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Note 31

A Possible Collocation Abbreviation Function of the Duplication Diacritic


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



This note deals with the duplication diacritic or doubler of Epigraphic Mayan, cataloged by Looper et al. (2022) as 22A, with at least 133 occurrences in the Maya Hieroglyphic Database (Looper and Macri 1991-2022), henceforth MHD. It was originally identified and described by David Stuart in 1990 (Stuart 2014[1990]), who defined its basic function as doubling or duplicating the reading of a syllabogram, as in the very common spellings 2ka-wa, instead of ka-ka-wa, for käkäw ‘cacao’, or the occasional spelling 2k’u instead of k’u-k’u for k’uk’ ‘quetzal’, as seen in Figure 1.


Figure 1


This function is well established, and universally accepted. The diacritic’s doubling function has been incorporated into basic introductions to the Mayan writing since then (e.g. Harris and Stearns 1992, 1997; Harris 1993, 1994; Kettunen and Helmke 2020). The most detailed scholarly discussions of the diacritic are those by Stuart (2014), Stuart and Houston (1994), and most significantly, Zender (1999:102-130). Here I will focus on a single question, whether 22A could apply to logograms, in addition to syllabograms, and if so, with what function.


Although Stuart (2014[1990]) and Stuart and Houston (1994) proposed that 22A could apply to logograms, and that in such cases its function was to double their reading, same as for syllabograms, the examples that those authors were referring to were actually cases of syllabograms, such as ʔand ʔa, spelling grammatical morphemes, such as the person agreement markers u- ‘third person singular ergative/possessive’ and a- ‘second person singular ergative/possessive’. From the late 1970s through the early 1990s, many authors analyzed such syllabograms as functioning logographically when representing grammatical morphemes, and in such cases they were often transcribed in uppercase letters, same as logograms (e.g. U- and A-). However, from a purely orthographic point of view, this is unnecessary: a simple, syllabographic spelling strategy is sufficient to account for the uses of ʔand ʔa when they spell person agreement markers. In fact, Zender (1999), who carried out the most comprehensive discussion of the duplication diacritic to date, concluded that it applied exclusive to syllabograms. Although the notion that syllabograms could function logographically to spell grammatical morphemes was later revived as the Morphosyllable Hypothesis (Houston et al. 2001), a simple duplication function, the same type of function that applies to syllabograms, is enough to explain cases where 22A is used with syllabograms spelling grammatical morphemes. The only difference lies, in some cases, in whether the duplication action is meant to be sequential (e.g. 2li for -(V)l-il ‘abstractivizer or 2le for -(V)l-el ‘abstractivizer’) or non-sequential (e.g. 2ʔu-KAB’-CH’EN for u-kab’ u-ch’en ‘his land, his well/cave’). I would therefore define sequential duplication and non-sequential duplication as subtypes of duplication, but both applicable to syllabograms.


More recently, Kettunen and Helmke (2020) and Prager (2020) have suggested that 22A could be affixed to logographic signs representing roots with C1VC1 shapes, such as 2TZUTZ for tzutz ‘to finish’ (Stuart 2001; 2014[1990]) and 2K’AK’ for k’ahk’ ‘fire’. 22A also applies to a sign cataloged by Looper et al. (2022) as ZRJ, resembling a ball. Kettunen and Helmke (2020:20) have argued for a value K’IK’/CH’ICH’ for ZRJ, but do not present the evidence for it. It can be assumed that those authors were thinking of Mayan languages in which the word for ‘blood’ may also bear the polysemy ‘rubber (ball)’. One may cite the comparative Mayan evidence (Kaufman with Justeson 2003:322–324) for pM *kik’ ‘blood’, which in some Eastern Mayan languages (Kaqchikel, Poqomam, Q’eqchi’, Mam) and at least one Western Maya language (Tuzantek) may also bear the meaning ‘rubber’ in addition to ‘blood’. Thus, the languages where a ‘blood; rubber’ polysemy applies are Central Mayan languages. Prager (2020:7), for his part, presents tantalizing evidence in favor of a value KUK ‘bundle, textile; roll up, wrap up’ for ZRJ. Whatever the reading of ZRJ, the best analysis of the use of 22A with TZUTZ and K’AK’ is in fact that scribes were using it to mark logograms spelling roots with C1VC1 shapes. Such C1VC1-shape-marking function, attested in at least 14 examples in the MHD, likely was derived from 22A’s original function of duplicating syllabograms give that such function always yields /C1VC1/ sequences and is attested much earlier than the earliest examples of 22A with TZUTZ and K’AK’.


There is another instance in which 22A appears to apply to logograms that has not been properly accounted for to date. I suspect this what Stuart and Houston (1994:46, footnote 13) were alluding to when they stated: “We do not yet understand why some spellings use this convention. Perhaps they signal a particular spelling when two are possible: chi-K’IN in place of K’IN-chi, or k’a-k’a instead of BUTS’, respectively.” Regarding K’AK’, it now seems more likely that 22A was extended analogically to optionally marking logograms with roots with C1VCshapes, as there is no strong evidence for a value B’UTZ’ for b’utz’ ‘smoke’ for this logogram. Regarding the other case, unfortunately, Stuart and Houston did not provide the examples of either chi-K’IN or K’IN-chi to which they were referring, but it is very likely that one such example, perhaps the only example, was found on K2295. In the Primary Standard Sequence (PSS) text present on this vase, one finds 2chi[K’IN] (Figure 2A) at the very end of the text, immediately before the Initial Sign Collocation that starts the text. It is likely that this is a spelling of k’ihnich ‘radiant’. In fact, the 2chi[K’IN] collocation is immediately preceded by ʔaj-pi-tzi.: the title sequence ʔaj-pi-tzi K’INICH is actually attested elsewhere, such as Uxul Southern Stairway, Panel 03 (cf. MHD objabbr UXLSSP3), and was one of the titles of K’inich Kan Bahlam II from Tonina. This 2chi[K’IN] spelling can be thought of as an abbreviation: using the MHD, it can be shown that there exist more logosyllabic spellings of this term that include T116 ni, or both T116 ni and T671 chi (Figure 2B), approximately 120, than cases where T116 ni was omitted and only chi is present, with 17 cases. The abbreviation was likely motivated by the placement of this collocation at the end of the text, where there was no more room. Consequently, it seems that 22A functioned in this case as a punctuation device, to indicate the abbreviation of a collocation, in this case leaving out a common syllabogram (ni), much in the same way a period are also used to abbreviate in writing systems derived from Greek and Latin today (e.g. Dr., Prof., etc.).


Figure 2

Another instance of this abbreviation function of 22A may be found on K1670. The PSS text on this vase begins with the yu-k’i-b’i collocation for y-uk’-ib’ ‘his/her cup’, and ends in a spelling of the common title K’UHUL-cha-TAN-WINIK, as seen in Figure 3A, such as the compacted and extended versions seen in Figures 3B-C. This title of course is linked to a site of unknown location, whose name is often transliterated Chatahn, but thought to have originated in the Mirador Basin (Boot 2005; Velásquez García y García Barrios 2018), and may correspond to the Preclassic site of Tintal (Hansen et al. 2006). On K1670, the title appears at the end of the PSS text on the vessel’s rim as K’UHUL-cha-2TAN (Figure 3A), lacking the characteristic WINIK logogram. Here, 22A is applied to the logogram TAN for tahn ‘chest’, which is immediately followed by the possessed drinking cup expression that begins the PSS text. K1670 contains two glyphic columns as well. The structure of these columns is difficult to assess, but each column appears to repeat part of this title: one shows TAN-na WINIK (Figure 3D), while the other shows 2TAN 2TAN (Figure 3E) at the top, and 2TAN-na TAN-na (Figure 3F) at the bottom. Despite the irregular structure of the two glyphic columns, the pattern holds: when 22A is present, WINIK is absent, and when 22A is absent, WINIK is present. Once again, 22A applies to a logogram and indicates that something that is typically present (another logogram in this case) has been left out, omitted, and thus, the typical collocation is abbreviated. In essence, this is what happens when 22A indicates the need to double the reading of a syllabogram: it is a way of pointing out that something is missing, an additional rendering of an already present syllabogram. The abbreviation-marking function proposed here, then, likely was also an analogical extension from the basic duplication function of the diacritic.


Figure 3

There are two more examples that support this abbreviation function. These involve the child-of-father expression, and specifically two cases where 22A is placed between K’AK’ for k’ahk’ ‘fire’ and the T535 (Capped Ajaw) sign, as seen in Figures 4A-B. In this collocation, T535/ZA3 (Capped Ajaw) and T533/ZA1 (Regular Ajaw) may co-occur (Figure 4C). When this happens, T535 always precedes T533. The 22A diacritic only appears in two cases, the two examples already noted, and in both cases it is T533 that is seemingly absent from the collocation. 22A does not always appear in instances in which T533 is absent; as has already been explained, 22A is optional. But both cases where it does appear are cases where T533 has been omitted. In principle, examples like those in Figures 4A-B (and similar examples lacking the optional 22A), could be argued to be instances in which T533, Regular Ajaw, has been infixed within T535, Capped Ajaw, resulting in the appearance that only the Capped Ajaw is present. Thus, 22A could be functioning, in the rare occasion when it is present in the child-of-father collocation, to indicate that something is missing, specifically, T533, or at the very least not obvious.


Figure 4

To conclude, 22A, the duplication diacritic, may function to indicate that a collocation has been abbreviated (and thus serve as a punctuation device). The missing component may be a common or expected logogram, or possibly a common syllabogram. Thus, in such cases, 22A appears to function at the supra-graphemic level, at the level of the collocation, rather than at the graphemic level, specifically, applying to a logogram or syllabogram. This is yet another function, a fourth function, of 22A, after the ones already discussed, yielding a four-way functional classification: sequential duplication, non-sequential duplication, C1VC1-shape marking, and now, abbreviation. And all functions are likely related: the sequential duplication function can be argued to be the basis, through different types of reanalysis, for the other three functions.



Hansen, Richard D., Beatriz Balcárcel, Edgar Suyuc, Héctor E. Mejía, Enrique Hernández, Gendry Valle, Stanley P. Guenter, and Shannon Novak. 2006. Investigaciones arqueológicas en el sitio Tintal, Petén. In XIX Simposio de Investigaciones Arqueológicas en Guatemala, 2005, edited by Juan Pedro Laporte, Bárbara Arroyo y Héctor Mejía, pp.739-751. Museo Nacional de Arqueología y Etnología, Guatemala.

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—–. 1994. A resource bibliography for the decipherment of Maya hieroglyphs and new Maya hieroglyph readings. Philadelphia: University Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, University of Pennsylvania.

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—–. 1997. Understanding Maya inscriptions: a hieroglyph handbook. Philadelphia: University Museum Publications, University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology. Revised edition.

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

Kettunen, Harri, and Christophe Helmke. 2020. Introduction to Maya Hieroglyphs. Seventeenth Revised Edition. Wayeb.

Looper, Matthew G., and Martha J. Macri. 2011-2022. Maya Hieroglyphic Database. Department of Art and Art History, California State University, Chico. URL:

Looper, Matthew G., Martha J. Macri, Yuriy Polyukhovych, and Gabrielle Vail. 2022. MHD Reference Materials 1: Preliminary Revised Glyph Catalog. Glyph Dwellers Report 71.

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

Macri, Martha J., and Gabrielle Vail. 2009. The New Catalog of Maya Hieroglyphs. Volume Two: The Codical Texts. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press.

Mathews, Peter. 1980. Notes on the Dynastic Sequence of Bonampak, Part I. In Third Palenque Round Table, 1978, pt. 2, Robertson, Merle Green, ed. Pp. 60-73. Austin: University of Texas Press.

Prager, Christian M. 2020. The Sign 576 as a Logograph for KUK, a Type of Bundle. Textdatenbank und Wörterbuch des Klassischen Maya, Research Note 15.

Stuart, David. 2001. A Reading of the “Completion Hand” as TZUTZResearch Reports on Ancient Maya Writing, No. 49. Center for Maya Research, Washington, D.C.

—–. 2014. “Hieroglyphic Miscellany” from 1990. Maya Decipherment Blog.

Stuart, David, and Stephen Houston. 1994. Classic Maya Place Names. Studies in Pre-Columbian Art and Archaeology 33. Washington, D.C.: Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection.

von Euw, Eric. 1977. Itzimte, Pixoy, Tzum. Corpus of Maya Hieroglyphic Inscriptions 4.1. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology, Harvard University.

Zender, Marc U. 1999. Diacritical marks and underspelling in the Classic Maya script: Implications for decipherment. Unpublished M.A. thesis, Department of Archaeology, University of Calgary, Calgary, Alberta, Canada.

Nota 30

Una evaluación de la propuesta reciente de signos de puntuación en los textos de cerámica mayas


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


En una publicación reciente, Grube (2021) ha propuesto que ciertos signos, algunos de ellos previamente sugeridos por Coe y Kerr (1998) como ejemplos de “rellenos de espacio”, en realidad funcionaban como signos de puntuación. Aunque se trata de una propuesta muy estimulante, existe una explicación alternativa, además de la función de relleno de espacios. La explicación alternativa que favoreceré aquí podría haber proporcionado la base, a través del reanálisis analógico, para la función de puntuación propuesta por Grube, en caso de que dicha función sea confirmada. Esta alternativa es simple: muchos casos de los llamados rellenos de espacio (Coe y Kerr 1998) o signos de puntuación (Grube 2021) son en realidad ejemplos de signos presentes en las colocaciones glíficas que habrían seguido si hubiese habido más espacio para continuar el texto. Por supuesto, esta no es una idea novedosa: los epigrafistas han sabido de tales ocurrencias ya por mucho tiempo (por ejemplo, Mora-Marín 2001: 128, 2004: 11), y el propio Grube (2021) proporciona algunos ejemplos, como observo a continuación. Lo que propongo es que la mayoría, si no todos, los ejemplos de signos de final de texto que parecen “innecesarios” pueden ser casos de signos que habrían comenzado colocaciones para las que no había espacio disponible y, por lo tanto, eran sobras o huellas de la siguiente colocación en la secuencia. La forma en que esta función “sobrante” y la función de puntuación pueden estar relacionadas también es simple: con el tiempo, los escribas podrían haber reanalizado algunos signos sobrantes, si son especialmente comunes o visualmente destacados, como marcadores de final de texto, dado que, por definición, aparecen al —inevitable— final de un texto. Repasemos algunas de las pruebas.

Primero, comenzamos con Coe y Kerr (1998: 143), quienes afirman que: “De vez en cuando uno ve el efecto de la compresión cerca del final de los textos extensos de la Secuencia Estándar Primaria [SEP], o el uso de rellenos de espacio donde la línea de glifos no ‘llega hasta el final’, pero en general casos como éstos son raros.” Dichos autores presentaron un ejemplo en el que el texto SEP termina en el silabograma yu, específicamente el caso de K1355, visto en la Figura 1A. Aunque Coe y Kerr (1998) propusieron una función de relleno de espacio para dicho signo, es preferible un análisis diferente. Este ejemplo muestra un texto que consiste en la Colocación del Signo Inicial seguida de la expresión verbal tz’i-b’i na-ja ji-chi para tz’ihb’naj-Ø-Ø-ich (escritura-PASIVO.DER.TV- 3sABS-INDIC.COMP.IV-ya/de.hecho) ‘de hecho fue pintado/a’. El texto termina en T62 yu (flechas azul claro). Se podría argumentar que se trata de un signo de puntuación final de texto o un relleno de espacio. Pero no lo es (intencionalmente). Más bien es el primer signo de la colocación común yu-k’i-b’i para y-uk’-ib’ ‘su copa/taza’, que típicamente sirve como sujeto del verbo. De hecho, la Figura 1B muestra un ejemplo de K9291 que termina en yu-k’i e inmediatamente precede a la Colocación del Signo Inicial que comienza el texto. La Figura 1C muestra un ejemplo de K5350 que también termina en yu-k’i. Ambos son ejemplos de textos en los que el escriba se quedó sin espacio para incluir el silabograma b’i que normalmente concluiría la colocación. Compárense los ejemplos anteriores con la Figura 1D, que muestra un ejemplo de K4552 que termina en la colocación completa yu-k’i-b’i, y con la Figura 1E, que muestra un ejemplo de K4551 que termina en la colocación yu-k’i-b ‘i y el silabograma ta, que precedería a yu-ta-la ka-wa o ʔu-lu, produciendo una frase como tä y-ut-al käkäw ‘para semillas de cacao’ o tä ʔul ‘para atole’. Este conjunto de ejemplos muestra que los “sobrantes” —signos o secuencias parciales que proporcionaban una ortografía (accidentalmente) incompleta de una colocación— eran un fenómeno común y que, en general, eran predecibles. Por lo tanto, tales expresiones incompletas llenaban el espacio, de manera incidental, pero su motivación era la de proveer una pista de la colocación para la cual no quedó espacio.

Figura 1

Continuamos con Grube (2021:5), quien argumenta que “estas marcas cumplen una función sintáctica real más que expresar el miedo a un horror vacui, porque están muy convencionalizadas y aparecen en cerámicas de diferentes épocas y en diferentes estilos pictóricos.” Él propone dos tipos de tales marcadores de puntuación de final de texto: 1) “una o dos líneas verticales que indican el final de una fórmula de dedicación” (Figura 2A); y 2) “dos puntos o círculos dispuestos verticalmente, a veces con pequeños rellenos agregados” (Figuras 2B–D). En la Figura 2, las flechas azules apuntan a los signos de puntuación propuestos, las flechas rosadas a la colocación del signo inicial que comienza cada texto. Grube afirma además que “Hasta ahora, solo se puede demostrar que estos signos de puntuación existieron dentro del contexto de los textos de dedicatoria sobre cerámica” (2021: 5).

Figura 2

Grube distingue estos casos de los casos en que un texto termina en un único silabograma aislado. Para tales ejemplos, Grube (2021: 4) propone la presencia de morfemas gramaticales que serían consistentes con una función de terminación de texto:

A veces, los escribas llenaban el espacio abierto con silabogramas individuales. En Kerr 595, el escriba insertó el signo che, tal vez insinuando la citativo cholano che’ “él dice” y confirmando así que el texto se entendía como un elemento de memoria colectiva (Kaufman y Norman 1984: 139). En otra vasija (Kerr 7459), el escriba agregó el signo la, quizás indicando la palabra laj “terminar” o “completamente, todo” (Kaufman y Norman 1984: 124), para marcar el final de la Secuencia Estándar Primaria.

Grube (2021: 5) también está abierto a un enfoque diferente, uno que ve los signos aislados de final de texto como las partes iniciales de colocaciones conocidas, como ya se mostró anteriormente:

En otros ejemplos, el escriba simplemente ha escrito un signo de la siguiente palabra para llenar el espacio en blanco, p.ej. SAK para indicar el título implícito sak wayis, o un solo signo silábico cha para indicar la expresión chatahn winiksiguiente (Kerr 2723; 2773; 4988; 5064; 5391; 5646; 8651; 8823).

Pero Grube no aplica esta estrategia a los casos en los que los signos de finalización del texto se asemejan a líneas o puntos, los caules analiza más bien como marcadores de puntuación. Sin embargo, la misma explicación ofrecida anteriormente para el silabograma yu en K1355, o por Grube para casos como las instancias de final de texto de SAK o cha, también se puede postular para instancias donde líneas o puntos, en realidad, números de barras y puntos, parecen finalizar el texto. De hecho, se puede ofrecer la misma explicación en la mayoría de los casos de silabogramas aislados que aparecen en posiciones finales de texto, incluido el ejemplo de che señalado por Grube.

Comenzaré con uno de los ejemplos de Grube de signos que se asemejan a líneas o puntos, visto en la Figura 3A, la banda textual de K5229. La flecha rosada muestra las “líneas” verticales que Grube propone como marcador de puntuación al final del texto. La flecha azul claro apunta al bloque de glifos anterior, un ejemplo de la colocación ʔu-OJO.NUDO, ya identificada por MacLeod (1990: 437–438) como parte de la frase de epíteto de ciertos textos de SEP, que ella asoció con el Dios A’. Desde entonces, se ha asumido que esta colocación se incluye en ciertas frases de epíteto o título, y se ha propuesto una lectura ʔu-ʔUB’ debido a posibles sustituciones con las grafías ʔu-b’i y ʔu-b’a (Tunesi y Polyukhovych 2016); el signo OJO.NUDO corresponde a PJG en el catálogo revisado de Looper et al. (2022). El texto de K5229 se puede comparar con la banda textual en K6100, que se ve en la Figura 3B. Los dos son estructuralmente equivalentes, y ambos incluyen la colocación ʔu-OJO.NUDO. De hecho, mientras que el de K5229 muestra las dos “líneas” verticales que siguen a la colocación ʔu-OJO.NUDO, el de K6100 muestra dos “líneas” verticales que preceden al signo principal correspondiente al silabograma sa. Una mirada más cercana a cada ejemplo de las “líneas” verticales sucesivas, tanto en K5229 como en K6100, es sucificiente para percibir que tales líneas están conectadas por al menos una línea horizontal en la parte superior o inferior, formando una barra, más específicamente, la barra para el numeral ‘5’ (Figuras 3C y 3D). Por lo tanto, el ejemplo en K5229 termina en la barra para ‘5’ que habría comenzado la colocación HOʔ-sa, que al igual que en el caso de K6100, habría seguido si hubiera habido más espacio. En otras palabras, las dos “líneas” verticales que Grube propone como un signo de puntuación final del texto son simplemente la barra para el número ‘5’ que se necesitaba para la siguiente colocación en la secuencia del epíteto. También debemos de tomar en cuenta que en K9153, como se aprecia en la Figura 3E, el texto termina con la colocación del epíteto ʔu-OJO.NUDO. Esto demuestra que los lectores pudieron completar colocaciones incompletas (en el caso de K5229) y frases incompletas (en el caso de K9153), basándose en ejemplos más completos que pueden haber visto antes (como K6100), o simplemente basándose en en su conocimiento de nombres comunes y títulos de personas conocidas en ese momento.


Figura 3


Un ejemplo similar se discute a continuación. Las Figuras 4A y 4B ilustran las bandas textuales en K4962 y K7727, donde se encuentra el silabograma aislado ka que termina el texto e inmediatamente precede a la Colocación del Signo Inicial de la SEP. En ambos casos, el silabograma ka en cuestión sigue la expresión ta-tzi-hi TEʔ-le, y por lo tanto, el silabograma ka está en la posición correcta para ser una grafía parcial de käkäw‘cacao’. De hecho, hay otros ejemplos en contextos donde la expresión para käkäw fue seguida por otras expresiones antes de regresar al principio en el que se deletreaba con un solo silabograma ka sin un silabograma wa obvio. En cualquier caso, como en el ejemplo de yu ~ yu-k’i ~ yu-k’i-b’i, es posible encontrar evidencia de que esta expresión era comúnmente final de texto, como en la Figura 4C, que ilustra el ejemplo de K3366.


Figura 4


Es hora de revisar un caso citado por Grube (2021:4), el ejemplo de che como silabograma de finalización de texto en K595. Si bien veo como muy plausible la propuesta de Grube, que el silabograma che haya servido como grafía de una instancia simple de cheʔ ‘así; partícula citativa’ (Kaufman y Norman 1984: 139), también es posible que el escriba se hubiese quedado sin espacio para deletrear la expresión más larga che-he/ʔe-na, descifrada por el propio Grube (Grube 1998), y que se basa en la misma partícula, resultando en cheʔ-en ‘así dice (él/ella/eso)’. La evidencia para esta opción radica en dos hechos: primero, existen casos claros de che-he/ʔe-na para cheʔ-en ‘así dice él/ella’, mientras que el único ejemplo a favor de un cheʔ aislado es el que aparece en K595 y es ambiguo debido a su contexto de final de texto que podría argumentarse como un texto incompleto; y segundo, hay al menos un paralelo muy cercano a la secuencia de signos presente en K595 en un texto donde che-he/ʔe-na se deletreaba claramente, y es seguido por el nombre de la persona citada. La Figura 5A muestra el ejemplo de K595, con la flecha azul claro apuntando al silabograma che, la flecha verde a la colocación CHAK-ch’o-ko para chak chok ‘gran joven’, y la flecha rosada apuntando a la Colocación del Signo Inicial de la SEP. La Figura 5B muestra el pasaje similar de K3395, con la misma secuencia general, solo que esta vez la flecha azul claro apunta a la colocación che-he/ʔe-na, que es seguida inmediatamente por el nombre y el título del individuo que se cita, que a su vez es seguido por la Colocación del Signo Inicial de la SEP. Finalmente, la Figura 5Cmuestra una versión más “extendida” de la misma secuencia en K1775; en este caso, che-he/ʔe-na va seguido de ʔu-tz’i-b’a para u-tz’ihb’ ‘su escritura’: se cita el texto mismo. En otras palabras, hay más evidencia para respaldar la proposición de que el silabograma aislado che en K595 estaba destinado a ser parte de la colocación che-he/ʔe-na, y que el escriba simplemente se quedó sin espacio para deletrearlo completamente. De hecho, el ejemplo de la Figura 5D, de K2695, ilustra una situación en la que la colocación che-he/ʔe-na aparece inmediatamente antes de la Colocación del Signo Inicial, y el escriba se quedó sin espacio para expresar quién o qué se está citando, y por lo tanto, se parece mucho al ejemplo de K595: un poco menos de espacio, y tal vez solo hubiera habido espacio disponible para el silabograma che.


Figura 5

En al menos dos casos, lo que Grube identifica como signos de puntuación que se asemejan a puntos, son en realidad silabogramas. El primer caso es muy probablemente una instancia de un diseño de ʔu. Este es el caso de K3034 que se ve en la Figura 6A. Este es el mismo diseño de ʔu que aparece, por ejemplo, en K1383 en la nominalización poseído ʔu-tz’i-b’i na-ja-la para u-tz’ihb’naj-al ‘su pintura’, visto en la Figura 7B. Hay muchas razones para sospechar que las expresiones poseídas podrían haber quedado incompletas al final de tales textos. Ya vimos esto con el caso de T62 yupara la colocación yu-k’i-b’i. De hecho, también hay casos de expresiones incompletas que comienzan con un alograma ʔu o que consisten exclusivamente en un alograma ʔu en casos que preceden a la Colocación del signo inicial de la SEP (por ejemplo, K2023, K5647).


Figura 6


El segundo caso en el que un silabograma se identifica erróneamente como puntos es el caso de ya. Esto se ve en la Figura 7A, correspondiente a K8651. En este se ve una secuencia K’UHUL:ka-wa, donde el logograma DIOS.C (K’UHUL para k’uh-ul ‘divino, sagrado’) y el silabograma ka parecen haberse fusionado, representando k’uhul käkäw‘cacao sagrado’. La Figura 7B, una fotografía de K1446, muestra una secuencia similar de ka-wa seguida del título ya-ʔAJAW-TEʔ. Por lo tanto, es posible que el silabograma ya de K8651, considerado por Grube como puntos que marcan el final de un texto, simplemente escribiera el comienzo de un título poseído, un título que comienza con /ʔa…/ (p.ej. ʔaj-k’iin ‘sacerdote ‘, ʔajaw ‘señor’, etc.).


Figura 7

Finalmente, no debería sorprender que los textos exhiban colocaciones incompletas que comienzan con un numeral (‘1’, ‘2’, ‘3’, etc.), y que explicarían los puntos que aparecen en tales posiciones. Existe una gran variedad de epítetos y títulos que suelen estar numerados y que, como sería de esperar, tienden a aparecer hacia el final de un texto, dado que los nombres de los sujetos o poseedores tienden a aparecer al final de frase. La Figura 8 muestra varios de estos casos (flechas verdes), la mayoría de ellos en casos inmediatamente anteriores a la Colocación del Signo Inicial (flechas rosas); uno de ellos (Figura 8G) también incluye un título poseído con ya. Anteriormente, se explicó de esta manera un ejemplo con el número ‘5’ (Figura 3A).


Figura 8


¿Cómo se puede seguir probando la propuesta de signos de puntuación del final del texto? Tal como está estipulada hasta el momento, la propuesta de Grube (2021) solo funciona en casos en los que se hubiera dejado un espacio vacío entre la colocación final de un texto y la colocación inicial, normalmente la Colocación del Signo Inicial de la SEP. En otras palabras, no es diferente de la propuesta de relleno de espacio de Coe y Kerr (1998). Esto es especialmente problemático dado que para los escribas y cualquier otro lector potencial, la alta frecuencia de la Colocación del Signo Inicial, con cientos de ejemplos atestiguados en vasijas de cerámica, habría hecho obvio que el texto había terminado una vez que se había “envuelto” a sí mismo hasta la posición previa a la Colocación del Signo Inicial. Grube (2021:2) de hecho destaca esta función de la Colocación del Signo Inicial, como una forma de indicar dónde comienza el texto. Los textos “envueltos” que comienzan con la Colocación del Signo Inicial, entonces, serían los contextos menos problemáticos para que un escriba o lector identifique dónde terminaría el texto, y por ende, donde un signo de puntuación de final de texto se necesitaría menos.


Para evaluar realmente la función de puntuación final de texto de estos diversos signos, se debe de encontrar evidencia de su uso, no necesariamente en textos monumentales, o textos extensos (“gruesos”) que carecen de colocaciones calendáricas, como propone Grube (2021: 5), si no que en cualquier texto, incluyendo los textos de cerámicas pintadas, siempre y cuando el texto no se enrolle sobre sí mismo y, por lo tanto, donde el escriba se habría arriesgado a dejar un espacio vacío. Hay muchos textos en vasijas de cerámica con tales rasgos, es decir, textos SEP dispuestos en columnas (Figura 9A), en bandas y columnas (Figura 9B), o en bandas que no envuelven a la vasija entera (Figura 9C). O especialmente se deberían buscar casos de bandas textuales enrolladas que carezcan de la Colocación del Signo Inicial de la SEP (p.ej. K5035, K5976, K6436, K8007, K8220, K9096, K9115 ). Que yo sepa, ninguno de esos textos muestra líneas o puntos en sus supuestas funciones de puntuación de finalización de texto.


Figura 9


En conclusión, es posible explicar la mayoría de los ejemplos de rellenos de espacio o marcadores de puntuación de final de texto putativos de una sola manera: como signos que comenzaban colocaciones incompletas hacia el final de un texto que se enrollaba sobre sí mismo. Esto significa que no son signos de puntuación especiales al final del texto, sino una estrategia mediante la cual el escriba indicaba qué colocación glífica habría seguido si hubiera habido más espacio, y que al mismo tiempo, llenaba el espacio vacío que habría resultado de otra manera. Es posible que eventualmente se demuestre que sí existen signos de puntuación de final del texto, pero se debe demostrar su aplicación en textos que no se enrollen en sí mismos, por un lado, y en textos en los que no se pueden explicar en base a los signos iniciales de colocaciones comunes al final del texto, por el otro. Si existen, sería probable de que hayan evolucionado, a través de un reanálisis analógico, a partir de los signos que iniciaron colocaciones frecuentemente truncadas al final de bandas textuales enrolladas de la SEP.



Coe, Michael, and Justin Kerr. 1998. The Art of the Maya Scribe. New York: Harry N. Abrams.

Grube, Nikolai.1998. Speaking through Stones: A Quotative Particle in Maya Hieroglyphic Inscriptions. In 50 años de estudios americanistas en la Universidad de Bonn, edited by Sabine Dedenbach-Salazar Saénz, Carmen Arellano Hoffmann, Eva König, and Heiko Prümers, pp. 543-558. Bonner Amerikanistische Studien 30. Verlag Anton Saurwein, Markt Schwaben.

Grube, Nikolai. 2021. Punctuation Marks in Ceramic Texts. Research Note 19. Textdatenbank und Wörterbuch des Klassischen Maya.

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, Martha J. Macri, Yuriy Polyukhovych, and Gabrielle Vail. 2022. MHD Reference Materials 1: Preliminary Revised Glyph Catalog. Glyph Dwellers Report 17.

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.

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

Mora-Marín, David F. 2004. Final FAMSI Grant Report: The Primary Standard Sequence: Database Compilation, Grammatical Analysis, and Primary Documentation. URL:

Tunesi, Raphael, and Yuriy Polyukhovych. 2016. Possible Phonetic Substitutions for the “Knot-Head” Glyph. Glyph Dwellers 39:1–8 .

Note 30

An Evaluation of the Recent Proposal of Punctuation Marks on Mayan Ceramic Texts


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



In a recent publication, Grube (2021) has proposed that certain signs, some of them previously suggested by Coe and Kerr (1998) to constitute cases of “space fillers,” actually functioned as punctuation marks. Although this is a very stimulating proposal, there is an alternative explanation, in addition to the space-filler function. The alternative explanation that I favor here could have become the basis, through analogical reanalysis, for the punctuation function advanced by Grube, should such function be validated. This alternative is simple: many cases of so-called space fillers or punctuation marks are actually examples of signs present in the glyphic collocations that would have followed should there have been more room to continue the text. This is of course not a novel idea: epigraphers have known of such occurrences for a long time (e.g. Mora-Marín 2001:128, 2004:11), and Grube (2021) himself provides a few examples, as I review below. What I propose is that most, if not all, examples of text-ending signs that appear “unnecessary” may in fact be cases of signs that would have begun collocations for which there was no space available, and were therefore leftovers or remnants of the following collocation in the sequence. The way this “leftover” function and the punctuation function may be related is also simple: over time, scribes may have reanalyzed some leftover signs, if especially common or visually salient, as text-ending markers, given that they would, by definition, appear at the —unavoidable— end of a text. Let us review some of the evidence.


First, we begin with Coe and Kerr (1998:143), who state that: “From time to time one does see the effect of compression near the end of lengthy Primary Standard Sequence [PSS] texts, or the use of space fillers where the line of glyphs does not quite ‘make it to the end’, but in general cases like this are rare.” Those authors presented an example in which the PSS text ends in the syllabogram yu, specifically the case of K1355, seen in Figure 1A.  Though Coe and Kerr (1998) proposed a space-filler function for such sign, a different analysis is preferable. This example bears a text consisting of the Initial Sign Collocation followed by the verbal expression tz’i-b’i na-ja ji-chi for tz’ihb’naj-Ø-Ø-ich (writing-PASSIVE.DER.TV-3sABS-PLAIN.COMP.IV-already/indeed) ‘it was indeed painted’. The text ends in T62 yu (light blue arrows). One could argue that this is a text-ending punctuation mark or a space filler. But it is neither. It is the first sign of the common collocation yu-k’i-b’i for y-uk’-ib’ ‘his/her cup’, which typically serves as the subject of the verb. In fact, Figure 1B shows an example from K9291 that ends in yu-k’i and immediately precedes the Initial Sign Collocation that begins the text. Figure 1C shows an example from K5350 that also ends in yu-k’i. Both are examples of texts where the scribe ran out of space to include the b’i syllabogram that would typically conclude the collocation. Compare with Figure 1D, which shows an example from K4552 that ends in the complete collocation yu-k’i-b’i, and with Figure 1E, which show an example from K4551 the ends in the collocation yu-k’i-b’i and the syllabogram ta, which would precede either yu-ta-la ka-wa or ʔu-lu, yielding a phrase such as tä y-ut-al käkäw ‘for cacao seeds’ or ʔul ‘for atole’. This set of examples shows that “leftovers” —signs or partial sequences that provided an (accidentally) incomplete spelling of a collocation— were a common phenomenon, and that they were generally predictable. Thus, these incomplete expressions filled the space, but were not meant to be space fillers originally.


Figure 1

Next, we turn to Grube (2021:5), who argues that “these markings fulfill a real syntactic function rather than just expressing the fear of a horror vacui, because they are highly conventionalized and appear on ceramics from different periods and in different painting styles.” He proposes two types of such text-ending punctuation markers: 1) “one or two vertical lines indicating the end of a dedication formula” (Figure 2A); and 2) “two vertically arranged dots or circles, sometimes with small fillers added” (Figures 2B–D). In Figure 2 the blue arrows point to the proposed punctuation marks, the pink arrows to the Initial Sign Collocation that begins each text. Grube further asserts that “So far, these punctuation marks can only be shown to have existed within the context of dedication texts on ceramics” (2021:5).


Figure 2

Grube distinguishes these cases from instances where a text ends in a single, isolated syllabogram. For such examples, Grube (2021:4) proposes the presence of grammatical morphemes that would be consistent with a text-ending role:


Sometimes, scribes filled the open space with single syllabograms. On Kerr 595, the scribe inserted the che sign, perhaps hintng at the Cholan quotative che’ “he says” and thus confirming that the text was understood as an item of collective memory (Kaufman and Norman 1984: 139). On another vase (Kerr 7459), the scribe added the sign la, perhaps indicating the word laj “finish” or “completely, all” (Kaufman and Norman 1984:124), to mark the end of the Primary Standard Sequence.


Grube (2021:5) is also open to a different approach, one that sees the text-ending isolated signs as the beginning parts of known collocations, as already shown above:


In yet other examples, the scribe has simply written a sign of the following word to fill the gap, e.g. SAK to indicate the implied title sak wayis, or a single syllabic sign cha to indicate a following chatahn winik expression (Kerr 2723; 2773; 4988; 5064; 5391; 5646; 8651; 8823).


But Grube does not follow this approach for cases where the text-ending signs resemble lines or dots, which he instead analyzes as punctuation markers. Nevertheless, the same explanation offered above for the isolated yu syllabogram on K1355, or by Grube for cases such as the text-ending instances of SAK or cha, can also be posited for instances where lines or dots, actually, bar-and-dot numerals, appear to end the text. In fact, the same explanation can be offered in most instances of isolated syllabograms appearing in text-ending positions, including the che example noted by Grube.


I will start with one of Grube’s examples of signs resembling lines or dots, seen in Figure 3A, the textual band from K5229. The pink arrow shows the vertical “lines” that Grube proposes to be the text-ending punctuation marker. The light blue arrow points to the preceding glyph block, an example of the ʔu-KNOT.EYE collocation, already identified by MacLeod (1990:437–438) as part of the epithet phrase of certain PSS texts, which she associated with God A’. This collocation has since been assumed to be included in epithet or title phrases, and has been proposed to be read ʔu-ʔUB’ based on possible substitutions with ʔu-b’i and ʔu-b’a spellings (Tunesi and Polyukhovych 2016); the KNOT.EYE sign corresponds to PJG in the revised catalog by Looper et al. (2022). The text from K5229 can be compared with the textual band on K6100, seen in Figure 3B. The two are structurally equivalent, and both include the ʔu-KNOT.EYE collocation. In fact, while that on K5229 shows the two vertical “lines” following the ʔu-KNOT.EYE collocation, the one on K6100 shows two vertical “lines” preceding the main-sign version of the syllabogram sa. A closer look at each example of the successive vertical “lines,” both on K5229 and K6100, interestingly, shows that the two lines are connected by at least one horizontal line at the top or bottom, forming a bar, more specifically, the bar for the numeral ‘5’ (Figures 3C and 3D). Thus, the example on K5229 ends in the bar for ‘5’ that would have begun the collocation HOʔ-sa, which just like the case of K6100, would have followed should there have been more space. In other words, the two vertical “lines” that Grube proposes to be a text-ending punctuation mark, are simply the bar for the numeral ‘5’ that was needed for the following collocation in the epithet sequence. Note too that on K9153, seen in Figure 3E, the text ends with the ʔu-KNOT.EYE epithet collocation. This shows that the readers were able to fill in both incomplete collocations (in the case of K5229), and incomplete phrases (in the case of K9153), based on more complete examples that they may have seen before (like K6100) or simply based on their knowledge of common names and titles of individuals known at the time.


Figure 3



A similar example is discussed next. Figures 4A and 4B illustrate the textual bands on K4962 and K7727, where one finds the isolated syllabogram ka ending the text and immediately preceding the Initial Sign Collocation of the PSS. In both cases, the syllabogram ka in question follows the ta-tzi-hi TEʔ-le expression, and thus, the syllabogram ka is in the right position to be a partial spelling of käkäw ‘cacao’. In fact, there are other examples in contexts where the expression for käkäw was followed by other expressions before wrapping back around to the beginning in which it was spelled with a single syllabogram ka without an obvious syllabogram wa. In any case, like the example of yuyu-k’i yu-k’i-b’i, it is possible to find evidence that this expression was commonly text-final, as in Figure 4C, illustrating the example from K3366.


Figure 4

It is time to revisit a case cited by Grube (2021:4), the example of che as a text-ending syllabogram on K595. While I find Grube’s proposal, that the syllabogram che could be spelling a simple instance of cheʔ ‘thus; quotative particle’ (Kaufman and Norman 1984:139), to be entirely plausible, it is also possible that the scribe ran out of space to spell the longer expression che-he/ʔe-na, deciphered by Grube himself (Grube 1998), and which is based on the same particle, yielding cheʔ-en ‘so it/s/he says’. The evidence for this option lies in two facts: first, there exist clear-cut cases of che-he/ʔe-na for cheʔ-en ‘so it/s/he says’, whereas the one example in favor of an isolated cheʔ appears on K595, and is ambiguous due to its text-ending context that could be argued to be an incomplete text; and second, there is at least one very close parallel to the sequence of signs present on K595 in a text where che-he/ʔe-na  was clearly spelled, and is followed by the name of the individual who was quoted. Figure 5A shows the example from K595, with the light blue arrow pointing to the syllabogram che, the green arrow to the collocation CHAK-ch’o-ko for chak chok ‘great youth’, and the pink arrow pointing to the Initial Sign Collocation of the PSS. Figure 5B shows the similar passage from K3395, with the same general sequence, only this time the light blue arrow points to the collocation che-he/ʔe-na, which is immediately followed by the name and title of the individual who is quoted, which is in turn followed by the Initial Sign Collocation of the PSS. Finally, Figure 5C shows a more “stretched out” version of the same sequence on K1775; in this case che-he/ʔe-na is followed by ʔu-tz’i-b’a ‘its writing’—the text itself is being quoted. In other words, there is more evidence to support the proposition that the isolated syllabogram che in K595 was meant to be part of the che-he/ʔe-na collocation, and that the scribe simply ran out of space to fully spell it out. Indeed, the example in Figure 5D, from K2695, illustrates a situation in which the che-he/ʔe-na collocation appears immediately before the Initial Sign Collocation, with the scribe running out of space to express who or what is being quoted, and thus resembles the example from K595 very closely: a little bit less space, and perhaps only room for the che syllabogram would have been available.


Figure 5

In at least two instances, what Grube identifies as punctuation marks resembling  dots, are actually syllabograms. The first case is very likely an instance of a design of ʔu. This is the case of K3034 seen in Figure 6A. This is the same design of ʔu that appears, for example, on K1383 in the possessed nominalization ʔu-tz’i-b’i na-ja-la for u-tz’ihb’naj-al ‘its painting’, seen in Figure 7B. There is every reason to suspect that possessed expressions could have been left incomplete at the end of such texts. We already saw this with the case of T62 yu for the collocation yu-k’i-b’i. There are in fact also cases of incomplete expressions beginning with an ʔallogram or consisting exclusively of an ʔu allogram in cases preceding the Initial Sign Collocation the PSS (e.g. K2023, K5647).


Figure 6

The second case where a syllabogram is misindentified as dots is the case of ya. This is seen in Figure 7A, corresponding to K8651. Here, ya follows a sequence K’UHUL:ka-wa, where the GOD.C logogram (K’UHUL for k’uh-ul ‘divine, holy’) and ka syllabogram appear to have been conflated, representing k’uhul käkäw ‘holy cacao’. Figure 7B, a photograph of K1446, shows a similar sequence of ka-wa followed by the title ya-ʔAJAW-TEʔ. It is thus possible that the syllabogram ya of K8651, argued by Grube to constitute dots marking the end of a text, simply spelled the beginning of a possessed title, a title beginning with /ʔa…/ (e.g. ʔaj-k’iin ‘priest’, ʔajaw ‘lord’, etc.).


Figure 7

Finally, it should be no surprise that texts would exhibit incomplete collocations beginning with a numeral (e.g. ‘1’, ‘2’, ‘3’, etc.), and which would explain the dots that appear in such positions. The fact is that there are a wide variety of epithets and titles that are typically numbered, and which unsurprisingly tend to appear toward the end of a text, since the nominal phrases of subjects and possessors strongly tend to appear at the ends of phrases. Figure 8 shows several such cases (green arrows), most of them in cases immediately preceding the Initial Sign Collocation (pink arrows); one of them (Figure 8G) also includes a possessed title with ya. Previously, an example with the numeral ‘5’ was explained in this way (Figure 3A).


Figure 8

How can the text-ending, punctuation mark proposal be tested further? As it stands, Grube’s (2021) proposal only works in cases where an empty space would have been left between the final collocation of a text and the beginning collocation, typically the Initial Sign Collocation of the PSS. In other words, it is no different from the space-filler proposal by Coe and Kerr (1998). This is especially problematic given that to scribes and any other potential reader, the high frequency of the Initial Sign Collocation, with hundreds of attested examples on pottery vessels, would have made it obvious that the text had ended once it had wrapped itself around all the way to the pre-Initial Sign Collocation position. Grube (2021:2) in fact highlights this function of the Initial Sign Collocation, as a way of indicating where the text begins. Wrap-around texts beginning with the Initial Sign Collocation, then, would be the least problematic contexts for a scribe or reader to identify where the text would end, and therefore, where such punctuation marks would be needed the least.


To really test the text-ending punctuation function of these various signs, one must find evidence for its use, not necessarily on monumental texts, or lengthy (“thick”) texts lacking calendrical collocations, as Grube (2021:5) proposes, but on any text, including painted ceramic texts, where the text does not wrap around onto itself, and thus, where the scribe would have risked leaving an empty space. There are plenty of such texts on ceramics, that is, PSS texts arranged in columns (Figure 9A), in rows and columns (Figure 9B), or in rows that do not wrap around the vase (Figure 9C). Or one should check against cases of textual bands in PSS texts that lack the Initial Sign Collocation (e.g. K5035, K5976, K6436, K8007, K8220, K9096, K9115 ). To my knowledge, no such texts exhibit lines or dots in their putative text-ending punctuation functions.


Figure 9

In conclusion, it is possible to account for the majority of examples of putative space fillers or text-ending punctuation markers in one way: as signs that began incomplete collocations toward the end of a text that wrapped around itself. This means they are not special text-ending punctuation marks, but a way for the scribe to both indicate what collocation would have followed had there been more space, and also fill in the empty space that would have resulted otherwise. Text-ending punctuation marks may yet be proven to exist, but they must be shown to apply in texts that do not wrap around, and they must not be accounted for by the initial signs of common text-ending collocations. If they exist, there is a strong likelihood that they would have evolved, through analogical reanalysis, from the signs that initiated frequently truncated collocations in texts that wrapped around.


Coe, Michael, and Justin Kerr. 1998. The Art of the Maya Scribe. New York: Harry N. Abrams.

Grube, Nikolai.1998. Speaking through Stones: A Quotative Particle in Maya Hieroglyphic Inscriptions. In 50 años de estudios americanistas en la Universidad de Bonn, edited by Sabine Dedenbach-Salazar Saénz, Carmen Arellano Hoffmann, Eva König, and Heiko Prümers, pp. 543-558. Bonner Amerikanistische Studien 30. Verlag Anton Saurwein, Markt Schwaben.

Grube, Nikolai. 2021. Punctuation Marks in Ceramic Texts. Research Note 19. Textdatenbank und Wörterbuch des Klassischen Maya.

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, Martha J. Macri, Yuriy Polyukhovych, and Gabrielle Vail. 2022. MHD Reference Materials 1: Preliminary Revised Glyph Catalog. Glyph Dwellers Report 17.

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.

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

Mora-Marín, David F. 2004. Final FAMSI Grant Report: The Primary Standard Sequence: Database Compilation, Grammatical Analysis, and Primary Documentation. URL:

Tunesi, Raphael, and Yuriy Polyukhovych. 2016. Possible Phonetic Substitutions for the “Knot-Head” Glyph. Glyph Dwellers 39:1–8 .

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.



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