Friday, April 10, 2009

Blog That Glyph! 2009, No. 1: Potsherds from Chichen Itza

Site: Chichen Itza, Cenote
Images: (c) Global Explorations & Company, Inc., used by permission
Written by: Evan J. Albright
Date received: April 9, 2009

"These images are from potsherds taken from the Cenote Sagrado in the 1967-68 expedition. The last image contains several glyphs. The last visible glyph to me looks like a person with their knees drawn up. Is that what it is? And if so, what does it mean? I would be interested in interpretations of any other glyphs on the fragment as well."


Blogger BTG Team said...

Hi Evan,
Thanks for this first posting, with very interesting ceremic potsherds from the cenote at Chichen Itza.
The glyph that represents a "person with their knees drawn up" is one cataloged by Thompson 1962, see link on the right) as T703. Thompson (1962: 297-298) cited 7 examples and simply described it as "headless seated figure." Best known examples are from Palenque (e.g., Palace Tablet: F13). In 1990, Grube equated the T703 sign with T227 (at present I am not sure if all examples support a one-on-one equation, but the particular example on Codex Dresden Page 58 seems valid).
Closs in 1988 suggested a reading /xibah/; Bricker in 1992 suggested a reading /xib/.
Independent of this reading, the vertical text opens with /'u-ba/ for /uba[ah]/ "(it is) the image of ...," followed by four dots, probably for /chan~kan/ "four" (or one of the homonyms /chan~kan/ "serpent; sky"). The vertical text, which identified some person on this vessel (maybe even the one on the right of this text), may thus, tentatively, be transcribed /'u-ba 4 XIB?/, uba[ah] chan/kan xib[?], "it is the image of Chan/Kan Xib(?)."
Chan/Kan Xib(?) would thus be a personal name, and unique in the Maya corpus.
A quick question on my part. The painting and text on this potsherd are in mirror image. Examples of which are rare; so, is that indeed the case with this potsherd? (In all honesty, have seen plenty an image that ultimately turned out to be "mirrored by accident" ...).
Kind regards,
Erik (member of BTG Team)

April 10, 2009 at 8:07 AM  
Blogger EJA said...

Hello, Erik,

Thanks for the translation and identification of the glyphs.

If this image is reversed, it was originally from a slide so I suspect it was flipped when it was scanned.

-- Evan

April 10, 2009 at 9:12 AM  
Blogger BTG Team said...

Thank you for the additional information. It will be important to know if the image was indeed painted in reverse.
A short addendum: T703 has been interpreted as/xib/, but this reading is, to my knowledge at least, not generally accepted.
T1037, a portrait head of a young male person, has been read as XIB as well (there does not seem to be cross-over between T703 and T1037) and it occurs in nominal phrases of gods, for instance Chak Xib Chak (e.g., Codex Dresden, Page 30C, written as CHAK-T1037 cha-ki).
The reading 4-T703 as 4-XIB? on the potsherd is thus very tentative.

April 11, 2009 at 9:21 AM  
Blogger Christian Prager said...

Hi Erik, hi Evan!
Thanks for posting this interesting sherd from CHN. This completes our known corpus of Maya inscriptions. Several readings for T703 / T227, the bend body, have been suggested. The latest proposal comes from David Stuart as PAT "back" an is published in his book on Temple XIX. The reading XIB comes from an alleged substitution between T703 and the phonetic spelling /xi-bi/ in the Dresden Codex as suggested by Closs and Bricker independently.
As for the collocation TIV:703 I refer also to CNC Pan. 1 where we can find: TIV:703.703. T703 is doubled and both figures are sitting back to back. I wonder whether this is an identical collocation as found on the interesting potsherd from CHN.

April 11, 2009 at 1:16 PM  
Blogger Elisabeth Wagner said...

Hi Evan, Erik and Christian,

at first, thanks to Erik and Christian, for their first comments on Sherd 3.
And here are some comments on the other two fragments which I designate Sherd 1 and Sherd 2.

Sherd 1
I wonder, whether Sherd 1 is probably another fragment of the very same vessel as the fragment published by Donald Ediger (1971: 6th of the unnumbered color plates between pages 96-97, bottom). The black frame of the painted panel as well as the shape of the rim/lip of the bowl showing court-scenes are identical. The vessel (including the fragment published by Ediger) is now restored and on exhibit in the Museo Nacional de Antropología (MNA) in Mexico-City (see Fig. 1). Unfortunately only one side of the vessel is visible in the exhibit and thus I cannot tell whether Sherd 1 has been included in the restored vessel or not.

Fig. 1 – Restored bowl from the Cenote at Chichen Itza, Museo Nacional de Antropología, Mexico-City (Photo: Elisabeth Wagner, 2008)

The remains of the painted hieroglyphic texts on Sherd 1 are captions to the figures shown and give their personal names and titles. On the left the remainder of the title ajaw in a full-form spelling with the final phonetic complement /wa/ is still visible: AJAW-wa, ajaw, “Lord”. The image of the person and the part of the nominal phrase which contained personal name of the individual is unfortunately lost. On the right appears the depiction of another individual accompanied by his/her nominal phrase.
As far as I can recognize, the caption that gives the name of the individual on the right side of the scene, reads (from top to bottom): chi / chi /sa? / ja / IXIK? / - or - chi-chi-sa?-ja-IXIK? , chich saj? ixik? , Chich Saj?[al?] Lady?
The syllable /ja/ seems to be rendered as a head variant. Unfortunately, the painting is too eroded to clearly make out the type of dress worn by the individual as male or female.
Sherd 1 shows particular stylistic traits which seem to occur as well in a small wall-painting at the right doorjamb of the entrance to Room 42 of Structure 1 (the Acropolis) at Ek Balam (see Skidmore 2003, links to images given below). These traits include the rendering of the figures which show disproportionally large heads in comparison to their bodies, a distinctive profile of their faces and very thin sketchily rendered fingers.
If the artist who painted the vessel to which Sherd 1 originally belonged is the same as the one who did the small wall-painting on the right doorjamb of Room 42 at Ek Balam, a terminus antequem for the production/painting of the vessel can be assumed. The mentioned small painting at Ekbalam was done either before or at about the time, when the building with Room 42 of Str. 1 was sealed in the process of the burial of Ek Balam’s ruler U Kit Kan Lek Took’ - some time after the dedication (capstone 19: (797 AD) or (802 AD)) of the Sak Xok Naah, the building where U Kit Kan Lek Took’ was finally laid to rest in Tomb 1 (Grube et al. 2003:II-23-II-24, Lacadena 2004). One may speculate that the original workshop producing the type of painted vessels discussed here may have been based at Ek Balam around the time of - or shortly after - U Kit Kan Lek Took’s reign.

Photo of the EKB, Str. 1, Room 42 mural by BYU-Idaho Alumni Association (2007) at:
Detail-photos of the EKB, Str. 1, Room 42 mural by Joel Skidmore (2003) on the following links:

Sherd 2
The second potsherd has already been published by Ediger (1971: 7th unnumbered plate between pages 96-97, bottom). It shows two merchants carrying packs by using tumplines. One of the merchants wears a chracteristic hat also known from other depictions of merchants/carriers – either worn or resting on the merchant’s pack.

Sherd 3
I also wondered whether the image of this sherd is flipped during scanning.
Stilistically it differs from the other vessel-fragments, since the lines of the painting (text and painted figure) are much thinner and the handwriting of the text is different.
Stylistically, the thin-line painting is similar – if not even by the same artist – to a barrel shaped vessel also exhibited in the Museo Nacional de Antropología in Mexico-City (Fig. 2).

Fig. 2 – Restored barrel-shaped vessel from the Cenote at Chichen Itza, Museo Nacional de Antropología, Mexico-City (Photo: Elisabeth Wagner, 2008)

General remarks on the painting-technique:
The paintings of all three sherds have been done in a fresco-like technique after coating the already fired ceramic vessel with a thin stucco layer. The paintings are stilistically similar and were seemingly painted in one specific workshop/tradition – but not by the same artist as the different handwritings and renderings of the human figures’ faces reveal. Characteristic for this workshop-tradition is the post-firing al fresco-technique and also a wide range of colors.

Ediger, Donald
1971 The Well of Sacrifice. Doubleday & Company, Garden City.

Grube, Nikolai, Alfonso Lacadena, and Simon Martin
2003 Notebook for the XXVIIth Maya Hieroglyphic Forum at Texas, March 2003. University of Texas, Austin.

Lacadena, Alfonso
2004 The Glyphic Corpus from Ek’ Balam, Yucatán, México

Skidmore, Joel
2003 Recent Finds at Ek Balam.

Best regards,
Elisabeth (member of the BTG Team)

April 11, 2009 at 6:29 PM  
Blogger Christian Prager said...

Dear Elli,

thanks for this important and thoughtful comment!! I doubt that sherd #3 is flipped. Notice the larger hieroglyph within the the red band. The hieroglyphs may read AJ xo-ki. I am pretty sure about the identification of T12 (agentive marker AJ) and the following hieroglyph may be identified as T549 (PAX?) or the syllablo /xo/ - aj xok may be interesting since it can be translated "he who counts) - it may be a interpreted as a title that is also held by officials named on some Usumacinta region monuments (PNG, El Cayo). All in all, I am pretty sure that the photograph has not been flipped.


April 12, 2009 at 5:35 AM  
Blogger Elisabeth Wagner said...

Hi Christian,

I agree with you about the main sign being either /xo/ or /PAX?/, but I’m not sure about the sign on the left of the collocation on the rim of Sherd 3. Instead of T12 /AJ/, I regard it as a graphic variant (actually a simplification) of T178 /la/ quite common in e.g. Xcalumkin: It consists of two T-shaped elements with three dots – arranged in a triangle – between them.
Examples: XLM, Panel 5 and Column 6: both A4 (sajal-title)
The line between the two T-shaped –elements (with the three dots between them) is not continuous and the three dots are visible. One of the dots overlaps a bit with the line of the sign on the far left on the photo. That sign I regard as an /u/-prefix (prefix, if text is mirror-imaged) of the next collocation not preserved anymore.

Saludos pascuales,


April 12, 2009 at 9:39 AM  
Blogger Christian Prager said...

Hi again,

by the way, does anyone know the measurements of the sherds? I am asking because I was just checking "Vasijas Pintadas Mayas en contexto arqueológico", INAH 1979, where similar sherds are published (unfortunately not coloured). In that book some sherds are published that were found by Pina Chan in 1964 in the Cenote Sagrado (pp. 110-112). Check that publication.

April 13, 2009 at 4:48 PM  
Blogger Miss Trudy said...

Thanks for posting this! The conversation that follows has been extremely enlightening.

July 2, 2009 at 10:07 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks for posting this interesting glyph.

I think it does resembles a human(based on the legs). By the look of this glyph, it reminds me of a sacrifice.

When will the next "Blog that Glyph" come?

October 4, 2009 at 4:11 PM  
Blogger Carl said...

Regarding glyph T703 in the Thompson catalog:

Michael P. Closs argues (American Antiquity, Vol. 53, No. 4, 1988) that the head of this seated figure with his arms resting upon his upraised knees represents a penis, and that the linguistic decipherment is "an epithet for a major Maya deity, who was both god of Venus and Lord of the Underworld".

What we have here is encoded mushroom Venus imagery,the focus of my research at

Despite all the evidence of the religious use of narcotic mushrooms recorded in the Precolumbian codices and described in the Spanish chronicles, the academic and archaeological community as a whole has been reluctant to recognize and accept the important cultural and religious role played by mushrooms in ancient New World society. Both my father, archaeologist Stephan de Borhegyi, and R. Gordon Wasson, a well known ethnomycologist noted this fact over a half century ago. Though both added enormously to the body of published ethnographic and archaeological information on the subject, it remains to this day virtually unknown. My research site was created to present convincing visual evidence that mushrooms are not only frequently identifiable in the prehistoric art of the New World, but that in Mesoamerica in particular, they played a major role in the development of indigenous religious ideology.

After examining thousands of images in the Kerr database (a project that would have been impossible before the existence of the computer and the Internet), I discovered a wealth of mushroom imagery. Surprisingly, most of this mushroom imagery concerned the Amanita or Fly Agaric mushroom, rather than the better known hallucinogenic, the Psilocybin mushroom. Both varieties, however, as well as others were represented. The fact that they had not been noted earlier is explained by the way these images were so cleverly encoded into the art that they became almost invisible. Invariably the mushroom imagery was associated with ritual sacrifice in the Underworld, with jaguar transformation and period endings, and with the decapitation and resurrection of the Underworld Sun God by a pair of deities associated with the planet Venus as both the Morning Star and Evening star. Mushrooms, in fact, are so closely associated with underworld jaguar transformation, and underworld jaguar resurrection, that they must have been believed to be the vehicle through which both were accomplished. They are also so closely associated with ritual decapitation, that their ingestion may have been considered essential to the ritual of decapitation, whether in real life or symbolically in the underworld.

These images occurred with significant frequency, not only in the art of the ancient Maya, but also in the art of the Aztecs, Mixtecs, Olmecs and Toltecs. I even found related symbolism in the art of the Inca, Mochica, Chavin, and Paracas cultures of South America, and in the Rapa Nui civilization of Easter Island. The gods represented are known by different names in different culture areas, but they are all linked to divine rulership associated with lineage and descent. In the Maya region these gods are known as K'awil and Chac, the Classic Maya counterparts to the Toltec and Aztec gods Quetzalcoatl and Tlaloc.

While I may be the first to call attention to this encoded mushroom imagery in pre-Columbian art, it can be viewed and studied with ease on such internet sites as Justin Kerr's Maya Vase Data Base and F.A.M.S.I. ( Foundation for the Advancement of Mesoamerican Studies, Inc).
Carl de Borhegyi

May 18, 2010 at 9:01 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

When will the next one come??????????????????????????????????

June 13, 2010 at 2:49 PM  
Blogger Hutchinson said...

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June 28, 2010 at 5:22 PM  

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