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 There is lots of archaeological and art historical data to be mined since most photos are still unpublished.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.



Sunday, December 16, 2012

What Time of Day Does the Ancient Maya Calendar Commence?

A Hypothesis on the start times of the 260 day tzolk’in, the 365 day haab 
and the Long Count Calendars

At what point during the day did Ancient Maya scribes commence the calendar count, at sunrise, noon, sunset, or midnight? The question becomes even more tangled with the realization that to signify a day there is not just one calendar in play but three: the 260 day tzolk’in, the 365 day haab and the Long Count. Did all three calendars start at the same initial hour or did each have their own distinct starting point (e.g. dawn, noon, sunset or midnight)?
How Maya scribes refer to a Calendar Round holds clues as to the respective starting point for each of the three calendars. Clues to a Calendar Round’s inner workings are found in a spurious set of inscriptions which Proskouriakoff and Thompson (1947) named “Puuc-Style Dates” where the numerical coefficient for the recorded month (the haab) was out of synchronization with the tzolk’in coefficient by one day. These researchers also noted that “Puuc-Style” dating occurred widely during the Late Classic in northern Yucatan and occasionally in lowland areas as well. In general, they saw the “Puuc-Style” dating as a local variant of a non-conformist calendar system that differed with the lowland calendar system by one day (Stuart 2004). Mathews (2001) addressed the question of “Puuc-Style” dating in his examination of the Dos Pilas Stela 8 text. The inscription recorded a Calendar Round date with a month coefficient that was obviously off by one day. Mathews did not attribute the miscalculation to scribal error or to the aberrant “Puuc-Style” counting system. He proposed that the tzolk’in and the haab calendars began at different times during the day. This idea assumes that the tzolk’in commences earlier than the haab or the Long Count cycles (Mathews 2001:406). Specifically, Mathews states:
Moreover, it is possible that the tzolk’in day and the haab day began at different times in the 24 hour day; if so, we could expect a minority of the dates to not be in the “normal” form. In other words: if, for example, the tzolk’in day began at 6:00 P.M., and the haab day began at 6:00 A.M., and some event took place at midnight, then the tzolkin date would be advanced one position over the haab date. Thus.  .  .  the date  2 Akbal 1 Kankin would after 6 P.M., be  3 Kan 1 Kankin―as recorded at H13-I13-and not until 6.00 A.M. the following day would the next “normal” date begin, viz.,  3 Kan 2 Kankin (Mathews 2001:406).
What Mathews posited was that the “Puuc-Style” dating was not an aberrant counting system, but rather the “error” of minus-one-day, revealed by the inner mechanics of a Calendar Round date. Mathews also noted that on nine examples of aberrant dates a “half-darkend k’in” sign preceded the errant date and posited that this glyph signals a nighttime event (Mathews 2001:406) [1]. In his final analysis he postulated a likely scenario for start times: the tzolk’in commenced at a prior sunset while the haab commenced at the following dawn.
David Stuart later championed Mathews’ insights with a paper titled The Entering of the Day: An Unusual date from Northern Campeche (Stuart 2004) where he examined the inscription carved on a door lintel from the Hecelchakan Museum reading  4 Muluk K’IN o-chi-ya tu-16 MAK. As Stuart noted:
The remarkable feature of the date record is the sign grouping o-chi-ya located between the day and the month glyphs. This can only be the verb ochiiy, ‘it entered’ . . . The mention of the day ‘entering’ within the haab suggests that we have been misled in thinking that northen Puuc-style dates simply reflect a localized structural change in the reckoning of time. Could it be that many of the ritual events commemorated in Puuc inscriptions—the vast majority of them are dedication rites—actually took place in the window of time between the turn of the haab and the arrival of the tzolkin—perhaps between midnight and dawn? . . . If these were nighttime rituals, scribes of the Puuc region may have been especially diligent in utilizing the subtle mechanisms of the Calendar Round to specify just when certain events took place within our own conception of a 24-hour day .  .  . (Stuart 2004:1-2).
Stuart continues to say that it is possible that the “Puuc-Style” dates are not a separate system after all but a calendar containing “nighttime indicators” recording night rituals. Yet, he differs with Mathews in theorizing the turning point between the two calendars and favors a separation by six hours rather than twelve, with the haab starting at midnight and the tzolk’in at dawn.
What is the proper turning point for each of the three respective calendars and how many hours they are out of sync from each another? The question will be resolved in two parts: (1) in a translation for “the half-darkened k’in” sign and (2) by looking at how a count of days (k’ins) is related to the haab and the Long Count. Recently, MacLeod and Schele (2005) jointly investigated and updated a catalogue of “Puuc-Style” dates within Maya inscriptions. They compiled additional evidence that the haab and the Long Count do indeed begin at sunrise and that it is the tzolk’in that is out of step by twelve hours. The first line of evidence concerns a reading for the “half darkened k’in” sign that often accompanies aberrant dates, as previously noted by Mathews. MacLeod (p.c. 2008) noted she proposed a reading in 1991 for this “half-darkend k’in” sign; the collocation is sometimes spelled yi-K’IN-ni and suggested the readings of chah-k’in or yi’h-k’in (for the variant with T135 /cha/ superfixed “darkened sun” and “aged sun” [2]. A darkened, aged, or black sun lends itself to the idea of “sunset” rather than just “night” and MacLeod posited that this glyph reflects a sunset position (MacLeod and Schele 2005)[3]. Additionally the logograph PAS for “dawn” is further evidence that Maya scribes recognized the horizon position of a dawning sun (p.c. MacLeod 2010). In her analysis and comparison of the errant dates on Dos Pilas Stela 8 and Yaxchilan Stela 18, MacLeod (p.c. 2005) saw a similar error pattern emerging. She noted:
[The Yaxchilan date of] 3 Eb given on the monument represents a tzolk’in that has advanced by one, ahead of the haab, just as 3 K’an at Dos Pilas represents a move forward by one in the tzolk’in. These two dates represent the same pattern. Both of these have moved ahead not only of the haab but also of the Long Count. I really think this is the key. The Long Count counts days―that’s what the ‘ones’ unit is  .  .  .  k’ins! .  .  . The monuments record not only a shift forward in the tzolk’in but also a half-darkened k’in sign―further evidence that the out-of-whack Calendar Round refers to a night event which immediately follows the correct Type III [normal] date in each case  .  .  . It is the tzolk’in which is out of step. Furthermore, it just makes good conceptual sense that a system that counts days as the Long Count should start those days when the day begins― at sunrise. Therefore, the only way the tzolk’in can get out of step is to change at sunset. I truly believe that this plus the specific mention of the half-darkened k’in (a perfect image of sunset) in these two critical cases is all the proof we need (p.c. MacLeod 2005).
For the sake of building an event-line horizon and plotting the starting points of all three calendars, the current study agrees with a combined Mathews and MacLeod/Schele hypothesis that: (1) the haab is in-step with the Long Count, (2) the tzolk’in is out-of-step with the haab by 12 hours, and (3) the tzolk’in begins at sunset 12 hours prior to haab at dawn.
This combined hypothesis now allows the proposal of a timeline corresponding to the solar trek. First, the two parts of the Calendar Round, the tzolk’in and the haab have separate starting points with the haab commencing at dawn and the tzolk’in starting at sunset 12 hours earlier. The Long Count (a count of suns) is synchronized with the haab solar calendar and therefore begins at dawn as well. A charted time-line (with a twelve hour shift between the tzolk’in and the haab) for the base date 4 Ajaw 8 Kumk’u is as follows:

4 AJAW ― DUSK (tzolk’in cycle starts) [+ 12 hours] DAWN (haab day and Long Count cycle start) [+12 hours] DUSK (tzolk’in cycle completes) [+ 12 hours] DAWN (haab day and Long Count day cycle complete the first day) —  8 KUMK’U

Only when the tzolk’in and haab have both completed their respective 24 hour cycles (totaling a span of 36 hours due to the 12 hour shift between both calendars) can the day be recorded as a complete elapsed day 4 Ajaw 8 Kumk’u. If the day records an action after the tzolk’in has finished its 24 hour cycle but prior to the haab completion, then the day and month coefficients of the Calendar Round are recorded out-of-sync by one day and therefore record a tzolk’in coefficient advanced by one day ahead of the haab date [4].

More grist for the mill.


[1] See Yaxchilan Stela 18 (A1-A3) for just such a date.

[2] A reading of yi-K’IN-ni as “black of the day” has also been recently proposed (Houston, Stuart and Chinchilla 2001:395).
[3] the yi-K’IN-ni sign also interchanges with glyph G9 of the Lords of the Night)
[4]A calendar with embedded with “nighttime indicators” (Stuart 2004) indicating current time within a 36 hour time span is disturbing to say the least. Past researchers have agreed in principle that the Maya never designated a present day or as an unfinished unit, but always treated the day as elapsed time; as Morley noted “the day recorded is yesterday because to-day can not be considered an entity until, like an hour of astronomical time, it completes itself and becomes a unit, that is yesterday” (Morely 1975:470). The Puuc dates are heretical indeed!

Works Cited 

Houston, Stephen  D. Stuart, and O. Chinchilla M. (eds.)

2011 The Decipherment of Maya Hieroglyphic Writing. Norman, University of Oklahoma Press.

MacLeod, Barbara and Elaine Schele
2005 The Puuc Heresy. Paper written for a seminar on Maya Hieroglyphic Writing, Department of Art History, University of Texas at Austin. Paper in possession of the authors.

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.

Morley, Sylvanus Griswold
1975 An Introduction To The Study Of The Maya Hieroglyphs. New York: Dover

Proskouriakoff, Tatiana, and J. Eric S. Thompson
1947 Maya Calendar Round Dates Such as 9 Ahau 17 Mol. In: Notes on Middle American Archaeology and Ethnology, no. 79. Carnegie Institution of Washington, Division of Historical Research, Washington, D.C.

Stuart, David
2004  The Entering of the Day: An Unusual Date from Northern
Campeche. On-line at