texts, T1017 and T1016 were equivalent, perhaps stylistic variants.


Figure 4


And now, to conclude, I renew my proposed reading of the full expression K’UH(UL)-yi-chi as representing k’uh(ul)-uy-i/Ø-Ø+ich god(ly)-INCHOATIVE-COMPLETIVE-3SINGULAR.ABSOLUTIVE+ALREADY ‘it became holy already/really’.  It would appear that this was a common expression in El Zotz-style PSS texts, and rare elsewhere. It would also appear that it is distinct, lexically, from the other PSS verbal expressions, to which it is occasionally juxtaposed. And last, it strongly suggests that portable objects were actually blessed, as one of the final steps in the process of preparation prior to exchange or gifting.


Grube, Nikolai, and Linda Schele. 1991. Tzuk in the Classic Maya Inscriptions. Texas Notes on Precolumbian Art, Writing, and Culture, 14.  Art Department, University of Texas at Austin.

Houston, Stephen D., John Robertson, and David S. Stuart. 2000. The Language of Classic Maya Inscriptions. Current Anthropology 41:321-356.

Kaufman, Terrence, with John Justeson. 2003. Preliminary Mayan Etymological Dictionary.

Laughlin, Robert M., and John B. Haviland. 1988. The Great Tzotzil Dictionary of Santo Domingo Zinacantán. Smithsonian Contributions to Anthropology No. 31. Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution Press.

Looper, Matthew G. and Martha J. Macri. 1991-2022. Maya Hieroglyphic Database. Department of Art and Art History, California State University, Chico. URL:

Looper, Matthew, and Yuriy Polyukhovych. 2016. Five Inscribed El Zotz-Style Vessels in the Fralin Museum of Art. Glyph Dwellers 45. URL:

Looper, Matthew, and Yuriy Polyukhovych. 2022. Seven Inscribed Ceramic Vessels in the Mint Museum, Charlotte. Glyph Dwellers 78. URL:

MacLeod, Barbara. 1990. Deciphering the Primary Standard Sequence. Unpublished Ph.D. dissertation. University of Texas at Austin.

Macri, Martha J., and Matthew G. Looper. 2003. The New Catalog of Maya Hieroglyphs, Volume One, The Classic Period Inscriptions. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press.

Moot, Dana, II. 2021. Smoking Monkeys, Drunken Jaguars: A Formal Study of El Zotz-Style Cermics. MA thesis, California State University, Chico.

Mora-Marín, David F. 2007. The Identification of an Ingressive Suffix in Classic Lowland Mayan Texts. In Proceedings of the CILLA III Conference, October 2007, Austin, Texas, edited by Nora England, pp 1-14. Austin: Archive of the Indigenous Languages of Latin America, Linguistics Department, University of Texas.

—–. 2009. A Test and Falsification of the “Classic Ch’olti’an” Hypothesis: A Study of Three Proto-Ch’olan Markers. International Journal of American Linguistics 75:115-157.

—–. 2020. The T(1016/)1017 Verbal Glyph of the PSS as k’uh(ul)/ch’uh(ul)-uy(-i) ‘It Became Holy’. Notes on Mesoamerican Linguistics and Epigraphy 1.

Polian, Gilles. 2015. Diccionario Multidialectal del tseltal.

Stuart, David. 2001. A Reading of the “Completion Hand” as TZUTZ. Research Reports on Ancient Maya Writing 49. Washington, D.C.: Center for Maya Research.

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

Thompson, Eric J. 1962. A Catalogue of Maya Hieroglyphics.  Norman: University of Oklahoma Press.

Zender, Marc. 2000. A Study of Two Uaxactun-Style Tamale Serving Vessels. In The Maya Vase Book, Volume 6, edited by Justin Kerr, pp. 1038-1071. New York: Kerr Associates.

Note 28

A Possible Early Attestation of Proto-Ch’olan *-wän ‘Intransitivizer of Positionals’ on Tikal Stela 10?


David F. Mora-Marín
University of North Carolina
Chapel Hill



At the 104th meetings of the American Anthropological Association in 2005, I, together with Nicholas Hopkins and Kathryn Josserand, presented a paper on the linguistic affiliation(s) of Classic Mayan texts (Mora-Marín et al. 2005). That presentation gave rise to a paper, Mora-Marín et al. (2009), included in the 2009 volume on The Ch’orti’ Area: Past and Present, edited by Brent Metz, Cameron McNeill, and Kerry Hull. In the presentation, my co-presenters and I briefly mentioned an observation that I had circulated the previous year as part of a longer and more comprehensive paper aimed to test the various alternatives for the languages of Classic Mayan texts (Mora-Marín 2004). (Such paper eventually morphed into Mora-Marín 2009.) That observation pertained to the possibility that Tikal Stela 10 exhibits an early example, perhaps the earliest attested example, of the proto-Ch’olan suffix *-wän, which replaced the earlier suffix *-laj ‘intransitivizer of positionals’ in most of the Ch’olan varieties (Ch’olti’, Ch’orti’, Yokot’an). In their presentation, Law et al. (2005) highlighted the fact that the glyph block in question was mostly obliterated, and that not enough detail had survived to support a clear identification. Later, in the edited volume that resulted from the conference, Mora-Marín et al. (2009:22) tentatively suggested that *-wän may be attested on Tikal Stela 10 as early as 527 CE. In their corresponding volume chapter, Law et al. (2009) further argued against such possibility.


Since that time, new evidence has emerged that makes it worthwhile to revisit this issue. Mora-Marín (2017, 2019) has shown, by means of a more comprehensive and quantitative study of the distribution of -laj and -wän suffixes in the inscriptions, that by the time -wän makes its appearance during the mid-seventh century (starting around 667 CE), the two suffixes were already entangled in a more or less even distribution in general (though the situation varied significantly on a site-by-site basis). Such an even distribution is suggestive of a significant amount of time prior to the mid-seventh century during which the -wän suffix must have been not only innovated, but begun to spread, until achieving a more or less equal footing with respect to -laj. Clearly, such prior innovation and spread took place primarily in speech, before scribes began to more systematically render the -wän suffix in writing. Such lag between its spread and embedding in speech, on the one hand, and its acceptance in written texts, on the other, would suggest too that -wän may have initially been stigmatized, not considered worthy of official contexts such as public inscriptions detailing historical events. But it also suggests that it may have been occasionally rendered in writing, and that it should not be too surprising that a text or two might attest to such suffix prior to 667 CE. Perhaps Tikal Stela 10 is evidence of just that, an early scribe’s sociolinguistic experimentation.


To review the evidence here, one must first illustrate the typical examples. Figure 1a provides a typical example of the chum-laj-Ø-Ø expression for ‘s/he sat’ (seated-IVZR:POS-CMP-3B), illustrating the more conservative suffix -laj, spelled -la-ja. Likewise, Figure 1b provides a typical example of the chum-wän-i-Ø expression for ‘s/he sat’ (seated-IVZR:POS-CMP-3B), illustrative the more innovative suffix -wän, spelled wa-ni.


Figure 1

a) CHUM[mu]-la-ja from Palenque Tablet of the 96 Glyphs, D5.  Drawing #136 by Linda Schele (  b) CHUM[mu]-wa-ni-ya from Palenque Temple of Inscriptions East Panel, R10.  Drawing #152 by Linda Schele (

The case at had is found on glyph block E8 of Tikal Stela 10, seen in Figure 2a. As observed by Mora-Marín (2004), Mora-Marín et al. (2005, 2009), and Law et al. (2005, 2009), the glyph block is mostly missing due to major damage. Perhaps 30–40% of the entire block survives. This is definitely not a promising start. However, its presence before the expression ta-ʔAJAW-wa for tä ʔajaw ‘as king’ or tä ʔajaw-al ‘in kingship’ strongly supports the idea that glyph block E8 constitutes an accession statement, and the drawings by William Coe (Figure 2b) and Linda Schele (Figure 2c) are consistent with an expression such as CHUM[mu]-*wa-ni, where the syllabogram T130 wa would have to be inferred as likely present originally in the now missing portion of the glyph block, although it is also possible that the expression may have been spelled without it, simply as CHUM[mu]-ni (cf. Caracol B16-sub Stucco at p13, Palenque Temple of Inscriptions East Panel at S2).


Figure 2

a) Photograph of rear of Tikal Stela 10 showing relevant accession statement at E8–F8. Photo #75002 by Linda Schele (  b) Drawing of accession statement by William R. Coe in Jones and Satterthwaite (1982:Fig. 15). c) Drawing of accession statement by Linda Schele. Drawing #2032 by Linda Schele (  


This possibility can be tested paleographically, at least if one starts from the assumption that the accession glyph in question is in fact T644 CHUM, and therefore that the most likely suffixing would have been either -laj or -wän. Doing so would mean pitting T181 ja, typically present at the end of the spelling of the -laj suffix, against T116 ni, typically present at the end of the spelling of the -wän suffix. The typical form of T181 ja in Early Classic texts at Tikal is, first of all, partial: it shows half of the whole sign. Second, it shows a pronounced curvature with the top, pointed element oriented toward the center of the glyph block in which it appears. The examples in Figure 3, both from Tikal Stela 10 itself, illustrate this fact.


Figure 3

a) Detail of left side of Tikal Stela 10 showing glyph block D2 closing with T181 ja in a very eroded state.  Photo #74094 by Linda Schele (  b) Drawing of the same Tikal Stela 10 glyph block by William R. Coe in Jones and Satterthwaite (1982:Fig. 14).  c) Photograph of left side of Tikal Stela 10 showing glyph block D11 closing with T181 ja.  Photo #74092 by Linda Schele (  d) Drawing of the same glyph block by William R. Coe in Jones and Satterthwaite (1982:Fig. 14).


This can be contrasted with the evidence for the shape of T116 ni in the Early Classic texts of Tikal: as seen in Figure 4, T116 ni typically ends in a tip that points outward, away from the glyph block’s center, rather than inward.


Figure 4

a) Hombre de Tikal Statuette, glyph block D3. Drawing by Rene Ozaeta, Rafael Pinelo, and Rolando Caal in Fahsen (1988:45, Fig. 4). b) Tikal Ballcourt Marker, glyph block E6. Drawing #2058–#2059 by Linda Schele ( c) Tikal Floor board, Miscellaneous Text 357, glyph block B1. Drawing from Moholy-Nagy and Coe (2008:Fig. 229a).

To review, then, and as Figure 5 illustrates, the sign likely closing the ‘seating’ collocation on Tikal Stela 10 points outward (Figures 5a–b), much like T116 ni typically does during the Early Classic at Tikal, rather than inward (Figures 5c–e), like T181 ja typically does during the same period of time at Tikal.


Figure 5

a) Drawing of seating glyphic collocation on Tikal Stela 10 at E8 by William R. Coe in Jones and Satterthwaite (1982:Fig. 15). b) Drawing of same glyphic collocation by Linda Schele. Drawing #2032 by Linda Schele ( c) Tikal Stela 10 glyph block D2. Drawing by William R. Coe in Jones and Satterthwaite (1982:Fig. 14). d) Tikal Stela 10 glyph block D11.  Drawing by William R. Coe in Jones and Satterthwaite (1982:Fig. 14). e) Tikal Stela 10 glyph block D2.  Drawing by William R. Coe in Jones and Satterthwaite (1982:Fig. 14).


To conclude this blog, the evidence from Tikal Stela 10 regarding the possible presence of the suffix *-wän is, well, inconclusive. However, what little remains of the grapheme that would be spelling part of such suffix, it can be said that it is more consistent with T116 ni than with T181 ja, given the traits these two graphemes exhibited during the Early Classic period, and in particular, Early Classic Tikal.


But the presence of this suffix at Tikal well over a century prior to its next appearance at sites like Copan, Palenque, etc., would not be entirely unexpected, given the evidence presented in Mora-Marín (2017, 2019) for sociolinguistic variation, which indicates that once -wän made its appearance during the mid-seventh century, it was already as equally likely to appear in the next text as -laj, implying that the two were already in a type of equilibrium or complementary distribution of the type common of sociolinguistic markers, and also implying that -wän was present in speech for a significant period of time prior to its becoming entrenched in written texts, for not only must it have been innovated, but it must have experienced a process of spread from one environment to another to another, prior to achieving its balanced distribution with respect to -laj. In this light, future findings of -wän prior to the mid-seventh century should be expected, and the possibility of its presence on Tikal Stela 10 should not be considered anomalous.




Fahsen, Federico. 1988. A New Early Classic Text from Tikal. Research Reports on Ancient Maya Writing 17. Washington, D. C.: Center for Maya Research.

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

Law, Danny, John Robertson, Stephen Houston, and Robbie Haertel. 2009. Most Maya Glyphs Are Written in Ch’olti’an. In The Ch’orti’ Area: Past and Present on the Southeastern Maya Periphery, edited by Brent E. Metz, Cameron L. McNeil, and Kerry Hull, pp. 29–42. University Press of Florida.

Moholy-Nagy, Hattula, and William R. Coe. 2008. The Artifacts of Tikal: Ornamental and Ceremonial Artifacts and Unworked Material. Tikal Report 27, Part A, University Museum Monograph 127. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology.

Mora-Marín, David.  2004.  Pre-Proto-Ch’olan as the Standard Language of Classic Lowland Mayan Texts.  Unpublished manuscript.

—–. 2009. A Test and Falsification of the “Classic Ch’olti’an” Hypothesis: A Study of Three Proto-Ch’olan Markers. International Journal of American Linguistics 75(2): 115-157.

—–. 2017. An Historical Sociolinguistic Approach to Classic Mayan Writing: A study of Two Morphological Innovations, -(a)wan ‘intransitivizer of positionals’ and -(V)lel ‘abstractivizer of nouns’. Paper presented at the American Anthropological Association Session on Historical Sociolinguistics of the Maya Lowlands, organized by Marc Zender, Saturday, December 2nd, 2017.

—–. 2019. Framing the Historical Sociolinguistics of the Maya Lowlands (Southeastern Mexico, Guatemala, Belize, Honduras) during the Classic Period (ca. 200-900 CE). Presented at the The North American Research Network in Historical Sociolinguistics 2010 Research Incubator at KFLC: The Languages, Literatures, and Cultures Conference, April 11-13, 2019, University of Kentucky, Lexington.

Mora-Marín, David, Nicholas Hopkins, and Kathryn Josserand. 2005. The Linguistic Affiliation of Classic Lowland Mayan Writing and the Historical Sociolinguistic Geography of the Mayan Lowlands. Paper presented in the American Anthropological Association session on “The Ch’orti’ Area: Past and Present on the Southeastern Maya Periphery,” organized by Brent E. Metz and Cameron L. McNeil.

—–. 2009. The Linguistic Affiliation of Classic Lowland Mayan Writing and the Historical Sociolinguistic Geography of the Mayan Lowlands. In The Ch’orti’ Area: Past and Present on the Southeastern Maya Periphery, edited by Brent E. Metz, Cameron L. McNeil, and Kerry Hull, pp. 15–28. University Press of Florida.

Note 27

The Earliest Spelling of ʔusiij ‘vulture’?

David F. Mora-Marín
University of North Carolina
Chapel Hill



This note puts forth an idea that I first published in 2005, and then amended in 2015, regarding a particular passage on Kaminaljuyu Stela 10.  This idea pertains to the reading of what I have proposed to be the name and title of the main individual portrayed on the monument. Before I do this, a bit of background will be necessary.


I began to study the inscription on this monument as an undergraduate student. In fact, my 2005 paper in Ancient Mesoamerica (Mora-Marín 2005) evolved out of several drafts starting in 1995, as a junior at the University of Kansas, and then in 1997, as a first year grad student at SUNY-Albany. It was as a graduate student that I developed a documentation project called LAPIDA (Late Preclassic Inscription Documentation), with support from FAMSI (Mora-Marín 2000) and a small internal grant. One of the main goals of that project was to document the text on Stela 10, as described, very briefly, in Mora-Marín (2005:66, 84). Essentially, I used the following procedure: 1) I utilized a detailed photograph of a rubbing posted by James Porter in a website no longer online, which I then inverted into its negative and printed in a high-quality laser printed in an enlarged format; 2) I used tracing paper on the enlarged printout of the inverted rubbing; 3) I began to trace the text; 4) I compared and improved my drawing by checking it against a cast of the inscription that Joh Justeson had borrowed from Ian Graham; 5) I compared and improved my drawing by checking it against the original inscription at the Museo Nacional de Arqueología y Etnología in Guatemala City; 6) I compared and improved my drawing against the cast again; 7) I inked my drawings; and 8) I scanned the drawings. Figure 1 presents my drawings of the top and bottom panels, excluding the oversized day counts at positions A and F.


Figure 1. Top and bottom glyphic panels on Kaminaljuyu Stela 10. Drawing by the author.

What I did not have at the time, and in fact, still do not, is a high-quality camera capable of taking high-resolution close-up photos to compare my results (the drawing) to the real thing. However, a few years ago, a highly detailed rendering of the inscription, accessed through this link, was published online by Tokovinine (2019). This rendering has made it easier to make detailed observations and gauge the accuracy of my drawing. While I have found small errors, which I plan to correct over the next few weeks or months, overall my drawing holds quite well. Figure 2 provides an animation that illustrates the degree of match between the two. Figure 3 provides a sequence of snapshots.


Figure 2


Figure 3. Snapshots comparing overlap between drawing and incisions.

In any case, to continue with the name and title of the main individual and likely protagonist of the text, the phrase in question is found between I1 and J3. Figure 4 provides the location (I1) of the sign that I take to correspond to the head of the main individual portrayed on the monument (cf. Mora-Marín 2005:77, 82, Fig. 14).


Figure 4

Next is glyph block J1. In my 2005 paper I suggested that the grapheme at G3, H6, and J1 (Figure 5) could constitute, iconographically, a SKULL sign, and based on its frequency and contexts, that it could be a syllabogram ʔ(Mora-Marín 2005:77, Figs. 8 and 13).


Figure 5

Indeed, SKULL signs, likely depicting skull-shaped beads that serve as components of beads assemblages, are well known graphemes with the value ʔu in Classic Mayan (Figure 6). Nevertheless, in Classic Mayan such ʔu allograms are typically found during the Late Classic period, not earlier. For now, I propose based on its distribution that it could correspond to a ʔu syllabogram.


Figure 6. a) Possible SKULL signs from Kaminaljuyu Stela 10. b) Grapheme codes for ʔu allograms depicting bead assemblages with skull-shaped beads; codes are from Looper et al. (2022).


Allowing for such a possibility, and noting that the sign at I2 could correspond to a VULTURE sign (Figure 7), in Mora-Marín (2005:77) I further suggested that the Kaminaljuyu Stela 10 passage from J1-I2 could spell ʔu-ʔUSIJ, and thus constitute a spelling of ʔusiij ‘vulture’.


Figure 7

One may compare the sign at I2 with a recently discovered VULTURE sign on an incised bowl from Caracol (Chase and Chase 2014:26–27, Figs. 122a, 123), as seen in Figure 8.


Figure 8. a) I2 on Kaminaljuyu Stela 10. b) Full-figure VULTURE sign (with value k’i) on incised Early Classic bowl from Caracol. Drawing of the Caracol incised bowl glyph block (yu-k’i-b’i) by Dana Moot II, used with permission of that author.

The sign that follows, at J2, appears at least once more on the bottom panel at H10, and possibly once in the top panel at E3, as seen in Figure 9. In Mora-Marín (2005) I did not say very much about the possible function of this sign in the passage from I1-J3, but I now think it is worth saying more about it at this time.


Figure 9. a) Top glyphic panel. b) bottom panel. c) Signs at H10 and J2.


As already noted by Macri (1991), the sign occurring at H10/J2 (Figures 10a–b) on Stela 10 match, visually, sign MS101 in Isthmian/Epi-Olmec writing (Figure 10c), proposed by Justeson and Kaufman (1993) to be a syllabogram si. It also closely resembles a sign that appears on a fragmented jade plaque in the Dumbarton Oaks collection (, although in this context (Figure 10d) it has typically been identified with the Mayan syllabogram ma.


Figure 10.

In my paper from 2005 I had suggested that several passages from the text could be analyzed as consistent with the orthography and content of Classic Mayan texts. As such, there was no place to bring Epi-Olmec into the narrative. However, in Mora-Marín (2015), a presentation on the conventions of early Mayan writing, I offered this as a possible example of script transfer: if the sign at H10 and J2 had the same value on Stela 10 as in Epi-Olmec writing, a spelling ʔu-ʔUSIJ-si might be obtained, essentially a (mostly) complete logosyllabic spelling of ʔusiij ‘vulture’. This is of course a very tentative identification, but worth testing. This then is the main idea of the present note, the possibility that the text on Kaminaljuyu Stela 10 may in fact employ both Mayan and Epi-Olmec grapheme values, not just Mayan and Epi-Olmec graphemes.


In my analysis, this term appears in the name phrase of the individual portrayed on the monument. The individual is portrayed in the guise of the Rain God, and appears to be staying atop a platform or mountain, although only one tiny fragment of such motif survives on the fragmented monument. In any case, the sign at I3 (Figure 11) is the sign that I identified as a MOUNTAIN sign, and the sign at J3 is the sign I identified as a LORD/RULER sign (Mora-Marín 2005:76, Figs. 10 and 11).


Figure 10.


Moreover, the sequence MOUNTAIN LORD is attested in other Late Preclassic inscriptions (Figure 12), and in somewhat different forms, as WITZ ʔAJAW, in Classic inscriptions as well, as argued in Mora-Marín (2001, 2005).


Figure 12. a) I3-J3 sequence on Kaminaljuyu Stela 10. b) MOUNTAIN LORD title on stone were-jaguar figurine from the Peabody Museum at Yale on display at the Yale University Art Gallery ( c) MOUNTAIN LORD title on jade spoon from the Museo del Jade in San José, Costa Rica.

The entire name phrase in question would begin at I1 and end at J3 (Figure 13). At I1 is found the RAIN.GOD sign. From J1–J2 is found the plausible ʔu-ʔUSIJ-si spelling. Then, at I3–J3 is the title MOUNTAIN-LORD. Thus, the entire phrase could be read as ‘Rain God Vulture Mountain Lord’ or as a non-verbal clause ‘Vulture Mountain Lord is the Rain God’. In Classic texts, the Mountain Lord title is occasionally preceded by the common term for a particular type of animal, such as moʔ ‘macaw’ or hix ‘feline (species)’. Also, although not obviously followed by the term ʔajaw, there are examples of the phrase ʔusij witz, often with the two logograms conflated, as on Bonampak Sculptured Stone 5.


Figure 13. Name and title phrase at I1–J3.

If I am correct in proposing that the sign at J1 is a syllabogram ʔu, but incorrect in supposing that the sign at I2 is a VULTURE sign (whether the sign at J2 is si or not), then perhaps the signs at I2-J2 constitute a noun possessed by ʔu. If so, then a clause of the following type could be possible: ‘The Rain God is the X [I2-J2] of the Mountain Lord’.


Finally, it is worth entertaining the implications of the proposed reading of the term ʔusiij ‘vulture’. First, as already noted, if the sign at H10/J2 is indeed a syllabogram si, it would mean that the scribes at Kaminaljuyu were likely employing some Epi-Olmec signs with their Epi-Olmec values, and similarly, that they were doing the same for Mayan signs (cf. Mora-Marín 2005 for discussion of likely signs with Mayan values on this monument).


Second, ʔusiij ‘vulture’ constitutes an example of a widely distributed term of unclear origin, a Wanderwort, according to Kaufman (2020:235). But in this particular phonological shape it is present only in Mayan languages. More specifically, Kaufman with Justeson (2003:621) reconstruct it as *ʔusiij ~ *ʔuseej to “Greater Q’anjob’alan plus,” with the plus including Ch’orti’ usij ‘black vulture’ (cf. Hull 2016:469). Interestingly, as observed by Hopkins et al. (2011), Sapper’s (1907:450) word list records <usijl> for the Tumbalá dialect of Ch’ol, and <tyahol> for the Tila dialect. In fact, the term also appears in Tzeltal, at least in the variety attested in Copanaguastla during the 16c, as usij ‘zopilote (ave), posiblemente el zopilote rey’ (Polian 2015:672), though in other Tzeltal varieties it is attested as aja’us (2015:15), which Polian analyzes as ajaw ‘deidad, entidad sobrenatural, guardián’ (2015:15) + (‘)us ‘mosco, mosquito, mosca’ (2015:672). Of course, the term also appears in Epigraphic Mayan as ʔu-si-ja and ʔu-VULTURE, for example.


Speculating a bit more, if the original form of the term had been *ʔuseej, it is possible that the form *ʔusiij could be an example of the Ch’olan *ee > ii > i shift, which then spread, under the influence of Ch’olan speakers, into, Tzeltal and Mocho’. The fact that Mocho’ is the only Greater Q’anjob’alan language that exhibits the vowel /ii/ in this term, with Tojol-ab’al, Chuj, and Tuzanteko all showing /e/, and the fact that Ch’orti’ and Ch’ol exhibit /i/, could support such a scenario. If this scenario holds, then Kaminaljuyu Stela 10 may exhibit evidence of the shift of *ee > ii > i by ca. 100 BCE at the latest.


It is fun to speculate.



Chase, Arlen F., and Diane Z. Chase. 2014. Ancient Social Integration in a Maya Neighborhood: Investigation of Adjacent Residential Complexes near Caracol’s Epicenter: Caracol Archaeological Project Investigations for 2014: A Continuation of the 2012 and 2013 Research Focus. Department of Anthropology, University of Central Florida, Orlando.

Hopkins, Nicholas A., J. Kathryn Josserand, and Ausencio Cruz Guzmán. 2011. A historical dictionary of Chol (Mayan): The lexical sources from 1789 to 1935. (1 January 2020).

Hull, Kerry. 2016. A Dictionary of Ch’orti’ Mayan-Spanish-English. Salt Lake City: The University of Utah Press.

Justeson, John, and Terrence Kaufman.  1993.  A Decipherment of Epi-Olmec Hieroglyphic Writing.  Science 259:1703-1710.

Kaufman, Terrence, with John Justeson. 2003. Preliminary Mayan Etymological Dictionary

Macri, Martha. 1991. The script on La Mojarra Stela 1 and Classic Maya Writing.  In J. S. Smith and D. L. Schmidt (eds.), Literacies: Writing Systems and Literate Practices, Davis Working Papers in Linguistics #4, 11-23.  Davis: University of California at Davis.

Mora Marín, David Fabián. 2000. Proyecto Documentación de Inscripciones del Preclásico Tardío.  Traducido del Inglés por Alex Lomón.

—–. 2001. The Grammar, Orthography, and Social Context of Late Preclassic Mayan Texts.   Tesis Doctoral.  University at Albany, Albany, New York.

—–. 2005. Kaminaljuyu Stela 10: Script Classification and Linguistic Affiliation.  Ancient Mesoamerica 16:63-87.

—–. 2015. The Social and Cultural Context of Early Mayan Writing and the Development of Logographic and Logosyllabic Spelling Practices. Paper presented at the International Conference on The Chinese Writing System and Its Dialogue with Sumerian, Egyptian, and Mesoamerican Writing Systems at Rutgers University, May 29-31, 2015.

Polian, Gilles. 2015. Diccionario Multidialectal del tseltal. Mexico City: CIESAS.

Sapper, Karl. 1907. Choles und Chorties. Congrès International des Américanistes; XVe Session Tenue à Québec en 1906, vol. 2, pp. 423-465. Québec: Dussault et Proulx; Leipzig: Karl W. Hiersemann.

Tokovinine, Alexandre. 2019. “Stela 10, Kaminaljuyu (with texture).” Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution. URL:


Note 26

The Cascajal Block: Iconographic Motivations, Part 1


David F. Mora-Marín
University of North Carolina
Chapel Hill



It is more than fair to say that the discovery and publication of the Cascajal Block (Figure 1) by Rodríguez et al. (2006a, 2006b) launched a new era of Olmec writing scholarship, as the list of references at the bottom indicates. The block was found at the site of Cascajal, approximately 13 kilometers from the site of San Lorenzo, Veracruz.

Following that publication, a number of authors, myself included, felt an urge to attempt to grapple with the unusual traits of this artifact, particularly its inscription, in a number of different ways. In my case, I decided to attempt a formal analysis of the format of the inscription to test whether the formatting proposed by Rodríguez et al. (2006a) was the best model. Those authors had argued that the text was to be read oriented vertically, as seen in Figure 2A, reading in rows, left-to-right, top-to-bottom. A few weeks after their publication came out, I had arrived at a different conclusion. My paper on the matter came out three years later (Mora-Marín 2009), and proposes a horizontal orientation, as seen in Figure 2B, reading in columns, top-to-bottom, left-to-right.

Other authors have approached the formatting differently. At least two authors recognize a similar clustering formatting, as in the case of Macri’s (2006) and Justeson’s (2012), seen in Figures 3A and 3B, respectively.

Last, for now, Anderson (2007) proposed a major division into three vertical sections, seen in Figure 4A, departing from the orientation proposed by Rodríguez et al. (2006a), while Freidel and Reilly (2010) propose a major division into three horizontal sections, seen in Figure 4B, also assuming the same orientation.

As my most recent publication on the matter (Mora-Marín 2020) reviews some of these issues, I will not address them further here. Instead, this note will revisit a topic of interest to many students of the Cascajal Block and Olmec writing more generally: the iconography of the sign inventory of the Cascajal Block’s inscription. Indeed, in addition to working on the formal traits of the text immediately after it was published, I also began to research the iconographic nature of the sign inventory. I prepared a manuscript in 2006, revised further in 2010, that was circulated among a few scholars, and cited in Freidel and Reilly (2010) and Carrasco and Englehardt (2015). I have since presented and published a few observations from that manuscript elsewhere (Mora-Marín 2016, 2019, 2020). However, the vast majority of ideas in that 80-page manuscript remain unpublished. Also, other authors have commented in detail on the iconography of the sign inventory (Rodríguez et al. 2006a; Ortiz et al. 2007; Rodríguez and Ortiz 2007; Magni 2012[2008]), which makes it possible to engage more meaningful discussion on the matter. Since iconographic analysis could be an aid in the task of decipherment, it is a worthy subject of study. For these reasons, I have decided to begin a step-by-step presentation of some of these ideas here.


I will begin by using the classification of signs by order of occurrence within the block seen in Figure 5. This classification, which appears in Mora-Marín (2020:220, Fig. 11), is a revised version of Rodríguez et al.’s (2006a:1613, Fig. 5) original classification. Following Rodríguez et al. (2006a), I will refer to each Cascajal sign as “CS” followed by the numeral listed beside each sign.

A few methodological considerations are necessary, based on Mora-Marín (2010:4–6). When comparing signs in different scripts, or even different historical stages of a single script, it is necessary to consider at least three different possible sources of graphic similarity: 1) shared descent; 2) contact diffusion; and 3) independent innovation.  In the last case, if two signs from different scripts exhibit the same iconic motivation, one has to consider the possibility that such similarity is due to the fact that the real-world source that serves as the pictorial model for the sign may be available to scribes from different traditions, and thus, that they could have arrived independently at similar graphic innovations based on the same real-world referent.  For instance, CS6, depicting an animal hide, is too realistic a sign to be used, on its own, as evidence for relationship between scripts. Any scribe, in any tradition, may have used an animal hide as an iconographic basis for a sign, and since animal hides may be prepared very similarly in different cultural traditions, that alone could account for the similarity of such a sign in the Cascajal, Epi-Olmec, and Mayan writing systems. Moreover, comparisons are also hindered when one is dealing with a graphically simple sign.  Simple and complex signs should be weighed differently. Simple signs, those containing a very general outline and few or no internal elements, can resemble one another as a result of stylistic simplification, even when they are derived from different iconographic sources. In contrast, a complex sign present in two distinct scripts offers a better test case for relationship.


An additional problem results from the vagueness in Rodríguez M. et al. (2006a), who often allude to the iconographic motivations of signs without specifying the signs in question, and only assign a specific sign number from their Cascajal Signary (CS) to their iconographic identifications for 13 signs.  Thus, they argue that the orientation of the text “is further supported by the disposition of “sky-band” elements much like those on Olmec thrones and later regional iconography,” the sign of “an apparent insect positioned as though scaling upward,” and later mention “a throne sign paired with an evident mat sign,” without detailing which signs they are referring to in each case (Rodríguez et al. 2006:1612-1613).  These authors provide explicit iconographic identifications for the following signs in their classification system (Rodríguez et al. 2006a:1612-1613, Fig. 5): CS24 and CS25 (“paired sets of eyes”); CS12/17/27 (“a thematic preoccupation with maize, or at least the ready use of such signs in the creation of a signary”); CS6 (“a skin”); CS8 (“a strung bead or plaque”); CS10 (“a dart tip”); CS16 (“object shown grasped in Olmec iconography”); CS18 (“a bivalve”); CS20 (“a possible perforator”); CS21 (“a vertical fish”); and CS1 (“cleft element and inverted V motif”).


The methodology can be summarized as follows:

  1. Use Joralemon’s (1971) motif catalog to identify signs in the Cascajal signary, a task not attempted in Rodríguez et al. (2006a), and only selectively in Rodríguez and Ortiz (2007), who provide Joralemon numbers for CS6, CS16, and CS1/12/27.
  2. Restrict comparisons to Early and Middle Preclassic Olmec-style art to the extent that is possible, and avoid comparisons with much later writing and artistic traditions as much as possible.
  3. Include iconographic sources for such motifs to determine whether the identification is plausible, whenever Joralemon’s gloss or description of the motif is not sufficient or available.
  4. Check against the identifications proposed in Rodríguez et al. (2006a), Justeson (2006, 2012), Ortiz et al. (2007), Rodríguez and Ortiz (2007), Anderson (2007), Mora-Marín (2009), Freidel and Reilly (2010), Magni (2012[2008]), and Carrasco and Englehardt (2015).


With these in mind, I begin with CS1. Table 1 presents  the relevant descriptions and identifications by a variety of authors. Figure 6 presents the comparison I offered in Mora-Marín (2010), and published more recently in Mora-Marín (2009:1–2, 2020:211–212, Fig. 1). I suggest it corresponds to Joralemon’s Motif 124, and support the iconographic motivation proposed by Rodríguez et al. (2006a); in fact, most authors are in general agreement about CS1 representing a vegetal motif. Stylistically, I have previously suggested a very close parallel between the renderings of CS1 on the block (Figure 6A) and the renderings of Motif 124 on one of the famous Olmec celts from Arroyo Pesquero (Figure 6B), a site located only a few kilometers from the site of La Venta, Tabasco, as well as an Olmec celt at the Metropolitan Museum of Art (Figure 6C). On these celts, the motif in question appears as elements that make up part of the headdress of a figure that may depict a deity or a human impersonating a deity.

Next is CS2. Table 2 summarizes some of the descriptions and interpretations of this sign’s iconicity. This sign does not appear to have an equivalent in Joralemon’s classification. The two leading suggestions include a depiction of a pineapple and the depiction of a bag or bundle. Figure 7 presents the comparisons offered in Mora-Marín (2010), with Figure 7A showing all instances of CS2 on the Cascajal Block. Figure 7B shows one of three examples arranged in a horizontal row on a celt reportedly from the Chalcatzingo area, a comparison raised by Rodríguez and Ortiz (2007:44), Ortiz et al. (2007:17), and Justeson (2006:2), and which the first two sets of authors regard as depicting a pineapple. Figure 7C shows an interesting comparison with an object held in the hand of a personage from one of the Late Preclassic murals at San Bartolo in the Peten region of Guatemala; this comparison led me to suggest, in Mora-Marín (2010), that CS2 does in fact depict a bag or bundle. However, given that the Chalcatzingo-area celt is closer in time and cultural affiliation, I now favor a comparison with the item in Figure 7B, whatever its iconicity.

Table 3 summarizes the proposals for the iconicity of CS3, and Figure 8 presents iconographic evidence in its support.  This paper favors the identification of CS3 (Figure 8A) as a sprouting shoot, often seen sprouting from the cleft motif (Figures 8B–D). As such, CS3 would correspond to Joralemon’s (1971:13) Motifs 81 and 88, which he defined as “maize sprouting from the head cleft” and “banded maize,” respectively.  The band across the object, which gives it the appearance of candy corn, could be a “reflection” sign, suggesting that the object is shiny.[1]

Table 4 provides a summary of proposals regarding CS29, which this author redefined graphically to include just the triangular element (Mora-Marín 2009, 2020).  I regard CS29 (Figure 10A) to be a depiction of a perforator tip (see sections marked by orange arrows).  CS29 is only tentatively distinguished from CS20 (Figures 10B–C, see blue arrows), given the rationale in Mora-Marín (2009:397-398, Fig. 2).  While it is plausible to isolate CS26 as a separate sign, CS20 only occurs with CS29, and thus the two may not be separable; there are two instances where CS26 seemingly replaces CS20 on top of the presumed perforator tip (Figures 10D–E), but this could be a case of CS26 overlapping CS20. To my knowledge there exist no iconographic examples of perforators that exhibit a motif that resembles CS20, or CS26 for that matter.  For now, it is suggested that CS10 is likely the tip of a perforator, while CS20 the handle, but potentially a separate sign. In most drawings of the Humboldt Celt (Joralemon 1971:25) there is one element that closely resembles CS20 (Figure 10F), but a more recent drawing by this author based on a photograph published in Benson (1996:134, Fig. 2) (Mora-Marín 2022), shows this to be an element resembling the down-turning motif instead (Figure 10G).

The goal of this note was to review some of the iconographic evidence for the four most frequent signs in the Cascajal Block inscription. Future notes will review the evidence for the rest of the signary.



[1] Alternatively, the band could be a sign indicative of a specific color.  For example, the double-merlon sign was identified by Taube (1995:89-91) to be a likely signifier of “green” used in the representation of green objects, such as quetzal feathers and jade implements.  If CS3 represents a maize ear or leaf, it would be unlikely that the band represents a color, since the most likely color of a maize ear, still in its husk, would be green, which would call for the double-merlon sign for “green.”  If the sign represents a cob, then the band could feasibly stand for “yellow,” although not all maize produces yellow kernels; this is unlikely in any case because a representation of a cob would almost certainly show the kernels, as is the case with CS17, which CS3 lacks.  For now, the function of this band as a “reflection” sign seems more fruitful.






Anderson, Lloyd. 2007. Cascajal: an Old System of Writing in Mesoamerica. Unpublished paper circulated by the author.
Anderson, Lloyd. 2012. Understanding discourse: beyond couplets and calendrics first. In Parallel Worlds: Genre, Discourse, and Poetics in Contemporary, Colonial, and Classic Period Maya Literature, edited by Kerry M. Hull and Michael D. Carrasco, pp. 161–179. Boulder: University Press of Colorado.
Carrasco, Michael, and Joshua Englehardt. 2015. Diphrastic Kennings on the Cascajal Block and the Emergence of Mesoamerican Writing.  Cambridge Archaeological Journal 22:1–22.
Coe, Michael, and Karl Taube (editors). 1995. The Olmec World, Ritual and Rulership. The Art Museum, Princeton University, Princeton.
Englehardt, J., Insaurralde Caballero, M., Melgar Tísoc, E., Velázquez Maldonado, L., Guzmán Torres, V., Bernard, H., & Carrasco, M. 2020. Digital Imaging and Archaeometric Analysis of the Cascajal Block: Establishing Context and Authenticity for the Earliest Known Olmec Text. Ancient Mesoamerica, 31(2), 189-209. doi:10.1017/S0956536119000257
Freidel, David A. & F. Kent Reilly III. 2010. The flesh of god: cosmology, food, and the origins of political power in ancient southeastern Mesoamerica. In Pre-Columbian Foodways: Interdisciplinary Approaches to Food, Culture, and Markets in Ancient Mesoamerica, edited by J. Staller & Michael D. Carrasco, pp. 635–680. New York: Springer.
Joralemon, Peter David.  1971.  A Study of Olmec Iconography.  Studies in Pre-Columbian Art and Archaeology, Number Seven.  Washington, D.C.: Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection.
Justeson, John S. 2006.  Sign Comparisons.  Unpublished manuscript used with permission of author.
Justeson, John S. 2012. Early Mesoamerican Writing Systems. In The Oxford Handbook of Mesoamerican Archaeology, edited by Deborah L. Nichols and Christopher A. Pool, pp. 830–844. Oxford University Press.
Macri, Martha J. 2006. The Cascajal Block: Sign Ordering. Glyph Dwellers 22:1-4.
Magni, Caterina. 2012[2008]. Olmec Writing. The Cascajal Block: New Perspectives. Arts & Cultures 9: 64–81. Éd. Somogy, Musée Barbier-Mueller, Genève/Barcelone. Electronic document,, accessed 8/6/19.
Mora-Marín, David F. 2009. Early Olmec Writing: Reading Format and Reading Order. Latin American Antiquity 20(3):395–418.
Mora-Marín, David F. 2010. Further Analysis of Olmec Writing on the Cascajal Block: Sign Inventory, Paleography, Script Affiliations. Unpublished manuscript distributed among several authors.
Mora-Marín, David F. 2016. Orígenes de la escritura en Mesoamérica: Una revaluación de los rasgos formales, conexiones interregionales y filiaciones lingüísticas entre 1200–400 a.C.
Ponencia presentada el 26 de octubre del 2016, en el XXXVIII Coloquio de Antropología e Historia Regionales, Colegio de Michoacán A.C.
Mora-Marín, David F. 2019. Problems and Patterns in the Study of Olmec Hieroglyphic Writing. In The Chinese Writing System and Its Dialogue with Sumerian, Egyptian, and Mesoamerican Writing Systems, edited by Kuang Yu Chen and Dietrich Tschanz, pp. 239-269. Rutgers University Press.
Mora-Marín, David F. 2020. The Cascajal Block: New Line Drawing, Distributional Analysis, Orthographic Patterns. Ancient Mesoamerica 31:210–229. doi:10.1017/S0956536119000270.
Mora-Marín, David F. 2022. Drawings of Three Olmec Celts / Dibujos de tres hachas olmecas. Notes on Mesoamerican Linguistics and Epigraphy 25.
Ortiz C., Ponciano, María del Carmen Rodríguez M., Ricardo Sánchez H., Jasinto Robles C. 2007. El bloque labrado con inscripciones olmecas. Arqueología Mexicana 83:15–18.
Rodríguez Martínez, María del Carmen, Ponciano Ortiz Ceballos. 1999. Informe de inspección en la zona de El Cascajal, Mpio. De Jaltipan, Veracruz, Archivo Técnico del Centro INAH Veracruz, mecanoescrito.
Rodríguez M., María del Carmen, Ponciano Ortiz C. 2007. El bloque labrado con símbolos olmecas encontrado en El Cascajal, municipio de Jaltipan, Veracruz. Arqueología 36:24–51.
Rodríguez Martínez, María del Carmen, Ponciano Ortiz Ceballos, Michael D. Coe, Richard A. Diehl, Stephen D. Houston, Karly A. Taube, and Alfredo Delgado Calderón. 2006a. Oldest Writing in the New World.  Science 313:1610–1614.
Rodríguez Martínez, María del Carmen, Ponciano Ortiz Ceballos, Michael D. Coe, Richard A. Diehl, Stephen D. Houston, Karly A. Taube, and Alfredo Delgado Calderón. 2006b. Supporting Online Material. Electronic document,, accessed on 8/6/19.


Note 25

Drawings of Three Olmec Celts / Dibujos de tres hachas olmecas

David F. Mora-Marín
University of North Carolina
Chapel Hill



This note serves to introduce three drawings of Olmec celts prepared by the author around 2008 and 2016. I have included details from these drawings in several publications and presentations (Mora-Marín 2009, 2016, 2019, 2020), but have not published them in their entirety. All three were prepared with ink pens and then scanned.

Esta nota sirve para presentar tres dibujos de hachas olmecas preparados por el autor alrededor de los años 2008 y 2016. Los tres fueron preparados con bolígrafos de tinta y luego escaneados. Sólo he incluido detalles de estos dibujos en varias de mis publicaciones y ponencias (Mora-Marín 2009, 2016, 2019, 2020).


The first is the so-called Humboldt Celt. My drawing, seen in Figure 1, is based on a photograph that shows the piece in its entirety that appeared in Benson (1996:134, Fig. 2). (Most photographs of the piece are lacking a fragment at the bottom of the piece.)

El primero muestra la denominada Hacha de Humboldt. Mi dibujo, visto en la Figura 1, se basa en una fotografía en Benson (1996: 134, Fig. 2) que muestra la pieza en su totalidad . (La mayoría de las fotografías de esta pieza la muestran sin un fragmento en la base.)


Figure 1


Figure 2 shows only the incised content of the celt.

La Figura 2 muestra solamente el contenido inciso del hacha.


Figure 2

The second drawing, in Figure 3, shows the first of two Olmec celts reportedly from the site of Arroyo Pesquero. The drawing was prepared from a photograph in Coe and Taube (1995:104).

El segundo dibujo, en la Figura 3, muestra la primera de dos hachas olmecas supuestamente provenientes del sitio Arroyo Pesquero. Se basa en la fotografía que aparece en Coe y Taube (1995:104).


Figure 3

Figure 4 shows the incised imagery only.

La Figura 4 muestra solamente la figura incisa.

Finally, Figure 5 shows my drawing of another Olmec celt reportedly from Arroyo Pesquero. My drawing is based on the only photograph of the entire piece that I have seen, which appeared in Taube (2007:43).

Finalmente, la Figura 5 muestra mi dibujo de otra hacha olmeca supuestamente del sitio de Arroyo Pesquero. Mi dibujo se basa en la única fotografía de la pieza entera que conozco, incluida en Taube (2007:43).


Figura 5

Figure 6 shows the incised imagery only.

La Figura 6 muestra el contenido inciso solamente.


Figura 6

Of course, any drawing of an artifact can be improved by means of a detailed examination of the artifact itself. But for the time being, the reader should feel free to use these drawings for the study of Olmec art and writing.

Por supuesto, cualquier dibujo de un artefacto se puede mejorar mediante una examinación detallada del artefacto mismo. Pero por el momento, sírvase el lector de emplear estos dibujos para el estudio del arte y la escritura olmeca.


Benson, Elizabeth P. 1996. Collections of Olmec Objects Outside Mexico. In Olmec Art of Ancient Mexico, edited by Elizabeth P. Benson and Beatriz de la Fuente, pp. 133-139. Washington: National Gallery of Art.
Coe, Michael, and Karl Taube (editors). 1995. The Olmec World, Ritual and Rulership. The Art Museum, Princeton University, Princeton.
Mora-Marín, David F. 2009. Early Olmec Writing: Reading Format and Reading Order. Latin American Antiquity 20(3):395–418.
Mora-Marín, David F. 2016. Orígenes de la escritura en Mesoamérica: Una revaluación de los rasgos formales, conexiones interregionales y filiaciones lingüísticas entre 1200–400 a.C. Ponencia presentada el 26 de octubre del 2016, en el XXXVIII Coloquio de Antropología e Historia Regionales, Colegio de Michoacán A.C.
Mora-Marín, David F. 2019. Problems and Patterns in the Study of Olmec Hieroglyphic Writing. In The Chinese Writing System and Its Dialogue with Sumerian, Egyptian, and Mesoamerican Writing Systems, edited by Kuang Yu Chen and Dietrich Tschanz, pp. 239-269. Rutgers University Press.
Mora-Marín, David F. 2020. The Cascajal Block: New Line Drawing, Distributional Analysis, Orthographic Patterns. Ancient Mesoamerica 31:210–229. doi:10.1017/S0956536119000270.
Taube, Karl. 2007. La jadeíta y la cosmovisión de los olmecas. Arqueología Mexicana 15(87):43-48.

Student Glyphic Autobiographies

These are a few of the autobiographies composed in Mayan hieroglyphs by my Spring 2022 Mayan Hieroglyphic Writing students.

Éstos son ejemplos de las autobiografías compuestas en escritura jeroglífica maya por los estudiantes de mi clase de la Primavera 2022.


Note 24

Some Notes on the Paleography of T617 and T24, and Evidence for Their Graphic Convergence


David F. Mora-Marín
University of North Carolina
Chapel Hill

2/4/2022 (4 de febrero del 2022)

Resumen: En esta nota se provee evidencia del origen distinto de los grafemas T617 y T24 (Figura 1). Se demuestra que sus formas gráficas fueron distintas durante el preclásico tardío y la mayor parte del clásico temprano, con T617 mostrando forma de óvalo (Figura 2) y T24 forma de gancho (Figura 3). No fue sino hasta finales del clásico temprano cuando T24 empezó a cambiar de forma y a converger gráficamente, poco a poco, con T617, al perder el elemento gráfico en forma de gancho (Figuras 3 y 4). Esto también comprueba que T24, a diferencia de T617, no representa, iconográficamente, un hacha pulida, sino que más bien algún tipo de herramienta en forma de gancho.


There is a general sense among epigraphers that T617/1M3 (Figure 1), the so-called MIRROR or CELT sign that is used in the Initial Sign collocation of the PSS, is formally identical to (i.e. the same sign as) T24/1M4 (Figure 2), the syllabogram li. The two are indeed similar: they are elongated signs, with a partial cartouche, and a double-banded line, usually oriented diagonally, across the middle. It is even likely that T24/1M4 also depicts, iconographically, a polished stone object. Nevertheless, as I show in this note, the two signs were originally graphically and graphemically distinct, and T24/1M4 may have depicted a different type of stone object originally, not a celt-shaped object. That said, I also show here that over the course of the Early Classic period they gradually converged graphically: specifically, T24 became somewhat more like T617.




Years ago, Grube (1990:88, 110) suggested that T617 corresponds to the main sign version of T24, and thus, that they constitute the same sign; he even utilized this possible graphic and graphemic correspondence to suggest a Vl value for the T617 grapheme in the context of the Initial Sign Collocation of the Primary Standard Sequence (Grube 1991:224). The fact that Macri and Looper (2003:274–275) refer to the pictorial motivation of both signs as “celt, reflective stone” also is evidence of the equivalence that is often assumed, at least in iconographic terms. As I show next, the early evolution of these signs suggests that there was no graphemic or iconographic equivalence, at least not during the Late Preclassic and most of the Early Classic period.


The earliest examples of T617 are consistent in two traits (Figure 1A, Figure 2): the outline of the sign is always oval in shape, and they show a diagonal band. The diagonal band can be a single band (Figure 2A), a doubled-band that is otherwise plain (Figure 1A), two single parallel bands with horizontal lines across them (Figure 2B), two single parallel bands with cross-hatching (Figure 2C), or two doubled, parallel bands with horizontal lines across them (Figure 2D), among other design variations. But what no example or significant set of examples shows, to my knowledge, is cross-hatching on either side of the diagonal band.



It is time to describe the early designs of T24 li. A very important comparison is provided by the cases of T617 and T24 on the Late Preclassic Dumbarton Oaks quartzite pectoral. The example of T617 (Figure 3A) shows a simple oval outline with a single, plain diagonal band. In contrast, the example of T24 (Figure 3B) on the same text shows a very different, hook-shaped outline; although there is a small internal, rectangular space where a diagonal band may have been intended, it was not visible to me when I examined this artifact in person with magnification. By ca. 120 ce, T24 had developed a diagonal band (or dual diagonal bands), and possibly cross-hatching, as suggested by an instance on the Dumbarton Oaks fragmented jadeite belt plaque (Figure 3C), while retaining the hook-shaped outline. Although many examples exhibit a diagonal band, or a pair of diagonal bands, sometimes with horizontal lines between them, just like different designs of T617 do, this design element is known to occur across many distinct graphemes in Mayan writing, and it is believed to be an iconographic device to indicate that the depicted object is “shinny” as a result of polishing (e.g. Hopkins 1994; Hopkins and Josserand 1999; Mora-Marín 2008). Internal cross-hatching, besides the diagonal band or bands, occurs in some designs of T24 (Figures 3D, 3I, 3J–M), but not others (Figures 3E-F, 3H, 3N with Figure 3G).[1] Eventually, the hook of the hook-shaped outline dissolved (Figures 3L–M), as noted in Mora-Marín (2003:206–207), resulting in a generalized graphic convergence with some designs of T617, especially when the design of T24 lacked cross-hatching (Figure 3N), a design element typically absent from T617, as already noted. Based on this evidence, there is no reason to suspect that T617 and T24 were originally related graphically or graphemically.



The hook-shaped design of T24 li declined gradually, with the hook-shaped element becoming less and less visible, during the Early Classic period. Its latest-dated occurrence may appear on Caracol Stela 16 (A16) (Figure 4A), dated to, 535 ce. A few years later most texts exhibit the design lacking the hook element, though a trace of it persists in at least one of the instances of T24 on La Corona Altar 5 (A8) (Figure 4B), dated to, 544 ce. It is only after this point that T24 begins to resemble T617 more and more. In fact, a design of T24 emerged in which the diagonal band was replaced for an internal loop element that is also seen in some designs of T617. I have yet to investigate whether the internal loop was innovated by T617, and copied into T24, or vice versa. This is a matter left for future research.



To conclude, T617 and T24 started out with very different outlines: an oval outline for the former, and a hook-shaped outline for the latter. The internal components also differed, even though they depicted a generalized iconographic marker of polished surfaces (on various type of stone, turtle shells, and possibly other materials). T24 almost certainly did not originally depict a celt or mirror, but some sort of hook-shaped implement made out of stone or another polishable material. It is only after ca. that T24 loses completely its hook-shaped element, and begins to resemble T617 more and more. Given this, there is no reason to suspect any original graphemic connection between these two signs, which otherwise behave very differently, and consequently, there is no reason to implicate the value of T24 li in discussions of the logographic value of T617 in the context of the Initial Sign Collocation (or elsewhere).


[1] Only one case of T617 shows cross-hatching, but within the band element rather than outside of it: the example from Balakbal Stela 5 (Figure 2C). This cross-hatching was perhaps a result of graphic assimilation to the design of T126 ya that is present within the same collocation.



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

Berjonneau, Gerald, Emile Deletaille, and Jean-Louis Sonnery. 1985. Rediscovered Masterpieces of Mesoamerica: Mexico-Guatemala-Honduras. Boulogne: Editions Arts.

Grube, Nikolai. 1990. Die Entwicklung der Mayaschift: Grundlagen zur Erforschung des Wandels der Mayaschrift von der Protoklassik bis zur spanischen Eroberung. Ph.D. dissertation, Universität Hamburg.

Grube, Nikolai. 1991. An Investigation of the Primary Standard Sequence on Classic Maya Ceramics. In Sixth Palenque Round Table, 1986, edited by Merle Greene Robertson, pp. 223-232. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press.

Hopkins, Nicholas A. 1994. Days, kings, and other semantic classes marked in Maya hieroglyphic writing. Paper presented at the 93rd Annual Meeting of the American Anthropological Association, Atlanta.

Hopkins, Nicholas A., and J. Kathryn Josserand. 1999. Issues of Glyphic Decipherment. Paper presented at the 17th Annual University Museum Maya Weekend, “Maya Epigraphy— Progress and Prospects”, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia.

Houston, Stephen D., John Robertson, and David S. Stuart. 2001. Quality and Quantity in Glyphic Nouns and Adjectives.  Research Reports on Ancient Maya Writing 47:1–56.

Justeson, John S., and Peter Mathews. 1990. Evolutionary Trends in Mesoamerican Hieroglyphic Writing. Visible Language 24:88–132.

Macri, Martha J., and Matthew Looper. 2003. The New Catalog of Maya Hieroglyphs. Volume One: The Classic Period Inscriptions. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press.

Mora-Marín, David F. 2003. The Origin of Mayan Syllabograms and Orthographic Conventions. Written Language and Literacy 6(2): 193–237.

Mora-Marín, David F. 2008. Full Phonetic Complementation, Semantic Classifiers, and Semantic Determinatives in Ancient Mayan Hieroglyphic Writing. Ancient Mesoamerica 19:195–213.

Stuart, David, Marcello A. Canuto, Tomás Barrientos, and Alejandro González. 2018. A Preliminary Analysis of Altar 5 from La Corona. The PARI Journal 19(2):1–13.

Tokovinine, Alexandre, and Francisco Estrada-Belli. 2015. La Sufricaya: A Place in Classic Maya Politics. In Classic Maya Polities of the Southern Lowlands: Integration, Interaction, Dissolution, edited by Damien B. Marken and James L. Fitzsimmons, pp. 195–223. Boulder: University Press of Colorado.


Note 23

La omisión de grafías para sufijos verbales en la escritura jeroglífica maya: Algunos ejemplos de la Secuencia Estándar Primaria


David F. Mora-Marín
University of North Carolina
Chapel Hill

06/01/2022 (6 de enero)


Esta nota ilustra varios ejemplos de grafías de expresiones verbales en las cuales los escribas mayas prescindieron de la necesidad de representar los sufijos requeridos gramaticalmente (Mora-Marín 2010:157–163). Tal omisión fue opcional y común cuando se utilizaban logogramas para representación de expresiones verbales. También, se describe una convención de abreviación originalmente propuesta en la Nota 1 de este serie (Mora-Marín 2020), en la cual se aplica la abreviación de expresiones verbales, prescindiendo de sufijos obligatorios, y además, se voltea la orientación del signo T713 CH’AL/K’AL ‘envolver/cerrar/adornar’.


En la escritura maya, los lexemas podían representarse mediante un logograma, sin silabogramas explícitos para representar los sufijos derivacionales y flexionales gramaticalmente requeridos. En tales casos, el contexto sintáctico fue suficiente para que el lector pudiera completar la información faltante (cf. Mora-Marín 2010:157–163). En algunos casos, esto fue claramente el resultado de limitaciones de espacio. En muchos casos, las restricciones sintácticas fueron suficientes para que cualquier lector reconociera los afijos gramaticales ortográficamente no especificados.


Un caso, de entre muchos, que sirve como ejemplo, fue ilustrado por Stuart (1987:27–28, Fig. 38). El ejemplo consiste de tres grafías del nombre de un probable soberano de Seibal/Ceibal, quien fue capturado por un rey de Dos Pilas. Las grafías varían en estrategia ortográfica. El primero caso (Figura 1A) muestra una grafía logográfica GARRA-JAGUAR. El segundo (Figura 1B) muestra una grafía logosilábica GARRA-ki-JAGUAR-ma. El tercero (Figura 1C) muestra una grafía netamente silábica para la primera palabra, yi-ch’a-ki, y una grafía logográfica para la segunda palabra, B’ALAM. (Todos los dibujos han sido preparados por su servidor en base a la Figura 38 de Stuart (1987).) Esta última grafía, yi-ch’a-ki-B’ALAM, representa la frase posesiva y-ihch’äk b’ahläm (su-garra + jaguar), ‘garra de jaguar (o la garra del jaguar)’, con la raíz ʔihch’äk ‘uña/garra’, poseída por la raíz ‘jaguar’ mediante un prefijo ergativo/posesivo y-, el cual es gramaticalmente obligatorio no solo por ser éste un caso de una construcción nominal posesiva, sino también por ser un caso de un sustantivo inalienable, ‘uña/garra’, el cual requiere ya sea de un prefijo posesivo o de un sufijo de marca ‘absoluta’ de forma -Vl. Ninguna de las dos grafías que muestran el logograma GARRA (Figuras 1A–B) representan el marcador posesivo obligatorio ortográficamente; es el contexto sintáctico, sustantivo poseído + sustantivo poseedor, el que sirve de pista para el lector de que tal marcador debe de “leerse” en esta expresión. Es solamente la tercera grafía, yi-ch’a-ki-B’ALAM, la que representa el marcador posesivo de manera explícita a través del silabograma yi. Varios autores han señalado este fenómeno, aunque queda mucho por investigar. Mora-Marín (2010: 157-163) ha acuñado el término logografía polimorfémica para referirse a este fenómeno ilustrado por los primeros dos ejemplos.


Figura 1

A continuación, ilustraré algunos casos similares de textos representativos de la Secuencia Estándar Primaria (SEP). Parto desde un marco analítico elaborado en mi trabajo previo concerniente a la estructura de la SEP (Mora-Marín 1999, 2001, 2004). Éste propone que los textos de la SEP pueden consistir de más de una cláusula (unidad sintáctica consistiendo de un predicado y un sujeto), y que existen ejemplos en los que más de una cláusula se puede combinar en una sola oración (frase compleja consistiendo de dos o más cláusulas). Más generalmente, se considera que los escribas empleaban una variedad de criterios para escoger la forma más apta para la representación de una expresión dada, entre ellos los siguientes: el espacio disponible; la opción de representar una expresión en forma completa o parcial (es decir, abreviada o no); y la frecuencia con la que ciertas expresiones eran representadas, criterio que influye en la familiaridad de grafías variantes a las que tendrá acceso un lector cualquiera.


El primer par de ejemplos se muestra en la Figura 2. (Las imágenes de Justin se encuentran archivadas en Kerr (n.d.).) Ambos exhiben un estructura sintáctica equivalente, comenzando con la Colocación del Signo Inicial (CSI) (1), seguida por un verbo (2), después una frase nominal consistiendo de un sustantivo poseído refiriéndose al objeto inscrito mismo (3), y finalmente una frase nominal refiriéndose al poseedor humano del objeto inscrito (4). En estas construcciones, el sujeto del verbo es el sustantivo poseído; la CSI, será tratada como una forma gramaticalizada de la partícula existencial *ʔay(-an) ‘existe’. Lo importante, por el momento, es el verbo. En el caso del texto del artefacto K6631, el verbo consiste del glifo denominado “Dios N.” Este glifo consituye un logograma verbal representando una expresión incoativa derivada mediante el sufijo -V1y ‘incoativo’ (Mora-Marín 2007a). La raíz representada por el glifo DIOS.N ha otorgada varias lecturas (ver reseña y propuesta en Mora-Marín 2007b), pero su valor exacto no es de relevancia; lo que vale resaltar aquí es que verbos incoativos basados en este sufijo suelen representarse de forma parcial con el silabograma yi después del logograma, y de forma explícita con un silabograma cuya vocal armonice con la vocal de la raíz léxica (p.ej. pu-lu-yi para pul-uy(-i)-Ø ’empezó a quemarse’). En el caso del texto de K6631, el sufijo no se representó ni de forma parcial; en el caso del texto de K5764, el sufijo se representó de forma parcial con yi.


Figura 2

Los ejemplos en la Figura 3, ilustrando los textos de las vasijas K2295 y K5241, respectivamente, son parecidos. El primer caso muestra el verbo, el glifo DIOS.N, con el silabograma yi para expresar el sufijo -V1y ‘incoativo’  de forma parcial, mientras que el segundo caso muestra el mismo logograma verbal pero esta vez sin el silabograma yi. En ambos casos, el sujeto del verbo es el verbo nominalizado u tz’ihb’-naj-al ‘lo pintado/inscrito’, el cual está poseído por el sustantivo y-uk’-ib’ ‘su taza’ (‘para cacao tipo teʔel); éste último está, a su vez, poseído por el nombre de una persona, quien recibirá el vaso inscrito eventualmente. El DIOS.N no es una nominalización; como lo demuestra la palabra u tz’ihb’-naj-al, las nominalizaciones verbales, en particular cuando se yuxtaponen a su argumento (p.ej. el objeto o el sujeto del verbo en el sentido semántico), deben de ser poseídos por un proclítico ergativo/posesivo (del juego A), típicamente u en estos casos. Más bien, el logograma DIOS.N debe de analizarse como un logograma polimorfémico, incorporando el sufijo -V1y, de la misma manera en la que el primer logograma de la grafías GARRA(-ki)-JAGUAR(-ma) (Figuras 1A–B) incorpora el prefijo y- ‘tercera persona singular ergativa/posesiva’.


Figura 3

En la Figura 4 se puede apreciar el texto de la vasija K6418 es muy interesante. En éste se pueden observar dos frases del tipo SEP, una a la izquierda del personaje sedente, y la otra a su derecha.


Figura 4

La primera frase se puede considerar como una cláusula, específicamente la Cláusula 1 de la Figura 5. Ésta consiste de la CSI, el verbo (CIELO-la-ja), y una frase nominal compleja que incluye tres frases nominales (el sustantivo refiriéndose al texto pintado sobre la vasija misma, poseído a su vez por el sustantivo refiriéndose a la vasija, poseído a su vez por un personaje cuyo título chäk ch’ok ‘gran joven/príncipe’ concluye la frase). La Cláusula 2 es más simple: consiste de la CSI, el verbo (DIOS.N-yi), y una frase nominal simple (u tz’ihb’ ‘su escritura’). Lo que cabe resaltar aquí es el hecho de que esta vasija contiene dos cláusulas de tipo SEP, cada una con un verbo distinto: la primera con el verbo CIELO-la-ja, la segunda con el verbo DIOS.N-yi.


Figura 5

Lo interesante ahora es comparar el caso anterior con el texto de la vasija K1775 en la Figura 6. Su texto consiste de dos frases, la primera (Cláusula 1, en realidad una oración) consistiendo una CSI seguida por dos verbos (CIELO-ja, DIOS.N-yi) y un sujeto complejo (‘el texto pintado de la vasija para cacao teʔel del gran joven fuerte’), y la segunda (Cláusula 2) consistiendo de una partícula reportativa cheʔen ‘dice’ seguida por su sujeto u tz’ihb’ ‘su escritura/texto’. Los verbos (Verbo1, Verbo2) concuerdan con los verbos de las frases separadas del texto en K6418.


Figura 6


En otras palabras, en el caso del texto de K1775, se han combinado dos cláusulas distintas en una sola oración, como se puede ver en la Figura 7. Esta combinación de dos cláusulas en una sola oración constituye un tipo de abreviación: le permite al escriba proveer la misma cantidad de información en menos espacio.


Figura 7


Los escribas eran capaces de abreviar tales oraciones aún más. En la Figura 8 se pueden apreciar dos textos. El primero, en K1377, muestra dos verbos: el Verbo1 consiste de K’AL-ja mientras que el Verbo2 corresponde a DIOS.N-yi, cada uno ocupando su propio bloque glífico. En K1383, el escriba ha combinado y compactado dos verbos en un solo bloque glífico; en tales casos de compactación extrema, ambos verbos carecen de las representaciones fonéticas parciales de sus sufijos, siendo más bien representados de acuerdo a la lógica de la logografía polimorfémica.


Figure 8

Nótese que el escriba ha realizado dos cambios en el caso de la expresión verbal basada en el logograma T713 CH’AL/K’AL, el cual representa, iconográficamente, una mano (Figura 9): en la versión de K1383, la mano ha sido volteada hacia la izquierda, en vez de hacia la derecha, como se observa en la versión de K1377; y también, el signo T548 ha reemplazado al signo T617.


Figura 9

Este volteo del signo T713 no fue idiosincrásico, sino que más bien, una convención sistemática. En los textos de la SEP, cada vez que el glifo T173 CH’AL/K’AL se compacta dentro de un mismo bloque glífico con otra expresión verbal, se voltea hacia la izquierda y, generalmente, muestra una versión simplificada del signo T548 como determinante/diacrítico semántico/léxico, en vez de T617, el signo ESPEJO/HACHA, que más comúnmente se combina con T713 para indicar el valor CH’AL/K’AL. Este volteo se puede observar cuando se combina con la expresión verbal (aún sin descifrar) consistiendo de un glifo que generalmente se asemeja al glifo DIOS.DEL.MAíZ, la cual se aprecia en  textos como K1256 y K5450 (Figuras 10A–B), tal y como se ve en el ejemplo de K4997 (Figura 10C).


Figura 10

Finalmente, esta misma abreviación y giro gráfico se puede observar cuando se combina el glifo T713 CH’AL/K’AL con el glifo T1016/1017, el cual sirve para representar una expresión verbal, posiblemente basada en k’uhul-uy-i ‘se consagró’ (Mora-Marín 2020), presente en los textos K3996 (Figura 11A) y K1743 (Figura 11B). De hecho, en el texto de K5456 (Figura 11C), entro otros, se puede también apreciar un ejemplo volteado de T713 seguido del signo T1016/1017.


Figura 11

Para concluir, los escribas mayas tenían varias opciones para abreviar expresiones logográficas. Una de ellas requería de un principio de logografía polimorfémica (Mora-Marín 2010). Otra, hasta el momento restringida a casos de textos portátiles (vasijas), y de hecho casos del signo T713, consistía en el volteo del signo hacia la izquierda (y un cambio en el uso de determinantes/diacríticos semánticos/léxicos).



Kerr, Justin. n.d. Maya Vase Database.

Mora-Marín, David F. 1999a. Notes on the Structure of the PSS Dedicatory Formula. Unpublished manuscript available through Kinko’s in Austin, Texas.

—–. 1999b. The Structure of the Dedicatory Formula in Classic Mayan Texts. Unpublished Manuscript.

—–. 2001. The Grammar, Orthography, and Social Context of Late Preclassic Mayan Texts.  Unpublished Ph.D. Thesis.  University at Albany, Albany, New York.

—–. 2004. Final FAMSI Grant Report: The Primary Standard Sequence: Database Compilation, Grammatical Analysis, and Primary Documentation. URL:

—–. 2005. The Initial Sign Glyph of the Primary Standard Sequence. Part I: Spelling Patterns. 18 pp. Unpublished note distributed among epigraphers in attendance at the 2005 Texas Maya Meetings. Available at

—–. 2007a. The Identification of an Ingressive Suffix in Classic Lowland Mayan Texts. In Proceedings of the CILLA III Conference, October 2007, Austin, Texas, edited by Nora England, pp 1-14. Austin: Archive of the Indigenous Languages of Latin America, Linguistics Department, University of Texas.

—–. 2007b. A Logographic Value HUʔ (~ʔUʔ) ‘to blow’ or ‘sacred, moral, power’ for the GOD.N Verbal Glyph of the Primary Standard Sequence. Wayeb Notes No. 27:1-22.

—–. 2010. Consonant Deletion, Obligatory Synharmony, Typical Suffixing: An Explanation of Spelling Practices in Mayan Writing. Written Language and Literacy 13:118–179.

—–. 2020. The T(1016/)1017 Verbal Glyph of the PSS as k’uh(ul)/ch’uh(ul)-uy(-i) ‘It Became Holy’. Notes on Mesoamerican Linguistics and Epigraphy 1:

Stuart, David. 1987. Ten Phonetic Syllables. Research Reports on Ancient Maya Writing 14.  Washington, D.C.: Center for Maya Research.


Note 22

On the Initial Sign Collocations from Tikal Stela 31


David F. Mora-Marín
University of North Carolina
Chapel Hill



This note pertains to one particular spelling of the Initial Sign Collocation (ISC) originally defined for the Primary Standard Sequence (PSS), specifically one of three cases that appear on Tikal Stela 31.


In her dissertation on the PSS, Barbara MacLeod (1990:53) argued that the ISC, examples of which are seen in Figure 1, represents an inflected form of the existential particle *ʔay, inflected with an inchoative suffix -a(n) as *ay-a in the completive, or *ʔay-an in the incompletive, while acknowledging the daunting task of accounting for all the apparent allograms used to spell the expression, not to mention the logosyllabic spelling patterns involving the syllabograms ʔa, la, ya. She also proposed the optional ʔa and ya syllabograms as phonetic cues for a reading ʔAY for the IS logogram, most typically a form of T617/1M2, and the occasional la as evidence for the presence of a different inchoative suffix of the form -l-ah (i.e. -l-aj), resulting in a form *ʔay-l-ah-Ø ‘it came into being’. She argued that the use of inchoative suffixes with the existential particle would derive a verb with the meaning ‘to come into being’.


Figure 1

MacLeod (1990:49–50) further proposed that at least one of the spellings on Tikal Stela 31 could be transcribed as T617-ya-na, providing explicit support for the proto-Ch’olan reconstruction *ʔay-an for the existential particle by Kaufman and Norman (1984:116), and thus pointing to the -an inchoative suffix. Such suffix was argued by Justeson et al. (1988:125) to be present in both Ch’olan *ʔayan and Yucatecan *yàan, in the latter case as a result of diffusion of a pre-Ch’olan form *ʔay-aan into Yucatecan in the context of the Lowland Mayan contact region. This suffix would be implicated in the Postclassic codical spellings of the existential particle as ʔa-T667-ya-na (Fox and Justeson 1984:1984:56-57, note 34; Justeson et al. 1988:125). Such an identification, of a spelling with na at Tikal during the Early Classic period, would support MacLeod’s proposed readings *ʔay-an (incompletive) and *ʔay-a (completive), given the corresponding incompletive/completive forms of the Ch’olan inchoative -ʔan (incompletive) and -ʔa (completive), as illustrated with Ch’ol lujb’-ʔan ‘to get tired’ vs. lujb’-(ʔ)a ‘got tired’ (cf. Kaufman and Norman 1984:102). In this way, spellings like (ʔa-)T617-ya-na and (ʔa-)T617-ya would be contrastive, for ʔay-an ‘it comes into existence’ and ʔay-a ‘it came into existence’, respectively.


In my previous work, I have supported MacLeod’s proposed decipherment of the ISC as connected to the existential particle (Mora-Marín 2001:111-112, 521, Fig. 4.5; 2005:9-11, 12-16, Table 3, Fig. 4). Nevertheless, the difficulty of explaining its function in preverbal contexts has also led me to opt for the deictic function (alay ‘this (here)’) favored during the early 2000s by MacLeod and Polyukhovych (2005); consequently, I have also adopted such approach in some of my work (Mora-Marín 2004, 2007, 2010). More recently, I have uncovered linguistic and epigraphic evidence that strongly supports and clarifies the original existential particle identification by MacLeod, in the various contexts in which it occurs (Mora-Marín n.d.). The purpose of this note, though, is limited to discussing the spellings of the ISC on Tikal Stela 31, and more specifically, the case argued by MacLeod (1990) to represent proto-Ch’olan *ʔay-an.


A careful examination of the graphic elements of the signs in the ISC examples from Tikal Stela 31, based on the 3D scanning renderings by Alexandre Tokovinine (2020), allows for clarification: based on such evidence, it can be shown that the scribe responsible for composing the inscription on Tikal Stela 31 was consistent in rendering T178 la in a way that in some cases resembles T23 na, both in the context of the ISC and other collocations where it is unambiguously meant to be read as la; at the same time, it can also be shown that the scribe was consistent in rendering T23 na by means of a very different design that precluded ambiguity with T178 la. Given this, the Tikal examples in question can be definitively read as T617-ya-la.


First, a close look at the three spellings of the IS collocation on Tikal Stela 31 will prove instructive. Figure 2Ashows the spelling ʔa-IS-ya-la, at A12, already mentioned. Figure 2B shows IS-ya-?la/?na, at C19, discussed by MacLeod (1990). And Figure 2C shows IS-ya-?li/la, at G15. In the second spelling, Figure 2B, the final syllabogram is not consistent with the graphic design of T23 na used by the scribe(s) responsible for the carving of this monument. An examination of the instances of T23 na, as well as clear cases of T178 la, will clarify the case of the collocation at C19.


Figure 2

Figures 3A–C show clear examples of T23 na used on this monument. All cases of T23 na on Stela 31 show the same design, one characterized by 3-5 dots arranged diagonally, as well as two large drill-holes on the bottom outline. The sign resembling T23 na in the ISC collocation at C19 bears neither the diagonal line of dots, nor the two large drill-holes at the bottom. It does resemble more standard designs of T23 na, though. The question is whether there exist unambiguous designs of T178 la that might resemble the sign of interest at C19c.


Figure 3

Figures 4A–E show samples of the more common graphic designs of T178 la employed by the scribe responsible for Stela 31. This design consists of an elongated, T-shaped sign, with an internal elliptical or rectangular component (Figures 4A–D); within that internal component, two diagonal bands are usually present (Figures 4A–D), and occasionally, on both sides of the diagonal bands, it is possible to see cross-hatching (Figure 4C). The T-shaped sign is usually doubled (Figures 4A–C), but it need not be (Figure 4D). This last example, appearing at the bottom of the collocation K’AN-TEʔ-la, strongly resembles the sign at the bottom of the ISC on glyph block C19, and they both resemble an instance of a more standard T23 na. However, a comparison with a similar expression on Yaxchilan Lintel 23 (cf. Graham 1982:135), seen in Figure 4E, where it appears as K’AN-TEʔ2-la, employing a more obvious design of T178 la, corroborates its identity as T178.


Figure 4

It is this last design of T178 la, the one seen in Figure 4D, reproduced below as Figure 5A, that resembles the version seen in the ISC at C19c on Tikal Stela 31. It is the design that most closely resembles the more typical versions of T23 na, rather than the more idiosyncratic version with the diagonal dotted line that is the norm on Stela 31.


Figure 5

To conclude, the similarity between certain designs of T178 la and the more standard design of T23 na led MacLeod (and others, including myself) to transcribe one of the ISC spellings on the monument as IS-ya-na, but the detailed imaging of the monument by Tokovinine, together with the paleographic evidence, shows that this was an erroneous transcription. The spellings of the ISC on Tikal Stela 31 point to two patterns only: ʔa-IS-ya-la and IS-ya-la.


In future notes and papers I will present new evidence in support of MacLeod’s identification of the ISC with the existential particle *ʔay(-an). However, contra MacLeod’s (1990) original proposal, it is shown not to be a derived inchoative verb, but instead, in its preverbal contexts at least, a grammaticalized use of the existential particle with an aspectual/evidential function. More on this soon.



Graham, Ian. 1982. Corpus of Maya Hieroglyphic Inscriptions, Volume 3, Part 3: Yaxchilan. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology, Harvard University.

Justeson, John S., and Peter Mathews. 1990. Evolutionary Trends in Mesoamerican Hieroglyphic Writing. Visible Language 24:88–132.

Justeson, John S., William M. Norman, and Norman Hammond. 1988. The Pomona Flare: A Preclassic Maya Hieroglyphic Text.  In Maya Iconography, edited by Elizabeth P. Benson and Gillet G. Griffin, pp. 94-151. Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press.

Kaufman, Terrence, and William Norman. 1984. An outline of Proto-Cholan phonology, morphology, and vocabulary. In Phoneticism in Maya Hieroglyphic Writing, edited by John S. Justeson and Lyle Campbell, pp. 77-166. Institute for Mesoamerican Studies Publication No. 9. Albany: State University of New York.

MacLeod, Barbara. 1990. Deciphering the Primary Standard Sequence. Unpublished Ph.D. dissertation. University of Texas at Austin.

Macri, Martha J., and Matthew Looper. 2003. The New Catalog of Maya Hieroglyphs. Volume One: The Classic Period Inscriptions. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press.

MacLeod, Barbara, and Yuriy Polyukhovych. 2005. Deciphering the Initial Sign. In Sourcebook for the 29th Maya Hieroglyph Forum, March 11-16, pp. 166-174. Department of Art and Art History, University of Texas, Austin.

Mora-Marín, David F. 2001. The Grammar, Orthography, and Social Context of Late Preclassic Mayan Texts. Unpublished Ph.D. Thesis.  University at Albany, Albany, New York.

—–. 2004. Final FAMSI Grant Report: The Primary Standard Sequence: Database Compilation, Grammatical Analysis, and Primary Documentation. URL:

—–. 2005. The Initial Sign Glyph of the Primary Standard Sequence. Part I: Spelling Patterns. 18 pp. Unpublished note distributed among epigraphers in attendance at the 2005 Texas Maya Meetings. Available at

—–. 2007. Two Incised Shell Silhouette Plaques at Dumbarton Oaks. FAMSI Journal of the Ancient Americas, pp. 1-16.

—–. 2010. Consonant Deletion, Obligatory Synharmony, Typical Suffixing: An Explanation of Spelling Practices in Mayan Writing. Written Language and Literacy 13:118–179.

Tokovinine, Alexandre. 2020. Stela 31, Tikal (Version I). Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution. URL:

Tokovinine, Alexandre, and Francisco Estrada-Belli. 2015. La Sufricaya: A Place in Classic Maya Politics. In Classic Maya Polities of the Southern Lowlands: Integration, Interaction, Dissolution, edited by Damien B. Marken and James L. Fitzsimmons, pp. 195–223. Boulder: University Press of Colorado.


Note 21

Graphic Incorporation of T1/HE6 ʔu Within T128/32P TIʔ ‘Mouth’ and Other Paleographic Details

David F. Mora-Marín
University of North Carolina
Chapel Hill



This note proposes that T128/32P TIʔ for tiʔ ‘mouth’, as normally defined graphically, actually incorporates an infixed or conflated, Early Classic version of T1/HE6 ʔu. More specifically, the dots present on the leftmost component of T128 are shown to characterize early designs of T1/HE6 ʔu. This graphic incorporation was reinforced linguistically, as I argue here, by the inalienable nature of the noun tiʔ ‘mouth’, requiring that it be typically possessed with a person marker, most frequently u- ‘his/her/its’, or that it take a suffix to indicate that it was unpossessed, either -il(based on contemporary languages) or -Vs (in Classic texts). Whether through infixation or conflation, the presence of T1/HE6 ʔu remained transparent to scribes throughout most of the Early Classic period (ca. 200-600). Nevertheless, by the Late Classic period (ca. 600-900), some scribes at some sites appear to have reanalyzed the incorporated T1/HE6 ʔu as part of the graphic design of T128/32P, and began to spell the possessive marker u- by means of a separate, and thus, from a historical perspective, redundant, syllabogram ʔu. During the Late Classic, in fact, a redesign of T128/32P, involving a horizontal flipping of the conflated T1/HE6, further supports the proposition that some scribes at least were no longer recognizing its presence, but simply considering it part of T128/32P itself. The analysis presented here, which remains preliminary, has consequences for the linguistic analysis of several expressions, reviewed here, but especially for the study of Mayan paleography.


First, the signs in question must be introduced. Thompson’s (1962) catalog exemplars for T128 are seen in Figure 1A; Macri and Looper’s (2003) counterpart, 32P, is seen in Figure 1B. Some of Thompson’s examples are conflations of T128 with other signs (at least the last example is for sure); I take his first and third examples (blue arrows) to be the relevant ones. Macri and Looper’s examples can be characterized as follows: the first is the T128-like version, which may referred to as the non-MOUTH version; the third is the MOUTH version, which is often human- or human-like, but in some examples, especially late ones, may appear more zoomorphic than anthropomorphic; and the second is the combination of the non-MOUTH and MOUTH versions.[1] Next is T1: I use “T1” to refer to a variety of signs that have the same value, ʔu, which I consider to be stylistic variants of the same sign, namely, T1, T2, T3, T10, T11, T13, among others. Figures 1C-D illustrate only the examples of relevance here. These and others are classified by single code, HE6, in Macri and Looper (2003); Figure 1E illustrates only the HE6 variants of relevance here.


Figure 1


A detailed description of the traits of T128, both its non-MOUTH and MOUTH versions (allograms), is provided in an unpublished manuscript (Mora-Marín n.d.a) still in progress. Readers may request my most recent version by email. For now, to simplify the discussion, I will move on with a description of Early Classic designs of T1 that will prove relevant. Figure 2 presents a classification of Early Classic designs of T1 advanced in a different manuscript still in progress dealing with the paleography of that sign (Mora-Marín n.d.b). Design 1 is attested already in the painted stone block from San Bartolo Sub-V (Girón-Ábrego 2015; Mora-Marín 2020, 2021a), and is therefore very early; it persists through at least the first half of the fifth century CE. Design 2 is derived from Design 1 through the addition of additional dots; it is attested as early as ca. 120 CE, based on the possible date of on the fragmented jade celt from Dumbarton Oaks, and it persists through most of the Classic period. These two designs were innovated during the Late Preclassic period. Design 3 postdates these; it involves the addition of a central, triangular element, and can be argued to be an early Early Classic innovation. Design 4 is also an early Classic innovation, based on Design 2 plus the addition of banding to the bracket element of T1; Design 6 shows a parallel development but this time based on Design 3. Indeed, it would appear that both Designs 4 and 6 appear during the second half of the fourth century CE, as I argue in Mora-Marín (n.d.b).


Figure 2

It is now time to state the hypothesis of this note with support from the data: T1/HE6 ʔu is graphically infixed into or conflated with the leftmost, oval-shaped element of T128/32P TIʔ ‘mouth’. This possibility had already been considered by Matthew Looper and Yuriy Polyukhovych (Looper, personal communication, 2020) during the process of cataloging texts for the MHD, but those authors ultimately rejected the idea, for reasons briefly described below. Figure 3 presents a variety of Early Classic examples of the Glyph F collocation. In these examples, the arrows point to a version of T1, either Design 4 (Figures 3A-B) or Design 2 (Figure 3C), conflated within the oval-shaped left element of T128 TIʔ, yielding [ʔu]TIʔ (if infixation is assumed) or {ʔu}TIʔ (if conflation is assumed). Figure 3A depicts an example from the mural on Rio Azul Tomb 1, drawn by Mary Jane Acuña, with Design 4 of T1, exhibiting a bracket element with a double outline, which contains banding. This collocation thus represents [ʔu]TIʔ-HUN-na. This same design is represented elsewhere on the same mural, as seen in Figure 3D, in a collocation where T1 is employed in graphically autonomous configuration, corroborating that the scribe who painted the mural was in fact utilizing this design productively as the syllabogram ʔu. Figures 3E-F show examples of Design 4 of T1 in other Early Classic texts for comparison. This same design was utilized in the collocation in Figure 3B, from Tikal Stela 31, whereas the collocation in Figure 3C, from Copan Stela 63, employs Design 2 of T1, seen in its autonomous configuration in Figure 3G, which expresses the collocation ʔu-CH’AM-wa. Both collocations, the one from Tikal Stela 31 and Copan Stela 63, can now be transcribed more accurately as [ʔu]TIʔ-HUN-na.


Figure 3

There is evidence from other contexts for the graphic incorporation (through infixation or conflation) of T1 ʔu within other glyphs. Previously, Dmitri Beliaev (personal communication, 2020), in his investigation of texts from Rio Azul and Tikal, has argued for the graphic incorporation of T1 within the “Old Man” or “Old God” (also “Dios Mechudo” and “Dios Barbudo”) logogram MAM, for Proto-Ch’olan *mäm ‘grandfather, grandson, nephew’, originally deciphered by Stuart (2007). More specifically, Mora-Marín (2021b:6–8) has argued that the design of T1 incorporated within the MAM logogram —conflated with the Old Man’s bangs— corresponded to Designs 2, 4, 13, 14 of his classification (Figure 2) as seen in Figure 4. Designs 13 and 14 differ from Designs 2 and 4 by their lack of dots, showing only the bracket elements of T1 instead. Thus, the examples in Figures 4A, 4C, and 4D can be transcribed more accurately as [ʔu]MAM.


Figure 4

In addition to allowing for a more precise reading of the frequent contexts of T128, such as the Glyph F collocation, the recognition of the typical embedding of T1 ʔu within T128 TIʔ also has the potential to elucidate less frequent contexts. For instance, Houston (2009:Figure 3) translates a phrase on Dos Pilas Panel 19:R2-R3 as  ‘guardian [?] of he of the nine [or many] mouths’; the final glyph block in fact can now be transcribed ʔaj-B’OLON-[ʔu]TIʔ, so that a more precise translation would be ‘Mr. nine are his languages’. The design of T1 embedded within this example of T128 is a Late Classic version of Design 2, one that was commonly used at Dos Pilas (cf. Dos Pilas Panel 19:P1).


It is now time to say a few remarks about linguistic structure. The lexical referent of T128 can be traced back to proto-Mayan *tyiiʔ ‘mouth’ (Kaufman with Justeson 2003:262–266), with reflexes such as proto-Ch’olan *tiʔ and proto-Yucatecan *chiʔ. In most Mayan languages it is clear that this term is extended metaphorically (e.g. ‘edge’) or metonymically (e.g. ‘speech/language’) to variety of contexts, yielding a wide range of polysemies. In contemporary Ch’olan and Tzeltalan languages, when it refers to ‘mouth’, the noun is inalienable: it is either possessed by means of an ergative/possessive marker (e.g. u- ‘her/his/its’), or it is unpossessed and suffixed with a -Vl suffix (-il in Ch’ol, -ir in Ch’orti’; apparently -a(l) in Yokot’an). (In some cases, when possessed, it also requires a -Vl suffix, particularly when it is possessed by some types of inanimate possessor). In Classic texts, the unpossessive suffix has the shape -Vs (Stuart et al. 1999; Zender 2004a), probably for -is. This means that tiʔ should be expected to occur either possessed with u- or unpossessed with either -Vl or -Vs in Classic texts. The proposal that so many instances of T128 actually include a conflated or infixed ʔu, therefore is consistent with the linguistic expectation.[2] I recommend Zender (2004b:216–221) for additional discussion of the linguistic evidence relevant to tiʔ in the context of the tiʔsakhuun title.


Although T1 ʔu was consistently embedded within T128 TIʔ during the Classic period, there is clear evidence that by the beginning of the Late Classic period scribes were increasingly reanalyzing the embedded T1 ʔu as simply a graphic element of T128 TIʔ.vThis is evident in the reinforcement of the infixed or conflated ʔu by means of an additional, autonomous ʔu sign, a relatively common pattern in Late Classic texts, as in the examples from Figures 5A-D. This reinforcement, so far unattested in Early Classic texts, could support preserving the catalog exemplars in Thompson (1962) and Macri and Looper (2003) unchanged, and maybe adding examples without the dots, with a note regarding chronological differences. Note too that in Figure 5D, the embedded example of T1 ʔu within T128 has been flipped horizontally, revealing that the scribe was in fact ignorant of the original motivation of the line of dots. 


Figure 5

Finally, while Matthew Looper and Yuriy Polyukhovych (Looper, personal communication, 2020) interpreted examples like the ones in Figure 5, involving an autonomous syllabogram ʔu preposed to T128 TIʔ, as evidence that the dots within the left oval-shaped component of T128 were not due to the incorporation of T1 ʔu, I would argue that both the lateness of such examples, and the fact that some such cases show a reorientation of the internal details of the oval-shaped component (cf. Figure 5D), actually support the hypothesis.


Acknowledgment. I am indebted to Mary Jane Acuña for her generous permission to use her drawings of the glyph on the mural of Rio Azul Tomb 1, and to Matthew Looper for reading and offering comments on a much longer draft over a year ago.



Acuña, Mary Jane. 2015. Royal Death, Tombs, and Cosmic Landscapes: Early Classic Maya Tomb Murals from Río Azul, Guatemala. Maya Archaeology 3:168-185.

Giron-Ábrego, Mario. 2015. On a Preclassic Long-Lipped Glyphic Profile. Mesoweb:

Helmke, Christophe, Jaime J. Awe, Shawn G. Morton, and Gyles Iannone. 2015. The Text and Context of the Cuychen Vase, Macal Valley, Belize. In Maya Archaeology 3, edited by Charles Golden, Stephen Houston, and Joel Skidmore, pp. 8-29. Precolumbia Mesoweb Press, San Francisco.

Houston, Stephen. 2009. Maya Multilinguals? Blog: Maya Decipherment: Ideas in Ancient Maya Writing and Iconography.

Kaufman, Terrence, with John Justeson. 2003. Preliminary Mayan Etymological Dictionary.

Lacadena García-Gallo, Alfonso. 1995. Evolución formal de las grafías escriturarias mayas: implicaciones históricas y culturales. Unpublished Ph.D. thesis, Universidad Complutense de Madrid.

Macri, Martha J., and Matthew Looper. 2003. The New Catalog of Maya Hieroglyphs. Volume One: The Classic Period Inscriptions. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press.

Mora-Marín, David F. 2020. A Previously Unidentified Example of T1/HE6 ʔu on the Painted Stone Block from San Bartolo Sub-V. Notes on Mesoamerican Linguistics and Epigraphy 11.

Mora-Marín, David F. 2021a. Two Instances of T1ʔu on the Painted Stone Block from San Bartolo Sub-V: Reviewing Giron-Ábrego (2015). Notes on Mesoamerican Linguistics and Epigraphy 12.

Mora-Marín, David F. 2021b. Drawing of Mayan Inscription on Stone Sphere (K6582) with Epigraphic Commentary. Glyph Dwellers Report 68.

Mora-Marín, David F. n.d.a. Graphic Incorporation of T1/HE6 ʔu Within T128/32P TIʔ ‘Mouth’ and Other Paleographic Details. Unpublished manuscript, in progress.

Mora-Marín, David F. n.d.b. The Paleography of T1/HE6 ʔu: Late Preclassic and Early Classic Developments. Unpublished manuscript, in progress.

Schele, Linda. 1990. The Early Classic Dynastic History of Copán: Interim Report 1989. Copán Note 70. Copán Acropolis Project & Instituto Hondureño de Antropología e Historia, Austin.

Stuart, David. 2007. The Mam Glyph. Maya Decipherment: Ideas on Ancient Maya Writing and Iconography: Posted September 29, 2007.

Thompson, Eric J. 1962. A Catalogue of Maya Hieroglyphics. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press.

Zender, Marc U. 2004a. A Study of Classic Maya Priesthood. Ph.D. dissertation, Department of Archaeology, University of Calgary.

Zender, Marc U. 2004b. On the Morphology of Intimate Possession in Mayan Languages and Classic Mayan Glyphic Nouns.  In The Linguistics of Maya Writing, edited by Søren Wichmann, pp. 195-210. Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press.



[1] The anthropomorphic nature of the MOUTH variant is confirmed by the presence of the O-shaped element that is commonly placed in signs that depict parts of the human body (Hopkins 1994; Hopkins and Josserand 1999; Mora-Marín 2008a). This O-shaped element was derived from a U-shaped element by means of a regular graphic change (Lacadena 1995), briefly discussed here in connection with the Early Classic design of the MOUTH sign. It seems possible that T128 (non-MOUTH) and the MOUTH variant were conflated at some point, late in the Early Classic period, at least by some scribes, but that they were originally distinct graphemes with the same value (allograms).

[2] The uses of this this root with the meaning  ‘mouth’ are difficult to investigate in contemporary Ch’ol and Ch’orti’, which appear to prefer reflexes of proto-Mayan *ʔeeh ‘tooth’, which in addition to ‘tooth’ and ‘(sharp) edge’, appears to have attained the meaning ‘mouth’ via metonymy. That said, this noun is also inalienable: Ch’ol ʔej is typically possessed and takes -äl when unpossessed (Aulie and Aulie 1999:35), and Ch’orti’ ʔej is also typically possessed and takes -ir when unpossessed (Hull 2016:9, 244).



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