Wednesday, June 3, 2009

The Palenque House E Painted Band: Calculations into Deep Time

The Palenque House E painted text is situated on the rear wall of the western corridor just above the Oval Tablet and below the vault spring. It consists of two horizontal rows of glyphs roughly three meters long. Today, sections of the text are badly damaged or completely effaced (see above photo- courtesy of the British Museum). Fortunately photographs taken by Alfred P. Maudslay in 1891 and Linda Schele in 1973, record many details now lost. The photos reveal four distinct passages (each separated by dates and intervening distance numbers) that were written in commemoration of the accession of K’inich Ahkal Mo’ Naab III in 721 AD[i]. The following link:
gives a modern photo composite of the entire text with a preliminary number and lettering system.

A Short Summary of the Painted Text[ii]

Passage I (glyph blocks pA1– pI2) begins with a Long Count set deep into the mythic past (by a few hundred thousand years) of the previous era. This is one of only two deep time texts before the era base day that is accompanied by a full long count date (the other being La Corona glyphic panels 1 and 9). The event associated with the Long Count is unfortunately lost. As noted previously by David Stuart, a participant in the event may be the Sun God or an aspect of him as the HUK TZ’IKIN CHAPAT AJAW[iii] (God of the night sun). Passage II (glyph blocks pJ1–pS2) records a distance number leading from the opening Long Count to the accession of the Triad Progenitor on 9 Ik’ Seating of Sak (7 September 2325 BC). Passage III (glyph blocks pT1–pU2) may record a conjuring event by the Triad Progenitor (A.K.A. the Maize God-see note i) one WINAL (twenty days) before his accession. Passage IV (glyph blocks pU2–pD’2) records a long distance number of 1,112,280 days leading from the accession of the Triad Progenitor on the day 9 IK’ Seating of SAK to the accession of K’inich Ahkal Mo’ Naab III on 9 Ik’ 5 K’ayab (3 January 722 AD).[iv]

It is a loss that archaeologists and conservators were unable to save the House E Painted Band. Yet, through the aid of existing photos, drawings and computer technology we have been able to reconstruct this painted monument to Palenque’s mythic origins and royal history and return it to the House E throne room. Back in its rightful place above the Oval Tablet, we see how the text was part of a strategic effort of legitimacy by Ahkal Mo’ Naab III to source his accession on the day 9 IK’ to the Maize God’s accession on the day 9 IK’. The king further wanted to show continuity between his reign and those of his uncles and famous grandfather Pakal by painting the inscription so it was directly centered and above the Oval Tablet (Pakal’s accession monument) and a throne (the now removed Del Rio Throne) recording three generations of Palenque kings.[v] As elsewhere at Palenque, politics and myth are intermeshed, and rulers continually sought to source their power in mythic deeds of the creator gods. The New Composite of the House E Painted Text offers the researcher the ability view the painting as Maudslay would have seen it back in 1891. Placing the painting back into the House E will allow future scholars to compare the painting to other House E monuments and to understand more fully relationships between written text and the surrounding imagery. Finally a more in-depth article on the painted band can be found at:

[i] It is very interesting to consider the fact that the portion of the painted text sitting directly above the Oval Tablet (Pakal’s accession monument), speaks about the accession of the Triad Progenitor who is strongly associated with the Maize God, see David Stuart, The Inscriptions From Temple XIX At Palenque. A Commentary, 2005, 183. Pakal as well made an apparent link to the Maize God on the Oval Tablet, by declaring in his name caption that he was the “HUN YAAX IXIM” or “First Green Maize.”
[ii] Of all the sources mentioned previously, I will use the Maudslay and Schele photos along with the Seler drawing to recreate and interpret numerical coefficients of time periods in the painted text.
[iii] Erik Boot, The Title (WUK) Chapat Tz’ikin K’inich Ahaw: A New Proposal. Unpublished manuscript.
[iv] As David Stuart points out (see David Stuart, The Inscriptions From Temple XIX At Palenque. A Commentary, 2005, 85) the accession date of 9 IK’ 5 KAYAB and its accompanying time interval of days (in connection with the Triad Progenitor’s accession date on 9 IK’ Seating of SAK) is recorded elsewhere at Palenque (see Temple XIX text and the Temple XVIII jambs). Therefore, the associated distance number and event connected to Passage IV are verifiable from two other sources.
[v] For a reconstruction of the Del Rio Throne see Merle Greene Robertson, The Sculpture Of Palenque Vol. II: The Early Buildings Of The Palace And Wall Paintings. 1985.