Classic Maya Directional Glyphs

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					  Brian Stross

  Classic Maya Directional Glyphs

  The Classic Maya living in Southern Mesoamerica during the first millen-
  nium A.D. used a hieroglyphic writing system that included four directional
  glyphs. Scholars have differed with regard to the specific readings of these
  glyphs as well as on the question of whether they refer to the sun's path (east,
  zenith, west, nadir) or instead to the cardinal directions (east, north, west,
  south). Evidence bearing on the latter question is presented here, and a res-
  olution proposed that in Classic times alternative programs of directional
  symbolism—one based on the sun's path, and another on the cardinal direc-
  tions—were employed in Maya script and iconography. The unmarked nor-
  mal referents of the "north" and "south" glyphs were zenith and nadir re-
  spectively, while the direction zenith also implied north and nadir also im-
  plied south. There was nonetheless a glyph referring specifically to "north,"
  but not one referring specifically to "south." As part of the evidence for this
  resolution, new readings and interpretations based on a Cholan Mayan lan-
  guage are introduced for the Classic Maya directional glyphs. The proposed
  readings of these glyphs are *xin chan "zenith, north," *nahal ajaw
  "north," *mal puy "nadir, south," *hok' k'in "sunrise, east," and *k'ah
  k'in "sunset, west."

O        f the many remarkable accomplishments of Classic Maya civili-
         zation, located in southern Mexico, northern Guatemala, and ex-
         treme eastern Honduras between A.D. 200 and 900, a logo-syl-
labic hieroglyphic writing system employed until the middle of the 16th
century is certainly among the most impressive.1 Tremendous advances
have been made in the past decade towards complete decipherment of
the Maya script, but a number of problematic areas remain, and many
glyphs have eluded full specification with respect to sound, meaning,
and other properties.
  One area where disagreement among scholars persists is in the inter-
pretation of directional glyphs. Do they refer to the sun's path (east, ze-

                                               Journal of Linguistic Anthropology

nith, west, nadir) or to the cardinal directions as we know them (east,
north, west, south)? Are readings of them to be based on words currently
found in the Yucatecan branch of the Mayan language family or is it more
appropriate to ground the readings of the Classic glyphs on vocabularies
from the Cholan branch of the Mayan language family? What are the best
readings of the individual components that in composition make up each
of the particular directional glyphs? These are questions that elicit differ-
ent answers from different scholars.
   Based on a suggestion by Coggins (1980) that Classic Maya directional
symbolism referred to the sun's path (east, zenith, west, nadir) rather
than to the cardinal directions (east, north, west, south), Bricker pro-
posed phonetic readings for the four directional glyphs found in the cor-
pus of Maya hieroglyphic writing (1983). Some Maya epigraphers have
not accepted these readings for the glyphs; others reject even the hy-
pothesis that the glyphs refer to the sun's path rather than to the cardinal
directions. Thus the nature of the "north" and "south" glyph referents
continues to be an important unresolved problem. Building on Bricker's
work, a resolution is here proposed that introduces and utilizes new
readings and interpretations of the Classic Maya directional glyphs based
on a Cholan Mayan language and that focuses on an analysis of direc-
tional glyphs occurring on a Classic period stela at the Maya site of Co-
pan, located in eastern Honduras on the southeastern corner of the Clas-
sic Lowland Maya region.
   Bricker's argument that the Maya glyph collocations hitherto thought
to refer to north and south referred in fact to the zenith and nadir posi-
tions in the sun's path can be buttressed with evidence from Sierra Po-
poluca, a Zoquean language spoken by neighbors of the Mayans, to the
immediate west of them, indicating that underlying the meanings of
"north" and "south" are literal meanings more appropriate to concepts
of "zenith" and "nadir." The Sierra Popoluca word for "north," sAN-
winy, can be glossed more literally as "sky-place" and the word for
"south," nax-winy, can be glossed more literally as "earth-place" (Kay
Sammons's field notes, private communication, 1988).
   But Bricker's argument has not been accepted by all Mayanists, partly
because the Postclassic Maya encountered by the conquering Spaniards
used the cardinal directions as we know them (east, north, west south),
but also because a Classic Maya tomb recently discovered at the Guate-
malan archaeological site known as Rio Azul contains four directional
glyphs on its walls appropriately placed in the cardinal directions (Figure
1). Clearly more evidence must be brought to bear on the question about
referents for the "north" and "south" glyphs during Classic times. Some
of this evidence comes from a reconsideration of late Predassic and early
Classic iconography in which directionality is implied, and some derives
from readings of the directional glyphs themselves.
   The intent of this article is first to review the iconographic evidence,
and then to consider in detail the glyphic evidence in light of the proba-
bility that Cholan represents the primary language of the Classic Maya
script, focusing on readings and the ordering of directional glyphs oc-
Classic Maya Directional Glyphs                                         99

          east                                              west

          south                                           north
                                  Figure 1
       Direction Glyphs from Rio Azul Tomb [drawing by David Stuart]

 curring on a Classic period stela at Copan. It will be argued that zenith
 and nadir are the unmarked normal meanings of the north and south
 glyphs respectively for the Classic Maya, but by implication zenith can
 refer also to the north and nadir to the south. That is to say, that zenith
 and north can be conflated together while nadir and south are the other
 conflatable pair.
   The Copan examples of "north" and "south" glyphs are read here, us-
 ing Cholan vocabulary, as Mayan words for zenith and nadir, based on
 an internal glyph collocation reading order that is fully specified. Read-
 ings of other "north" and "south" glyph collocations are advanced here
 as well, and it is maintained that none of the Classic collocations refer to
 the Yucatecan word xaman "north," as has been proposed and accepted
                                               Journal of Linguistic Anthropology

by several epigraphers. Readings and a rationale for them are also pro-
posed here for east and west glyph collocations. In this context it is also
argued that the currently accepted interpretation of lak k'in as a reading
for the "east" glyph collocation may not apply to Classic times.

   Hammond has described, analyzed, and compared two sets of small
jade pendant heads—a set of four and a set of five "deity" heads—re-
covered from late Preclassic dedicatory caches in temple structures at
Cerros and Nohmul, both sites located in northern Belize (1987), within
the lowland Maya region. The five Cerros heads were placed by the Maya
in a diamond pattern with the four smaller ones radially located around
a larger central one. He posits a similar positioning pattern for the four
Nohmul heads, but without a larger central one. He then compares the
two sets of four horizontally placed and radially located "deity heads"
with four similarly positioned deity heads inscribed in considerable detail
on a large late Preclassic jade object known as the Pomona flare that was
excavated from the site of Pomona in the Stann Creek Valley, Belize, and
that was found vertically oriented (set on edge between two limestone
blocks). The vertical orientation is discussed in terms of a "sun's path"
program of directional symbolism, while the cache heads are seen to rep-
licate a "cardinal directions" program. The comparison leads to his con-
clusion that alternative programs of directional symbolism—one based
on the sun's path, and another on the cardinal directions—were in place
in Maya iconography by the early Classic (1987:21). It is easy to see how
the two programs might be conflated.
   While in agreement with his conclusion about the alternative programs
of directional symbolism, I have identified his "zenith" deity head of the
Pomona flare as that of the nadir, and his "nadir" deity head as pertain-
ing to the zenith (cf. Stross 1989, 1991). This does not affect the proposi-
tion that Classic Maya directional symbolism allows nadir and north to
be conflated while nadir and south can likewise be conflated.
   I have also argued that the deity heads from Pomona, Cerros, and
Nohmul represent stages in the life cycle of maize, a proposition that is
corroborated and more clearly indicated on an unprovenienced lime-
stone stela, known as the Hauberg Stela, dated at about A.D. 200 and be-
lieved to derive from the Peten region of Guatemala (Figure 2). On this
stela the miniature "climbing figures" represent, as can be seen from
their headdresses, different stages in the life cycle of maize, from seed on
the one nearest the head of the serpent held in the ruler's arms to the
immature but edible ear of maize nearest the serpent's tail. The ruler, as
symbolic axis and cosmological center, can be seen to have on his head-
dress a mature ear of maize, which I would compare to the central jade
deity head from the Cerros cache.
   Furthermore the two "climbing figures," or maize spirits, on the ser-
pent to the ruler's right must represent the zenith/north (the top one) and
the east/sunrise; the two on his left must represent the west/sunset and
Classic Maya Directional Glyphs                                101

                                  Figure 2
                   The Hauberg Stela [after Schele 1985:136]
                                               Journal of Linguistic Anthropology

the nadir/south (the bottom one). In this conflation of directional sym-
bolism it is obvious why the top can and must be associated with north,
while the bottom can and must be associated with the south. The ruler
(with both a maize seed and the fully developed maize ear on his head
constitutes the central focus of the Hauberg and surely symbolizes the
central axis containing thus both zenith and nadir at the same time.
Moreover, in redirecting our attention to maize (arguably equivalent to
the sun in Mesoamerican symbolism), the Hauberg Stela suggests an-
other way of looking at the symbolism inherent in the Classic Maya di-
rectional glyphs.
   If the ruler portrayed on the Hauberg Stela faces north (as is almost cer-
tain), which is where his soul must eventually end up after his death,
having traversed the underworld and attained apotheosis,2 then to his
left side will be the west, to his right the east. Thus, when the north-
south axis must be conflated with the east-west axis, the south will end
up with the west, as is confirmed in well-documented Mayan concep-
tions of the south as the underworld. Bricker provides additional support
in her suggested reasoning behind the conflation. Noting that Chamula
Tzotzil ceremonial circuits replicate in their counterclockwise direction
the journey of the sun across the heavens by day and through the un-
derworld at night, she explains that "it makes sense to equate the sun's
highest point with the north and its lowest point with south when its
movements are replicated in a ceremonial circuit" (1983:352), because the
sun reaches zenith and most northerly point in its range near the summer
solstice, while reaching its lowest altitude and most southerly horizon
point around the winter solstice.

                               The Glyphs
   The east (sunrise), west (sunset), nadir (south) and zenith ("north")
glyphs are found embedded in a Classic Maya text on Stela A at Copan
(Figure 3). They occur here in that order, two at a time, and by pairing
directional axes, they appear to be explicitly indicating a noncyclic direc-
tion of movement. The stress on axiality in this example of directional
reference, appears to exclude any interpretation of a circular progression
around the cardinal points (such as would imply for example a move-
ment from east, north, west, south), but it would also be excluding an
interpretation of movement around the major points in the sun's per-
ceived journey through day and night along the east-west axis (such as
implying a journey from east [Sunrise] to zenith [Noon] to west [Sunset]
to nadir [Midnight]).
   It seems that these paired glyphs on Copan Stela A cannot by their or-
der of presentation resolve the question of their referents as north versus
zenith and south versus nadir, nor can they do so on the basis of their
pairings. But we can nonetheless gain further insight by discovering pre-
cisely the Classic Mayan words referenced by these glyph collocations of
Copan. The crucial glyphs in this respect are those representing north/
zenith and south/nadir, but suggestions on their interpretation are fol-
Classic Maya Directional Glyphs                                         103


EAST                 hok' k'in
                                                 116 IS


WEST                     k'ah     k'in            544

ZENITH                      xin chan

NADIR                     mal puy

                                  Figure 3
        Directional Glyphs on Copan A. G8-H9 [after Bricker 1983:348]

lowed here by new readings of the east and west glyphs as well (Figure
104                                             Journal of Linguistic Anthropology

                   ho                               k'a

 k'in                                    k'in
                  EAST                              WEST

                                  ma                                  chan

                              puy                                     na


                 NADIR                          ZENITH
                                 Figure 4
Directional Glyphs: East—Palenque, Group 3 Inscribed Pot, E2; West—Yaxchi-
lan Lintel 1, H10; Nadir/South—Palenque, Tablet of Cross, A15; Zenith/North—
Palenque, Tablet of Cross, C13

   It will be instructive to begin by taking a broad look at the Copan di-
rectional glyphs first, ignoring particular phonetic realizations. The east
and west glyphs each contain two cross-shaped k'in "sun" glyphs. The
bottom k'in glyph in each is the main sign (supplemented by the tail-like
glyph currently viewed as a phonetic complement with the phonetic
value of ne or ni), and since it occurs in both the east and west glyphs but
not in the other two directions, it appears thus to be implying the axis of
solar travel, which shares the criterial feature of the sun.
  No such shared main sign occurs with the "north" and "south"
glyphs. Their main signs are a serpent (segment with marking) and a
snail (shell) respectively. The serpent (segment) and the snail (shell)
glyphs constitute extremely important clues to the referents of the north
and south glyphs, for the serpent is firmly linked to the sky in Maya cos-
mology as well as by homophony (which forms the basis for the rebus
principle manifested in Maya script), while the snail is just as firmly con-
Classic Maya Directional Glyphs

nected with the earth and more specifically to the underworld in Maya
   Mindful of the proto-Cholan homophony between *chan "serpent"
(from proto-Mayan *kaan) and *chan "sky" (from proto-Mayan *ka?N)
(Kaufman and Norman 1984:117), it is easy to see that the serpent (seg-
ment) could refer to the sky. Even in Yucatec the words for "serpent,"
kan and for "sky" kaan are near homophones.
   It is almost as easy to see that the snail (shell) can refer directly to the
earth or to the underworld. With respect to the latter, one may note that
Maya iconography of the underworld is replete with depictions of shells,
along with other evidence that the underworld must have been viewed
by the Classic Maya as under water. The former connection is attested to
by the fact that in the Maya script a glyph collocation meaning "war"
preposes a "Venus" glyph to either the "earth" glyph or to a snail (shell)
glyph. The fact that a snail can substitute for the earth within a single
glyphic expression thus constitutes excellent evidence connecting the
snail to the earth.
   Because both land snails and water snails are found in the Maya area
and have different names, one cannot be sure whether we are dealing
with the snail as earth or as underworld, but the "war" expression prob-
ably indicates a land snail. The snail depicted on the "south" glyph is the
same one that occurs as a main sign in the "(Venus) star over shell" col-
location that means 'war7 and that indexes positions of the planet Venus
as Evening Star. A name for Venus in Tzotzil Mayan—a Western Mayan
language relatively close to Choi—is, significantly, h-tP puy "Venus [lit.
eater-of snails]" (Laughlin 1975). In the same language antzil tP means
"war" [antzil "woman, female"] (Laughlin 1988).3
   Since the "earth" glyph can be replaced by the "snail shell" glyph, and
since Venus (the "star" glyph in the glyph collocation called "star over
earth") is referred to as "eater of snails," this is good evidence that the
snail (shell) glyph can symbolize the earth (as opposed to the under-
world) in the directional expressions. We may recall at this point that the
main roots in the Sierra Popoluca words for "north" and "south" are
those which literally mean "sky" and "earth." And the main signs of the
Copan glyph collocations referring to corresponding directions also can
now be seen to clearly indicate "sky" and "earth" as referents.

   The "north" collocation begins with a prefixed glyph known as T114,
referring to the identifying number in Thompson's 1962 Catalog, that I
read as xi (though it is usually seen as xa).4 To the main sign is attached
a phonetic suffix, T23. Together, xi (T114) and na (the T23 suffix) spell
xin, an adverb that in proto-Cholan as well as in Choi today means "in
the center, in the middle" (Kaufman and Norman 1984:139). This mean-
ing apparently refers to and is read in combination with the central main
sign of the collocation, a serpent (segment) referring to the serpent
(proto-Cholan *chari), and thus to the homophonously termed sky (proto-
106                                           Journal of Linguistic Anthropology

Cholan *chan). The result is the reading xin chart "in the sky's center, the
zenith." Zenith with little doubt is the primary referent of the "north"
glyph at Classic Maya Copan.5
  On the other hand, another version of the "north" glyph may even in
Classic times refer to the direction north rather than zenith. In this glyph
collocation a young lord's profile (an Ahaw head) is preposed by a T48
glyph having the phonetic value na (Figure 5). Noting first that proto-
Cholan *nah- means "in front, forward, before, first" (Kaufman and Nor-
man 1984:138), we may then recall that the Ahaw "Lord, Ruler" on the
Hauberg Stela was facing north. That is to say, north was "in front" of
him; it was "before" him.6 This is in accord both with the orientation of
the Hauberg Stela's ruler and with the placement of the front facing cen-
tral jade pendant head in the Cerros cache mentioned above. The latter
faces north because to its right is the pendant head that Hammond has
demonstrated represents east and sunrise (1987:17). Refer back to the
Cerros and Nohmul caches and to the Hauberg Stela. The north glyph in
which a na precedes an Ahaw head, then, may be assigned the reading
*nahal ajaw (the ; here references a reconstructed proto-Cholan ; that in
Choi of today became an h).
   An alternative form of the north glyph based on the young Ahaw (lord)
head is found on the Palace Tablet at the Classic Maya site of Palenque
in Chiapas, Mexico. This young Ahaw has a "Yax" glyph on his forehead
(Figure 6). The Yax glyph is taken by Maya epigraphers to mean "first"
(based on Cholan and Yucatecan meanings for the root), as is the na
glyph (T23), and since na can mean "in front of" as well as "first," pre-
sumably the Yax glyph could also mean "in front of," at least by exten-
sion. Not surprisingly the notions of "first" and of "in front" (as well as


            nahal           ahaw
                              Figure 5
              North—nahal ahaw—Yaxchilan Stela 11 Side B6
Classic Mm/a Directional Glyphs                                        107




                   yax            ahaw
                                   Figure 6
                     North Alternate—Palenque Tablet, C3

"on top of") are as conflatable in Mayan thought and language as they
are in our own.
  Because of a curious homophony in Choi, it is possible to speculate that
the young ahaw (the young lord) may be participating in a visual pun
leading back to the serpent notion symbolizing "sky." His presence
might be suggesting logographic CHAN ("sky," "serpent," "lord"), for
Choi has the word choPan "master, owner, lord" (Josserand and Hopkins
1988:fascicle 10), which is a near homophone to the Choi words for "sky"
and "serpent" as well as representing the meaning oiahaw in Mayan lan-
guage. This interpretation would support a zenith interpretation for the
young lord variants of the "north" glyph collocation.

  Turning to the nadir or "south" collocation at Copan, it is composed
of glyphs T74.134:575:178. The prefix T74 and the suffix T178 have long
had accepted phonetic values of m(a) and l(a) respectively (Stuart
1987:46-47). As with the zenith or "north" collocation above, these pho-
                                                Journal of Linguistic Anthropology

netic glyphs can be read together first, as with the glyph for the Maya
month of Mac, and then preposed to the logographic (i.e., referencing a
word) main sign. Taking the ma and la together according to generally
accepted principles in which the final vowel introduced by the last syl-
lable in the word is omitted, we have the spelling mal, which in Choi
means "inside." Kaufman and Norman reconstruct a proto-Cholan *ta-
mal "inside" (1984:139), which includes the general purpose preposition
ta in its composition (1984:139). Choi's mal "inside" must be the head por-
tion of the prepositional construction.7
   The snail shell tells us what the referent for "inside" is; that is, "inside
the earth," or possibly "inside the watery underworld" (either reference
being fully appropriate for the concept "nadir"). For reasons mentioned
above, I take the snail shell in Classic times to have referred to the earth
as a whole, and there are some minor considerations pointing weakly in
the same direction as well. For example, the snail could also reference the
earth by means of a somewhat roundabout near homophony, for the
"land snail" in Choi is t'ot' (Aulie 1978:116), sonically close to the word
ch'och' "earth" found in Mamean and Kanjobalan Mayan languages, and
it also resembles Choi -otot "house, home" (Aulie 1978:90), "house"
being a universal Mayan metaphor for "world," or "earth."
   But the more persuasive argument remains the fact that in the "Star
over Earth" glyph collocation (referring to both "war" and "Venus as
evening star"), the snail shell (cf. proto-Cholan *puy "snail (shell)" and
Tzotzil puy "snail") can substitute for the "earth" glyph (Caban). This
implies strongly that the snail shell can symbolize earth. Venus's Tzotzil
appellation h-tP puy "eater of snails" is additional evidence for that inter-
pretation. With an earth reference for "snail," the meaning of the
"south" glyph remains "nadir."8
   The T134 glyph, four U-shaped elements wrapping or flanking the
snail shell, is somewhat problematic. Stuart gives this glyph a phonetic
value of hi and illustrates cases where y or i might be preferred (1987:42).
This glyph may by its attachment to the side(s) of the snail shell be acting
as a phonetic complement, indicating the final consonant y of the word
puy "snail" that is in the "south" Glyph collocation. Like other phonetic
complements T134 is optional, in that there are occasions when it is not
present in the glyph collocation referring to nadir/south.
   Summarizing so far, both east and west glyphs share the sun (k'in) as
a main sign, for indeed they refer to the sun's path, while "north" has a
"sky" symbol (the serpent [segment]) and "south" has an "earth" sym-
bol (the snail shell), suggesting also the sun's path. Thus the main signs
of the latter directionals indicate zenith and nadir are more likely refer-
ents than are north and south.
   Returning to the east-west axis, and recalling that the sun (so strongly
identified with maize in Mayan cosmologies) is also in the prefixed
glyphs, we must take special note of the other aspects of the prefixes in
the east and west glyph collocations. For the east glyph there is a hol-
lowed out bowl-shaped depression (sometimes called the "k'in bowl")
covered by a flat bar, in other contexts associated with the number "5."
Classic Maya Directional Glyphs

The fact that the sun is in the bowl in an eastern direction suggests that
the sun may well have been resting in that bowl overnight (for all living
entities need their rest), and simply needs to be scooped out in the morn-
ing in order to come up in the east. If we imagine the sun as maize, the
form, which is similar to the seed form of maize on the Hauberg Stela,
suggests that this maize seed is planted under the ground, in the under-
world, where the sun is during the night. The maize is of course waiting
to sprout in the east and mature during the symbolic day while the sun
is overhead, only to be harvested (killed by decapitation) as the sun goes
   This scenario can be replicated with plausible phonetic values associ-
ated with the plausible identifications made here of the bowl (or other
form of scooped out hollow) and the bar standing for "five."9 Proto-Cho-
lan *ho "five" and *k'in "sun" would together spell hok'in, and the Choi
words hok' "(water) well" (Aulie 1978:66) and k'in "sun" (Aulie 1978:178)
when put together would also be realized as hok'in, because the two k'
segments would by morphophonemic assimilation become one. It is this
latter interpretation that tells what is happening with the sun in the east
at sunrise. Proto-Cholan *jok' "(tv) dip out by hand, scoop out; dig a
well" (Kaufman and Norman 1984:122) can be said to describe the dawn-
ing sun as being "scooped out from its position in a hollow place," and
Yucatec hok'ol k'in "saltr el sol por el horizonte/sunrise" (Barrera 1980:22)
is an attested construction. The verb hok' fits the vegetative metaphor as
well, because just as earth is scooped out in order to plant, so the sun
comes up by being scooped out of its resting place in the bowl-like
depression where it has been resting for the night.10
   Perhaps this bowl-like depression out of which the sun pops in the east
at dawn represents the maw of the earth monster; or perhaps it was con-
ceptualized in other terms. Regardless, it seems unlikely to have been
vocalized as a lak during the Classic period by Cholans as currently main-
tained by several epigraphers. Although lak in Yucatec of Postclassic
times meant "plate, clay object, clay idol" (Barrera 1980:433) and so could
help account for the Yucatec word lak'in "east" (Barrera 1980:433) in
terms of a glyphically depicted lak "bowl" and a depicted k'in "sun" (con-
flated as la(k)k'in "east"), it is not a Cholan word and cannot be recon-
structed for proto-Cholan (cf. Kaufman and Norman 1984). It may be
noted, too, that Yucatec lik'in (Barrera 1980:452) was more commonly em-
ployed in Yucatec than lak'in to refer to "east," and the currently accepted
lak reading for the "k'in bowl" cannot easily account for that either.

  The operative glyph in the glyph collocation designating west is the
back view of a fist with a k'in glyph infixed at its base. Allowing for a
count of at least up to ten on the hands, it is conceivable that the back
view of a fist could represent a phonetic la, based on proto-Cholan *laj
                                               Journal of Linguistic Anthropology

"to finish" (Kaufman and Norman 1984:124) that is the root portion of
proto-Cholan *lajun "10" (Kaufman and Norman 1984:138) and symbol-
izing the completion of the second hand and the count of ten. Based on
this interpretation, the "west" glyph collocation would be *laj k'in
"west," referring to the completion of the day. This sort of interpretation
fits the conception of west as destruction; as the place where the sun dies.
But there is no evidence at this time supporting the use of the back of a
fist to refer to a completed count of "ten." Another interpretation, how-
ever, is more plausible, makes use of the death metaphor, and also makes
a reference in line with the "resting sun" notion and the maize harvest
metaphor mentioned above.
   The Spaniard Bishop Diego de Landa who lived in Yucatan during the
middle of the sixteenth century devised with the help of a native infor-
mant a partial syllabary of the Maya script that survived in Yucatan up
until that time, believing it to be an alphabet. Landa's "alphabet" tells us
that the back of the first can be read as k'a. It is the second K of Landa's
"alphabet," and there is little doubt about its phonetic value of k'a.
   Proto-Cholan *k'aj "harvest (maize)" fits not only the notion of com-
pletion and of death (maize is decapitated when harvested by being
snapped right off the stem of the plant); it also fits in with the vegetative
metaphor. There is ample evidence in Maya iconography and oral liter-
ature that maize and the sun are symbolic equivalents in a number of
contexts, and with the maize harvest as a metaphor for "west," where
the sun dies, we can easily discern the implication of putting the sun into
a container (for the night), as maize is harvested and stored. In such a
container the sun/maize may rest, recalling the Choi word k'ah-o "rest/
descanso" (Aulie 1978:41). Instead of the attractive but unsupported pho-
netic reading of la for the fist, we must choose the better motivated k'a as
a phonetic reading that allows for a *k'aj "harvest (maize)" interpretation
of the "west" glyph collection.11 This harvest reading brings in both the
concept of maize and its harvest, and the notion of destruction and death
that goes along conceptually with the west.
  The readings for Classic Maya direction glyphs proposed above are
predicated on a Cholan language being represented in the glyphs of the
Classic Maya, on an integrated view of the directions as related in a pri-
mary way to the path of the sun from dawn to noon to dusk to midnight
and then back to dawn in a cycle that metaphorically replicates the
rhythms of life and maize, and that is reflected in the glyphic means for
representing them in a logo-syllabic script, and on a view of the logo-
graphic main signs that takes them to be overtly pictographic and sym-
bolic as well as logographic in the process of conveying the required in-
formation. That is to say, there is an iconographic component to the
glyphs as well, lending itself to symbolic interpretations that go beyond
the phonetic and logographic values of the glyphic signs.
  These assumptions have resulted in the following readings for the di-
rection glyphs being proposed: *xin chart "zenith," *nahal ajaw "north,"
Classic Maya Directional Glyphs                                                   HI

*mal puy "nadir/south/' *hok' k'in "east/' *k'ah k'in "west." The readings
themselves constitute an important part of the argument supporting
Bricker's earlier contention that the Classic Maya "north" glyph really
represents the zenith and the Classic Maya "south" glyph really repre-
sents the nadir, and are part of my own attempt to resolve the positions
of vertical versus horizontal directional circuits both in terms of two al-
ternative directional programs present during the Classic period and in
terms of the Classic Maya conceptual conflating of east with sunrise,
north with zenith, west with sunset, and south with nadir.
  Part of the directional glyph interpretation proposed here requires
T114 to stand for phonetic xi rather than the more commonly accepted
xa. This departure from currently accepted values is motivated as sug-
gested in note 4, and there is no place where this interpretation conflicts
with required sound values in other contexts where the glyphs occur.
   While Cholan most probably represents the language in which most of
the Classic Maya script was written, between about A.D. 200 and 900, the
Maya "books" (codices) that have survived and represent the Postclassic
script from about A.D. 900 until the completion of the Spanish conquest
of Yucatan are just as clearly written in Yucatecan. These two Mayan lan-
guage subgroups appear to account for the vast majority of the Maya
script from start to finish. If the interpretations of the directional glyphs
contained herein are correct, an examination of the structure of the glyph
collocations through time from early Classic to late Postclassic, from Cho-
lan to Yucatecan suggests that the glyphs represent several different
ways of saying or implying the same thing, in different languages, and
in the same language with different words. The glyph collocations seem
thus to have been built up by accretion, presumably the oldest stratum
being the main sign. The phonetic spellings, as is the case with the month
Mac and a number of other glyph collocations, can therefore ignore the
main sign, although of course as in the case of phonetic complements and
frozen forms, they need not do so.


   1. The orthography employed here is a normalized phonemic one, deviating
from Amerindianist practice in that A stands for shwa (the mid-central vowel), ch
stands for the alveolar affricate often written c, and tz stands for the dental affri-
cate t. Herein also, x indicates the postalveolar voiceless groove fricative (or si-
bilant) known as "esh," while / indicates the voiceless velar fricative that in the
IPA is given as x, and N refers to the velar nasal known as "eng" or "engma."
Vowel length is indicated by doubling the vowel. In these conventions, I am
closely following general Mayanist practice. Bracketed words reflect the spelling
conventions of the original sources from which the words are taken. The manu-
script has benefited from perceptive comments by Ben Blount, Barbara MacLeod,
and Jorge Orejel.
  2. And apparently this is where rulers have been facing in stone portraits since
Olmec times, as well as being "on top," as we can see from the somewhat God-
C-like (and Ahaw-like, because portrayed in full-face, rather than profile) face
                                                    Journal of Linguistic Anthropology

carved on the top of Cerro Chalcatzingo. It faces north (Kent Reilly, personal
communication, 1989).
   3. Even today the Chorti Mayans (of the Cholan subgroup) connect Venus with
war. "Then that star appears in place over the peak. . . . The old people used to
say that its name is San Ramon. Watcher over the earth. . . . There are times
when it unites its body with the moon. And people say, 'When that star unites
its body with the moon, that is a sign that someone is going to kill himself in the
village. If not, a war [emphasis mine] is going to be made in the towns' " (Fought
1972:427). For the Chorti, San Ramon is Venus as the Evening Star (Fought
1972:436). The uniting of the star's body with the moon recalls the meaning of
the Tzotzil expression for Venus as "eater of snail," which in turn reminds us of
the fact that the Maya moon goddess was also the earth and fertility goddess.
   4. xi can be derived by taking the final consonant of the word Yax and then
reproducing the echo vowel, which in this case, coming off an apico-alveolar con-
sonant, does not echo the preceding vowel, but rather reflects a palatalization of
vowel quality. The xi reading for T114 is as likely a reading as xa in the context of
Stuart's month glyph Pax, and in fact a skull with dots around the eye has been
read as xi by Stuart in precisely that context (1987:33, 47). The xi reading for T114
thus works fine as a complement in constructing the month name Pax and it
works well in other contexts too.
   5. Note also the Choi word chan "high" (Aulie and Aulie 1978:47), so that the
picture of a serpent or serpent segment should alone be able to refer to the zenith,
as in chan chan "sky high." The form, however, is unattested. Perhaps it is no
accident either that T114, whose phonetic value is being exploited in the glyph
collocation under consideration, is also used logographically to refer to the divi-
natory day name Chicchan-"Serpent."
   6. In fact even by the time of the Postclassic Yucatec codices, when the young
Ahaw has been transformed into a God C (also representing, as does the Ahaw,
divinity) and the prefix to God C has become a U bracket, distinct from the third
person glyph only in its attachment to God C, we can still read this glyph collo-
cation as "in front of the Lord, i.e., north."
   7. This sounds much like the Nahuatl word for tamale, the foodstuff which
wraps a layer of maize dough around a central core of meat, beans, or other food-
stuff. It is surely symbolic of a person, flesh wrapped in skin, as pointed out by
McGee (1990:151). The Nahuatl word may actually be related to proto-Cholan.
Note for example, that Cholti has naka tamal as the word for "tamale/' presumed
to be a loan from Nahuatl. In Honduras, the local Spanish maintains the word
naka tamal for "tamale" even today. Naka in Nahuatl means "meat," in proto-
Zoquean, "skin," and in Choi and Tzeltalan naka(l) means "seated." It is possible
that Nahuatl borrowed the form tamal from a Mayan word meaning 'inside' and
naka(l) from a Mayan word meaning "seated, positioned," and Zoquean may
have borrowed its word naka meaning "skin, wrapper" from a Mayan language
as well.
   8.1 also have a preference for puy based on the fact that the snail is the "foot"
creature (its foot is what sticks out, responsible for its locomotion according to
native conceptions), and is this like the nighttime measurer of the sky, the moon,
also known as the "night sun." In Kekchi and in Pocoman Mayan po means
"moon," and in Mixe-Zoquean poya "moon" is like poy "leg," and once again
alows us to see that reference here should be to the underworld. Note that The
Aztec god of the moon, Tecciztecatl is both patron of the Aztec day Miquiztli
("Death"), and is related to the marine snail.
Classic Maya Directional Glyphs                                                   113

  9. An alternative interpretation of the East glyph would understand the bar to
contribute a phonetic reading of ho that when added to a depicted metate cha (cf.
proto-Cholan *cha? "metate") results in a spelling hocha followed by logographic
k'in "sun/' to be read as a rebus for ochah k'in "(the) sun has entered (the sky, the
  10. Independently and for quite different reasons, Hammond reads elements
associated with the eastern/sunrise deity head on the Pomona Flare as *jo:k or *jok
"to appear, sunrise."
  11. The Rio Azul directional glyphs include a "west" glyph in which the fist is
much closer in appearance to a "flat hand" glyph which refers to "completion,"
and it is possible that this represents an alternative "spelling" of the direction,
making use of the la(h) "completion" capabilities usually attributed to the "flat

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