Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Ah Tzul Ahaw

Image of Venus created with a computer. NASA/JPL.

Ah Tzul Ahaw is a phrase used as a name for a god or a monster connected to Venus as well as several other things. It may also be a title. (You may see the name spelled without the "ah," or as tsul ahaw -- or tsul ahau.) Translated, it becomes Spine/Dog Lord. (Another name you might see is Ant Lord.) Keep reading to discover more on the ideas surrounding this phrase.

Name Glyph Use
The phrase "Ah Tzul Ahaw" could be a name for the Evening Star -- that is, Venus during the part of its orbit when it is visible at night. It's possible that the Evening Star was somehow Ah Tzul Ahaw too.

Other than Venus, the glyph for "Ah Tzul Ahaw" is connected to both a certain part of Venus's orbit and kings. You see, it looks like the glyph was used in writings that talked about a new ruler taking the place of the last ruler in a dynasty. But the glyph also was used in connection to when Venus was at its greatest elongation. (In astronomy, elongation is the angle between the sun and a planet, as seen from our sky. The wider the angle, the greater the elongation.)

Possible Connections: Death God and Eclipse Monster
On page 53a of the Dresden Codex, there's picture of a god that looks like skeleton, which Star Gods of the Ancient Maya calls "the Death God." The glyphs near this figure include "ah tzul ahaw," coming before the god's name. One of the Death God's purposes may have been to be an eclipse monster -- a creature that caused eclipses -- and "ah tzul ahaw" may be a title connected to that purpose. (On a related note, a 2007 thesis for a master's degree by William Beck describes Ah Tzul Ahaw as an eclipse monster that was a cannibal.)

A copy of the Dresden Codex's page 53a. From Cyrus Thomas's Aids to the Study of the Maya Codices.
Yet Another Possible Venus Connections
Later along, on page 58b of the Dresden Codex, there is an image of a diving figure with a Lamat glyph for its head. (The lamat glyph is a glyph you might recognize being part of the Tzolkin -- it's used as one of the days' names.) Above his left foot (from our perspective) there is an glyph thought to mean a solar eclipse. Above his right foot there is a glyph thought to mean a lunar eclipse. This might be a drawing of Ah Tzul Ahaw.

Part of a copy of page 58 of the Dresden Codex
showing the diving figure with Lamat for a head.
From Aids to the Study of the Maya Codices.

For comparison, here are two depictions of the glyph Lamat from An Introduction to the Study of the Maya Hieroglyphs by Sylvanus Griswold Morley:

Both this page and the page shown in the Name section are part of a series of pages (51 through 58) in the codex that deals with eclipses. This is further possible evidence for the theory that the ancient Maya thought that Venus caused eclipses. (There are accounts called ethnographic accounts that may show there was a connection between Venus and eclipses as well). 


Astronomy Education at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln: Solar System Models Lab: Elongation

Image Credits:
NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory: Photojournal: PIA00104: Venus - Computer Simulated Global View Centered at 180 Degrees East Longitude

Project Gutenberg: "Aids to the Study of the Maya Codices"; Cyrus Thomas; (First published in "Sixth Annual Report of the Bureau of Ethnology to the Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution 1884-’85" by J.W. Powell in 1888)

Project Gutenberg: "An Introduction to the Study of the Maya Hieroglyphs, by Sylvanus Griswold Morley"; Sylvanus Griswold Morley; 1915 

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Hunting and the Ancient Maya

This is a vase from 600 AD to 900 AD that was made in what is now Guatemala.
As you can see, one of the things this vase shows is a deer that has been captured. From LACMA.

Hunting has been part of the history of Mesoamerica since the beginning of human history there. The ancient Maya, though they don't seem to have emphasized animals as food, hunted all kinds of animals, for different uses.

Examples of animals that the ancient Maya hunted that you may of heard of included manatees (where there were communities on the coast,) foxes, rabbits, turtles, white-tailed deer, possums, anteaters, iguanas and fish. Some animals that you may not of heard of included agoutis, coatis, kinkajous, tapirs, pacas, ocellated turkeys, brocket deer, and peccaries. (It's possible that there were some animals, like the ocellated turkey, that the ancient Maya kept.)

The ancient Maya ate animals for their meat, but animals weren't the Maya's main food. (Plant-based food was.) And they didn't just hunt animals for food. They also used them to make things like musical instruments and tools.

Tools the ancient Maya used for hunting included blowguns, traps (including snares,) and spears. In the Late Postclassic, the Maya began to make use of bows and arrows. For hunting deer, the ancient Maya would also drive them along, using hunting dogs.

There may have been a belief among the ancient Maya that there was a supernatural guardian of animals. Hunting shrines that have been found may have been connected to this being. That is, the Maya may have done hunting rituals that were for the guardian of the animals. For example, they may have put the bones of animals they hunted in a hunting shrine to show they haven't hunted too many animals.

Consideration: Rank
So far, at least in the Late Classic, it looks like the animals poor people got came from local rivers. (That is, shellfish and fish.) People who ranked as "middle-elite" enjoyed a lot more animal-based products than poor people or elites with the highest rank. Elites who were at the top of everything liked to have certain animal-based products that were considered very impressive, like jaguars.

Google Books: "Encyclopedia of the Ancient Maya"; Walter R.T. Witschey; 2016

Mesoweb: "The PARI Journal" volume 16, issue 4: "The Ocellated Turkey in Maya Thought"; Anal Luisa Izquierdo y de la Cueva, María Elena Vega Villalobos; 2016

The Ethics of Anthropology and Amerindian Research: Reporting on Environmental Degradation and Warfare"; Richard J. Chacon, Rubén G. Mendoza (editors); 2012

Google Books: "Handbook To Life In The Ancient Maya World"; Lynn V. Foster; 2005

LACMA: Cylinder Vessel with Supernatural Crocodile and Captured Deer

Image Credit:
LACMA: Cylinder Vessel with Supernatural Crocodile and Captured Deer

Thursday, December 14, 2017

The Waterlily Serpent

This vessel (in the collection of LACMA) comes from Guatemala's
southern highlands. It shows different beings,
including what LACMA calls the Waterlily Monster.

There are different supernatural beings in the art created by the Maya civilization. Wahys -- also known as ways -- are one example. Another example is the Waterlily Serpent as archaeologists call it (among other names.) A god, it seems to have connections to very different things, including water.

Descriptions of the Waterlily Serpent can differ somewhat. One way of describing it is to say it's a giant, squiggling snake that has a long, droopy nose, has no jaw, has a long projection coming from the upper part of its mouth and has plumes of feathers on its body. As for its eyes, they've been described as scrolled or spiral. (And, sometimes it doesn't have the body of a serpent. The ancient Maya had images of this being with a human body too.)

The being also tends to have been drawn with a headdress of a blooming waterlily and its pad -- fish are drawn biting the hat or both ends of the serpent, depending on the source.

Other than the Waterlily Serpent, you may find sources that call this being the Water Serpent, Waterlily Monster or Imix Monster, among other names. There are also sources use "water lily" instead of "waterlily." But these are modern names -- what did the ancient Maya call it?

One possible translation for the being's name is witz', which may mean something sort of like moving water. David Stuart, a noted ancient Maya expert, wrote once that its name could be Juun Witz’ Naah Kan, or a variation on that possibility.

Powers and Connections
One thing that this being may have been a god of is water. The exact type of water god it was depends on the source. It may have been the god that controlled just the surface of water. Or it was the god of sources of water on/in the ground such as lakes, cenotes, and running water like rivers.

Some other things in nature that it's thought the Waterlily Serpent was connected to was wind as well as caves (thought to be the places from which wind and water came) and the moon.

The Waterlily Serpent also seems to have been a god connected to certain, more specifically human things, including the Haab' and the Long Count as well as elites. It seems to be connected to rituals the ancient Maya did whenever there was a "period ending." (In the Classic Period, there would be rituals for the end of different periods in the Long Count. Which periods were chosen depended on the community.) Finally, this serpent being is thought to be the god of the number 13.

Uses of the Serpent's Image
The Waterlily Serpent's image as something to wear has been found in the Maya civilization's art. For instance, it looks like there were times that people would dress as the Waterlily Serpent to do period ending rituals. (There are also other images of rulers wearing the serpent's head as a headdress.)

But that wasn't the only way that the ancient Maya used the image of the Waterlily Serpent. Scribes used it as a glyph for Haab' (360 days) in their calendar inscriptions -- sometimes they drew it as a sentient form of the Haab'.

And that wasn't the only way that the ancient Maya used the Waterlily Serpent's image in their writing. The head variant glyph for the number 13 is thought to be the Waterlily Serpent's head. (Head variant glyphs are glyphs that look like heads. They are used as part of monument inscriptions, in a section archaeologists call the Initial Series.)

In terms of art, this being was also a popular choice for painting on ceramics. Artists especially preferred to draw it in a type of theme that archaeologists call the Underwater World.

Consideration: Two Different Beings?
The terms Waterlily Serpent and Waterlily Monster might not mean the same being, because they don't look exactly the same -- a theory separates these two terms based on differences in images that have been studied. They might be two aspects of another being. Or, each might be a being in their own right. Another possibility is that the Waterlily Monster is the Waterlily Serpent's head after it has been cut off.

Google Books: "Art and Myth of the Ancient Maya"; Oswaldo Chinchilla Mazariegos; 2017

Mesoweb: The Pari Journal: "In The Realm of the Witz’:Animate Rivers and Rulership among the Classic Maya"; Jeremy D. Coltman; 2015

Google Books: "Obsidian Reflections: Symbolic Dimensions of Obsidian in Mesoamerica"; Marc N. Levine, David M. Carballo (editors); 2014 

University of Missouri-Columbia: Museum of Art and Archaeology: "End of Days: Real and Imagined Maya Worlds"; November 17, 2012 - March 17, 2013

Google Books: "Breaking the Maya Code", Third Edition; Michael D. Coe; 2012

The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley: Journal of Ethnobiology 32(1): 74–107: "Water Lily and Cosmic Serpent: Equivalent Conduits of the Maya Spirit Realm"; J. Andrew McDonald, Brian Stross; 2012

Google Books: "The Technology of Maya Civilization: Political Economy and Beyond Lithic Studies"; Zachary X. Hruby, Geoffrey E. Braswell, Oswaldo Chinchilla Mazariegos (editors); 2011

Google Books: "To Be Like Gods: Dance in Ancient Maya Civilization"; Matthew G. Looper; 2009

Maya Decipherment: Ideas on Ancient Maya Writing and Iconography: "Reading the Water Serpent as WITZ'"; David Stuart; April 3, 2007

University of California, Davis: Maya Hieroglyphic Database Project: Glyph Dwellers, Report 16, December 2003: "The 'Manikin' Glyph Compound (T86:700) as a Reference to Headdresses"; Matthew G. Looper

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Lady K'awiil Ajaw

From the CIA's World Factbook.

Cobá is a site in the Yucatan Peninsula, in the Mexican state of Quintana Roo (on the right side of the peninsula.) In our times, the site's historical monuments have had a lot of erosion happen to them. They're not all entirely unusable though. One of the figures that archaeologists can still make out is from the Late Classic (which went from around 600 AD to 800 AD.)

The figure is a woman ruler or queen that has been named Lady K'awiil Ajaw. (You might also see her called Ruler B, and Encyclopedia of the Ancient Maya calls her Ix K'awiil Ek.) Depending on the source, her existence is either confirmed or still a possibility.

Like Lady K'abel, this queen was a kaloomte'. Being a kaloomte' (which you may find spelled kalomte) meant that you had gotten to the highest rank you could get if you were an ancient Maya living during the Late Classic -- it means "Supreme Warrior." This rank has been described as being a military governor. (On a related note, after studying Cobá, Guenter does not think that father to son rule was a common thing there.)

Lady K'awiil Ajaw may have ruled Cobá from about 640 AD until 681 AD. (One source, the newsletter from Far Horizons, gives the end date of 682 AD.) In these forty-odd years, there are several possible things she may have done to increase the power of her city-state. One possibility is that she increased control over the places that Cobá controlled. Another possibility is that she ordered a takeover of another city-state, called Yaxuná. (This other city-state was and is west of Cobá, and is now located in the Mexican state of Yucatan.)

There are four monuments that show Lady K'awiil Ajaw, one of which is Stela 1, whose date is 682 AD. The stela is striking in that it has her image on both sides. This is unusual because it doesn't seem to have been the done thing for putting queens' images on both sides.

Consideration: A Road
There's a possibility that a road or sacbe (or sacbé) called Sacbe 1 -- that goes between Cobá and another site called Yaxuná -- was a public work ordered by Lady K'awiil Ajaw. (Though another possibility is that the road existed before she was the ruler of Cobá .) Sacbe 1 is 62 miles long. It looks like it wasn't something people really used, after Lady K'awiil Ajaw passed on.

The sacbe may have been made as a way to move troops more easily. But it's thought that this road had some other uses -- that there were non-combatants who were given permission to use the road, like merchants and ambassadors. However, it's possible the main reason was moving troops.

Google Books: "Before Kukulkán: Bioarchaeology of Maya Life, Death, and Identity at Classic Period Yaxná"; Vera Tiesler, Andrea Cucina, Travis W.Stanton, David Freidel"; 2017

Google Books: "The Role of Archaeoastronomy in the Maya World: the Case Study of the Island of Cozumel"; 2016

Google Books: "Encyclopedia of the Ancient Maya"; Walter R.T. Witschey; 2016

University of California Riverside: UCR Today: "Anthropologist Awarded NSF Grant to Excavate maya Households"; Bettye Miller; June 29, 2016

Far Horizons: "Newsletter" volume 17, No. 2; Fall 2012

Friday, December 8, 2017

The Cardinal Directions

Made with two images from Project Gutenberg and the
CIA's World Factbok via MS Paint.

Like other cultures, the Maya civilization had four cardinal or world directions -- and a fifth one for the center of these directions. These directions had various other things that the Maya connected with them. (For instance, colors. In more modern times, Eduard Seler -- a man who studied cultures in Mesoamerica -- is understood to have been the one who officially realized this specific connection.)

The directions in the ancient Maya world were north, west, east, center, and south -- when used together, all of these directions make what is called a quincunx. These directions -- in the eyes of the ancient Maya -- followed the sun's "path," which would mean that north was not just north but up as well (aka zenith) and south was down (aka nadir) as well as being south.  Of the directions, the ancient Maya looked at north and south as having less meaning than east and west.

Names of the Directions
Some names for the four directions that you might see are: north or "xaman," west or "chik'in," east or "lak'in" or "lik'in" (lak'in is an older term,) and south or "nohol." (You may also see "nal" for north, "ochk'in" for west, and "el k'in" for east.)

A modified image of the direction glyphs as seen in the Dresden Codex. From a Project Gutenberg upload of a translation of a book written by Ernst Förstemann.

Red or chak was the color of the east, yellow or k'an was the color of south, white or sak was the color of north and black or ek was the color of west. The color of the center direction was yax, which has been translated as "green," blue-green," "blue." (The Ancient Maya sixth edition says that Mayan languages don't have separate basic words for blue and green.)

There were gods that had aspects connected with the cardinal directions -- and their colors -- such as Pauahtun (God N,) Kawiil (God K,) Itzamná (God D,) and Chaak (God B.) As for Chaak, his four direction aspects were: Kan Xib Chaak for yellow and south, Ek Xib Chaak for black and west, Chak Xib Chaak for red and east, and Sak Xib Chaak for white and north. (These aspects can be found in the Dresden Codex, and archaeologists have also found Classic Period artifacts that involve the "red" aspect of Chaak.)

The Books of Chilam Balam talk about the directions too. And in the Book of Chilam Balam of Chumayel, each direction has several things, a tree and a bird (of that direction's color) as well as a (or an aspect) of the god called Bacab, who kept the sky away from the earth.

Speaking of trees, it was popular in ancient Maya times to draw the center "direction" as a ceiba tree. The ancient Maya are also known to have drawn the center as a crocodile.

Google Books: "Mortuary Landscapes of the Classic Maya: Rituals of the Body and Soul"; Andrew K. Scherer; 2015

Google Books: Landscapes of Origin in the Americas: Creation Narratives Linking Ancient Places and Present Communities"; Jessica Joyce Christie (editor); 2009

Google Books: "Death and the Classic Maya Kings"; James L. Fitzsimmons; 2009

Google Books: "Daily Life in Maya Civilization" second edition; Robert J. Sharer; 2009

Google Books: "The New Catalog of Maya Hieroglyphs: Volume 2 The Codical Texts"; Martha J Macri, Gabrielle Vail; 2009

Google Books: "Maya Sacred Geography and the Creator Deities"; Karen Bassie-Sweet; 2008

Google Books: "Maya Calendar Origins: Monuments, Mythistory, and the Materialization of time"; Prudence M. Rice; 2007

Google Books: "The Ancient Maya" sixth edition; Robert J. Sharer; Loa P. Traxler; 2006

"Contributions in New World Archaeology"; volume 5; pages 165 to 196

Image Credits:
Project Gutenberg: Papers of the Peabody Museum of American Archaeology and Ethnology, Harvard University VOL. IV. -- No. 2: "Commentary on the Maya Manuscript in the Royal Public Library of Dresden"; Ernst Förstemann, Selma Wesselhoeft, A.M. Parker, Ernst Förstemann (translators); 1906; page 267

Project Gutenberg: Smithsonian Institution Bureau of American Ethnology Bulletin 57: "An Introduction to the Study of the Maya Hieroglyphs"; Sylvanus Griswold Morley; 1915; page 1

The World Factbook: Mexico

Saturday, December 2, 2017

Lady K'abel -- A "Supreme Warrior"

Map of Guatemala, courtesy the CIA World Factbook.

Ix or Lady K'abel was a powerful woman whose life seems to have occurred during the later half of the 600s AD. (You may also find these names for her: Lady Snake Lord (actually a title) and Lady Waterlily Hand.) She became part of the royal family of El Perú-Waka' -- now in the northwest of Guatemala's Petén region -- and was a very large part of the power there, as her rank was the most powerful one you could have in the Classic Period: military governor/kaloomte'. (Her actual title was "ix kaloomte'," which you may see translated as "Lady Overlord" or "Lady Warlord.") Specifically with her, she was Calakmul's kaloomte'.

Royal Descent and Marriage Background
It seems that Lady K'abel's life is first connected to Calakmul. When she was alive, it was powerful -- in fact, it was the strongest lowlands power during the second half of the 600s AD. Do archaeologists know anything about her family? Possibly -- it could be that she was related to a man named Yuhknoom Ch'een II, a ruler of Calakmul. (His rule went from 636 AD to 686 AD.) Specifically, she may have been his granddaughter or she may have been his daughter.

As you might guess, Lady K'abel's marriage -- to K'inich Bahlam/B'alam II, the ruler of El Perú-Waka' -- was part of Calakmul's political decisions. At the time when Lady K'abel was alive, the city-state was doing things to get more power, and her marriage was one of those things. When they married, the two city-states formed an alliance. For someone from Calakmul, sharing power with your spouse wasn't unusual, and El Perú-Waka's history involves other women who were known to have had power as well. (It seems, though that there was actually an alliance that had been made may years beforehand in 656 AD. In this year, there is a record of K'inich Bahlam II being made king while Yuhknoom Ch'een II watched.)

Term as Kaloomte'
Like Lady Yohl Ik'nal, a ruling queen of Palenque, Lady K'abel stayed in her position as Calakmul's kaloomte' for a long time -- twenty years, if not more. Currently, her reign dates are known as 672 AD to 692 AD. She had or at least may have had -- more authority than her husband over the people of El Perú-Waka' because of her being in the kaloomte' rank. A social point that is notable is that art at Lady K'abel's new city became more like her "hometown."

No specific date has been found that tells us when Lady K'abel passed from this life. (K'inich Bahlam II is known to have still been alive in the 700s AD.) A burial found in 2012 seems like it could be hers.

This burial was in a building shaped like a pyramid that archaeologists call M21-35 or the Royal Couple's Building -- specifically, she was buried under a staircase on its north side. (It may sound unusual, but it wasn't odd for the ancient Maya at El Perú-Waka' to bury people under staircases, if the burial was an important one.) Archaeologists have found that though the site became abandoned, this building wasn't -- people went to it, using it as a temple. (Why were people still coming here? One possibility is because it really was Lady K'abel who was buried there.)

One item that was part of the burial was a bloodletter in the shape of the god Akan that was made from a stalactite. Another was a vase made out of alabaster that had an inscription on it (with Lady K'abel's name,) and was carved not only so that it looked like a conch shell, but also like both a woman's head and arm were moving away from the jar. Yet more items in the burial were ones made of shell (there was a spondylus shell too, a big one) as well as pieces of jade that had been carved. There were also, as far as could be told, about 21 ceramic dishes.

Here is a short and informative video on Lady K'abel and the tomb that is thought to be hers, done by the University of Washington at St. Louis.
Archaeologists have found multiple stela that show Lady K'abel. One is stela 34, now to be found at the Cleveland Museum of Art. This stela shows Lady K'abel during a Period Ending. On this stela, she is with her attendant, who is a person with dwarfism and is playing music. Meanwhile, Lady K'abel's head has a headdress connected to war on it, and a shield in fitted on her left hand. (A theory wonders if this attendant, Pah Tuun Ahk, was also a former citizen of Calakmul. This is due to the fact that El Perú-Waka' doesn't have any monuments that show people with dwarfism other than this one.)

Stela 34 is actually one of a pair, with K'inich Bahlam II getting his own, now called stela 33 and located at the Kimbell art Museum; both have the date 692 AD, and were connected to a Period Ending. These two are understood to have been set up on the Royal Couple's Building's north side. (There is also another set of stelae, called stela 11 and stela 12 -- these two's Period Ending date is 672 AD. Stela 11 is Lady K'abel's and stela 12 is K'inich Bahlam II's.) Both were also taken by looters, and eventually ended up in museums.

On a related note, another stela called stela 44 seems to have been part of Lady K'abel's life, if somewhat indirectly. It's possible that K'inich Bahlam II used it as an offering, part of the things being done in connection to Lady K'abel's funeral.

Google Books: "Fusion: Integrated Reading and Writing" book 2, second edition; Dave Kemper, Verne Meyer, John Van Rys, Pat Sebranek; 2016

Google Books: "Encylopedia of the Ancient Maya"; Walter R.T. Witschey; 2016

Google Books: "Archaeology at El Perú-Waka': Ancient Maya Performances of Ritual, Memory, and Power"; Olivia C. Navarro Farr, Michelle Rich (editors); 2014

Washington University in St. Louis: The Source: "Discovery of stone monument at El Perú-Waka’ adds new chapter to ancient Maya history"; July 16, 2013

University of Chicago Division of the Humanities: Visual Resources Center: "Tomb of Lady K’abel, Maya Queen, Found in Guatemala"; Bridgetm; October 18, 2012

Washington University in St. Lous: The Source: "Tomb of Maya queen K’abel discovered in Guatemala"; Jessica Daues; October 3, 2012