Sunday, April 5, 2015

The 'Bone Codex' of Jasaw Chan K'awiil I of Tikal

Bone MT-38A from Temple I, Burial 116 Tikal
Photo by Paul Johnson 
Hi All,

In co-authorship with Péter Biró, I will be giving on April10-11 of 2015 the following presentation at the CSU Los Angeles Mesoamerican Symposium- In the Realm of the Vision Serpent: Decipherments and Discoveries in Mesoamerica. A Symposium in Homage to Linda Schele

The 'Bone Codex' of Jasaw Chan K'awiil I
Carl D. Callaway & Péter Biró


As a leader in the field, Linda Schele opened new lines of inquiry into Maya art and epigraphy by posing bold new questions. In honor of her influential research, this paper examines a remarkable burial cache of inscribed bones from the royal tomb of Jasaw Chan K'awiil I (682-734 AD) from Tikal Temple I, cataloged as Burial 116. Aubrey S. Trik the excavator of Burial 116, first speculated if this cache was a 'bone codex'. Trik's collaborator Linton Satterthwaite deduced that several bones could be aligned vertically, side-by-side in single columns, and their respective texts linked via corresponding dates. Advances in Maya epigraphy now allow for a fuller reading of the bones in question. Some texts reveal subjects and themes like-in-kind to those found in existing Maya codices while others are unique in character. Death scenes and texts connecting Jasaw Chan K'awiil I to the sinking of the Maize God's canoe presage the king's own the death journey. Additionally, drawings on several bone 'pointers' allude to the mythic origins of hieroglyphs and display patron deities of writing. While not a continual series of unified texts from a single manuscript, the bones do display select passages and scenes, that were no doubt sourced from specialized hand books containing: astronomical almanacs, god histories, family rites and royal obituaries—information that Jasaw Chan K'awiil I utilized for his own scribal practice.

Hope to see many of you there.

MT-51A from Temple I, Burial 116 Tikal
 Photo by Paul Johnson

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Photos of the Le Plongeon Expedition to the Yucatan (1883-1875) are available via the L.A. Getty Center Digital archives

Digital image courtesy of the Getty's Open Content Program

Recently, I had the chance to go to the new impressive Getty Center in L.A. With help from their research librarian, I was able to navigate a maze of links to access the online photos of Le Plongeon Expedition (1883-1875) of the Yucatan. The online photos are quite good resolution. There is lots of archaeological and art historical data to be mined since most photos are still unpublished.

Here is the link to the Getty Research Archives:

Use the files on the left of the page to access the photos. Click on the term "Recto" under each photo to enlarge each print.

Happy Hunting,


Thursday, August 21, 2014

Maya God Profiles: The “Principal Bird Deity”

The Maya “Principal Bird Deity” (a.k.a. PBD) is depicted often sitting perched atop celestial “sky bands” and the branches of  world trees in Maya iconography as seen on Palenque’s Temple of the Cross (Bardawil 1976; Cortez 1986) where it stands atop a stylised Ceiba Tree.
Palenque Temple of the Cross, Central Sanctuary Panel. Drawing by Linda Schele courtesy of David Schele and FAMSI.

The bird is very much the avian counterpart of Itzamnaj (God D) and often wears the same diadems and necklace of this God (Boot 2008; Stone and Zender 2011:47). The bird is seen morphing into God D on a codex style vase published by Hellmuth (1987:268, figs. 578 and 579). At Tonina (Monument p48) a glyphic portrait of the PBD is rendered with the head of Itzamnaj.
Tonina Monument p48, a Portrait of the Principle Bird Deity with the head of Itzamnaaj. Drawing By Simon Martin.

So fused are these two gods that their combined portraits glyphs serve as a theonym for God D on the “Yax Wayib” Mask (blocks C4-D4) as well as on Xcalumkin, Column 5 (A2) and Column 3 (A5) and Kerr Vessel No. 7727 (Boot 2008:18).
God D title on the “Yax Wayib” Mask (blocks C4-D4). Drawing by Carl Callaway. 

There is little doubt that when God D is present the “Principal Bird Deity” is somewhere close at hand and vice versa. The new God D Court Vessel analyzed by Erik Boot (2008) depicts the bird standing atop the head of the “CHAN bird head” (with an axe in its eye) that is the substitute for the T561 “CHAN” sky glyph. As Boot (2008:24-25) astutely points out that this small axe is the diagnostic element in the head variant of the number six and it identifies the bird head with an axe infix to be a representation for the 6-SKY location WAK CHAN. This being the case, the “Principal Bird Deity” literally stands aloft the celestial realm of the WAK CHAN, a place where not only resides the court of God D but by proxy the WAK CHAN AJAW gods who oversee era day events on  4 Ajaw 8 Kumk'u (as noted on block D5 of the “Yax Wayib” Mask and Quirigua Stela C east, block B26).

Works Cited
Bardawil, Lawrence W.
1976 The Principal Bird Deity in Maya Art: An Iconographic Study of Form and Meaning. In: Proceedings of the Second Palenque Round Table, M. G. Robertson, ed., vol. III, pp. 195–209. Robert Louis Stevenson School, Pebble Beach: Pre–Columbian Art Research Institute.

Boot, Erik 
2008 At the Court of Itzam Nah Yax Kokaj Mut: Preliminary Iconographic and Epigraphic Analysis of a Late Classic Vessel. On-line at:

Cortez, Constance
1986 The Principal Bird Deity in Preclassic and Early Classic Maya Art. M.A. Thesis, Department of Art and Art History, Austin: University of Texas at Austin.

Hellmuth, Nicholas M.
1987 Monsters and Men in Maya Art. Verlagsanstalt Graz, Austria: Akademische Druck.

Stone, Andrea, and Mark Zender
2011 Reading Maya Art. London: Thames and Hudson Ltd.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Lords of Time 2014 Maya Calendar

The Lords of Time Maya Calendar is now available in two formats! This is the best Maya Calendar I have seen offered that integrates and presents ancient Maya and modern European calendars together on one page. The Maya glyphs are accurately and beautifully rendered. As an added benefit, the maker offers an introduction to the Maya calendar with a great series of graphics that display the inner workings of the Maya's sacred (260 day) and solar (365 day) calendars. For more information Click on the following link:


Monday, December 2, 2013

A Modern Maya Creation Inscription Just in Time for the 13th Bak'tun Celebration

 Modern Maya epigraphers at Mani and Iximche have documented via two carved stelae the history of their communities. The Iximche Stela anticipates the celebration of the 13th Bak'tun in December of 2012. To read the full story click on the following link below:

The Iximche inscription recounts Maya history in the Kaqchikel language using Classic Maya glyphs. The text opens with the era day Long Count on  4 Ajaw 8 Kumk'u:

The new Iximche stela. Photo courtesy of the MAM Web Blog:

Modern scribes designed their opening Long Count after one carved on Quirigua Stela C with a few modifications to fit the hight and width of their new composition. Here is a partial illustration of the original Quirigua text:

Quirigua Stela C. Drawing by Linda Schele courtesy of FAMSI.
Interestingly, the Iximche creation account is abridged from the Quirigua text and mentions only the planting of the three "celestial" stones/thrones of creation. The modern Kaqchikel scribes then add a few new interpretive words. They say that the three stones were creados los contadores de la cuenta vigesimal del tiempo.
Drawing of the new Iximche stela. Photo courtesy of the MAM Web Blog:
This interpretation is in agreement with what we know about the era day story as recorded in ancient inscriptions when time stood at the very heart of the cosmogonic act.

According to ancient scribes, the gods of time (los contadores--the gods of the Pik, Winikhaab, Haab, Winik and K'in time periods) gathered together with the gods of 0, 4 and 8 (the Aj Mih K'in, K'inich Ajaw, and the Aj Ixim) to reset the orderly motion the vigesimal count--the basis of all Maya counting. In fact, the Dresden Codex  records that the God of Number Twenty (the Aj Winik) had to be born into the world shortly before creation (Callaway 2009). Winik is also a name for man himself (Barrera Vásquez 1980) who counts with twenty fingers and toes. So, his birth signalled the birth of man's consciousness and ability to chart the heavens and measure time (Brotherston 1992). In this way, the gods reaffirm at the close and start of each cycle a cosmic order that was set down at foundation of the cosmos and given to man to maintain. How wonderful it is to see the Modern Maya maintaining this sacred count with the planting of new stones for a new era!

Works Cited

Barrera Vásquez, Alfredo
1980 Diccionario Maya Cordemex. Mexico: Ediciones Cordemex.

Brotherston, Gordon
1992 The Book Of The Fourth World: Reading Native Americans Through Their Literature. Cambridge: The Press Syndicate Of The University Of Cambridge.

Callaway, Carl D.
2009 The Birth of the Number Twenty in the Dresden Codex. In: The Maya and their Sacred Narratives: Text and Context in Maya Mythologies. Le Fort, Geneviève, Raphaël Gardiol, Sebastian Matteo & Christophe Helmke (eds.): Acta Mesoamericana, Vol. 20, pp. 75-87. Markt Schwaben: Verlag Anton Saurwein.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Maya God Profiles: The "Paddler Gods"

Back from a long break after completing my PhD thesis, I thought I would start things off by featuring a list over the next few months of several Maya God profiles and include some new readings and interpretations. A short commentary on each god will be given along with its “activity profile” that tries to ascertain the identity of the god and its particular duties. The commentaries are by no means a complete or final word on the nature of each god and are only meant to serve as referential descriptions. Their profiles will no doubt change and expand in the coming years with each new investigation as their activities are mapped across Maya myth, ritual and art. I am starting off with an enigmatic set of Gods nicked-named the Paddler Gods.
Tikal Bones from Burial 116
Drawings by Linda Schele Courtesy of FAMSI

The “Paddler Gods” first identified by Mathews (2001:394) are paired deities seen often ferrying gods in a dugout canoe. The portrait heads of each aged god bear wrinkled jowls, jutting toothless jaws. The “Jaguar Paddler” displays the ear, canine and spots of a jaguar and the “Stingray Paddler” wears a pierced bone (stingray spine) through the septum of his nose (Mathews 2001:394). Variant logographs night (AK’AB) and day (K’IN) substitute for their respective names (Villela 1991) revealing their dualistic nature representing night and day. Their role as paddlers are best known from Tikal Burial 116 bones MT38a and MT38b that show them at the bow and stern of a boat transporting a deceased Maize god through the underworld waters (Stone and Zender 2011:51). Yet, they are also depicted on various ceramics as the boatmen who carry the Maize God to his place of rebirth (Quenon and Le Fort1997).

Kerr Vase 3033
 Photo by Justin Kerr Courtesy of
As Jimbal Stela 1 and Ixlu Stela 2 attest,  MUYAL cloud scrolls coil around these gods as they float above rulers performing various rites; Jimbal Stela 1 reinforces this cloud-rain association by adding to their appellatives the title of the rain god NAH JO’ CHAN CHAAK; in some cases the “Paddler Gods” might perform possible rites of “bathing” (AT) (Stuart et al. 1999).
Jimbal Stela 1
Drawing by Linda Schele Courtesy of FAMSI

Ixlu Stela 2
Drawing by Linda Schele Courtesy of FAMSI

The  Jaguar Paddler God from Ixlu Stela 2. Photo by Carl Callaway 2010.

The Stingray Paddler God from Ixlu Stela 2. Photo by Carl Callaway 2010.

Finally on Quirigua Zoomorph G, East side (N2) the “Paddler Gods” carry the MUYAL-li cloud logograph (a neat head variant of the sign) in their title reinforcing the cloud/mist connection.

Quirigua Zoomorph G Initial Text, Blocks A-P
 Drawing by Matthew Looper

On era day 4 Ajaw 8 Kumk'u, these gods are related to three actions: Quirigua Stela C records that they erect the first of three stones in a sacred locale named NAH JO’ CHAN “JAGUAR THRONE”; Piedras Negras Altar 1 associates them directly to the “changing of the altar/pedestal” event; while “Tila” Stela A relates the pair to a possible “bathing” event.

Works Cited

Mathews, Peter 

2001(1977) The Inscription on the Back of Stela 8, Dos Pilas, Guatemala. In: TheDecipherment of Maya Hieroglyphic Writing, edited by S. D. Houston, D. Stuart, and O. Chinchilla M., pp. 394-415. Norman, University of Oklahoma Press.

Quenon, Michel, and Genevieve Le Fort

1997 Rebirth And Resurrection In Maize God Iconography. In: The Maya Vase Book: Vol. 5, Justin Kerr and Barbara Kerr (eds.), pp. 884–902. New York: Kerr & Associates.

Stone, Andrea, and Mark Zender

2011 Reading Maya Art. London: Thames and Hudson Ltd.

Stuart, David, Stephen Houston, and John Robertson

1999 Recovering the Past: Classic Maya Language and Classic Maya Gods. In: Notebook for the XXIIIrd Maya Hieroglyphic Forum at Texas. Austin: Texas.

Villela, Khristaan D

1991 Early Notices on the Maya Paddler Gods. In: Texas Notes on Precolumbian Art, Writing, and Culture, 17, University of Texas at Austin. Austin : Center of the History and Art of Ancient American Culture.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Rubbings of Ancient Maya Sculpture by Joan W. Patten is now available!

Cover Design By Paul Johnson

Hello Everyone,

My book Rubbings of Ancient Maya Sculpture by Joan W. Patten is now in print. The book Includes a short ten page biography along with a compilation of Maya Rubbings by the Late Joan W. Patten. While working for the Guatemalan Government in the '60's and '70's, she fashioned a large corpus of over 900 Maya Rubbings as well as replicas of ancient Maya sculpture:

American Sculptor Joan W. Patten (1924-2005) lived and traveled extensively throughout Guatemala from 1965-1982. The Guatemalan Government granted Joan official, carte blanche permission to make molds, casts and replicas of ancient Preclassic (1500 BC-250 AD) and Classic (250-900 AD) Maya relief sculpture. Her replicas of Maya stelae currently stand in Guatemala’s Museo Nacional de Arqueología y Etnología, the National Zoo and at the Museo Popol Vuh gardens at Francisco Marroquín University. In addition to the replicas, she executed hundreds of rubbings in oils on colored fabric. With a sculptor’s touch and infinite patience, she rendered images onto cloth that are remarkably sharp in detail and line. The rubbings include images that preserve an abundance of information about Maya sculptural traditions, iconography, hieroglyphic writing, mythology and history.

A selection of these rubbings can be viewed at the Mayaweb Art site under the 'rubbings' tab:

A preview of the book and book list is also available at:

I met Joan Patten toward the Autumn of her life in 1997 at a Bill Davies dinner party in San Luis Obispo, California. The connection was electric and we talked of all things Maya deep into the night. I later visited her apartment in San Francisco to assess her cast and rubbing collection that numbered over nine hundred images. I was stunned how well she captured the details of the glyphic writing that chronicled of the deeds of ancient gods and heroic kings. As I read the glyphic texts, she was equally impressed by how far Maya studies had advanced in breaking the Maya Code and reclaiming lost history. In the months that followed, I and my friends Jeff Buechler and Paul Johnson worked to document and preserve this unique record of Maya monumental sculpture. While attending the University of Texas in 2004, Joan called telling me she was diagnosed with cancer and we spoke of the beauty and brevity of life and how best to preserve her work for future study and scholarly access. Upon her passing, I received a letter from her son Keith Patten stating that Joan had asked that a portion of her rubbing collection be left to me along with her small library of Maya books. I was deeply touched and always knew I would return this gift with a publication on Joan’s work. 

If any of you know of any rubbings made by Joan send me an email so I can reference them and add them to the inventory.