An Introduction to the Study of the Maya Hieroglyphs

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SMITHSONIAN INSTITUTION
BUREAU OF AMERICAN ETHNOLOGY
BULLETIN 57

AN INTRODUCTION TO THE STUDY

OF THE MAYA HIEROGLYPHS

BY
SYLVANUS GRISWOLD MORLEY

WASHINGTON
GOVERNMENT PRINTING OFFICE
1915




[ iii ]

LETTER OF TRANSMITTAL

Smithsonian Institution,
Bureau of American Ethnology,
Washington, D. C., January 7, 1914.

Sir: I have the honor to submit the accompanying manuscript of a memoir bearing the title "An Introduction to the Study of the Maya Hieroglyphs," by Sylvanus Griswold Morley, and to recommend its publication as a bulletin of the Bureau of American Ethnology.

The hieroglyphic writing developed by the Maya of Central America and southern Mexico was probably the foremost intellectual achievement of pre-Columbian times in the New World, and as such it deserves equal attention with other graphic systems of antiquity.

The earliest inscriptions now extant probably date from about the beginning of the Christian era, but such is the complexity of the glyphs and subject matter even at this early period, that in order to estimate the age of the system it is necessary to postulate a far greater antiquity for its origin. Indeed all that can be accepted safely in this direction is that many centuries must have elapsed before the Maya hieroglyphic writing could have been developed to the highly complex stage where we first encounter it.

The first student to make any progress in deciphering the Maya inscriptions was Prof. Ernst Förstemann, of the Royal Library at Dresden. About 1880 Professor Förstemann published a facsimile reproduction of the Dresden codex, and for the next twenty years devoted the greater part of his time to the elucidation of this manuscript. He it was who first discovered and worked out the ingenious vigesimal system of numeration used by the Maya, and who first pointed out how this system was utilized to record astronomical and chronological facts. In short, his pioneer work made possible all subsequent progress in deciphering Maya texts.

Curiously enough, about the same time, or a little later (in 1891), another student of the same subject, Mr. J. T. Goodman, of Alameda, California, working independently and without knowledge of Professor Förstemann's researches, also succeeded in deciphering the chronological parts of the Maya texts, and in determining the values of the head-variant numerals. Mr. Goodman also perfected some [ iv ] tables, "The Archaic Chronological Calendar" and "The Archaic Annual Calendar," which greatly facilitate the decipherment of the calculations recorded in the texts.

It must be admitted that very little progress has been made in deciphering the Maya glyphs except those relating to the calendar and chronology; that is, the signs for the various time periods (days and months), the numerals, and a few name-glyphs; however, as these known signs comprise possibly two-fifths of all the glyphs, it is clear that the general tenor of the Maya inscriptions is no longer concealed from us. The remaining three-fifths probably tell the nature of the events which occurred on the corresponding dates, and it is to these we must turn for the subject matter of Maya history. The deciphering of this textual residuum is enormously complicated by the character of the Maya glyphs, which for the greater part are ideographic rather than phonetic; that is, the various symbols represent ideas rather than sounds.

In a graphic system composed largely of ideographic elements it is extremely difficult to determine the meanings of the different signs, since little or no help is to be derived from varying combinations of elements as in a phonetic system. In phonetic writing the symbols have fixed sounds, which are unchanging throughout, and when these values have once been determined, they may be substituted for the characters wherever they occur, and thus words are formed.

While the Maya glyphs largely represent ideas, indubitable traces of phoneticism and phonetic composition appear. There are perhaps half a dozen glyphs in all which are known to be constructed on a purely phonetic basis, and as the remaining glyphs are gradually deciphered this number will doubtless be increased.

The progress which has been made in deciphering the Maya inscriptions may be summarized as follows: The Maya calendar, chronology, and astronomy as recorded in the hieroglyphic texts have been carefully worked out, and it is unlikely that future discoveries will change our present conception of them. There remains, however, a group of glyphs which are probably non-calendric, non-chronologic, and non-astronomic in character. These, it may be reasonably expected, will be found to describe the subject matter of Maya history; that is, they probably set forth the nature of the events which took place on the dates recorded. An analogy would be the following: Supposing, in scanning a history of the United States, only the dates could be read. We would find, for example, July 4, 1776, followed by unknown characters; April 12, 1861, by others; and March 4, 1912, by others. This, then, is the case with the Maya glyphs—we find dates followed by glyphs of unknown meaning, which presumably set forth the nature of the corresponding events. In a word, we know now the [ v ] chronologic skeleton of Maya history; it remains to work out the more intimate details which alone can make it a vital force.

The published writings on the subject of the Maya hieroglyphs have become so voluminous, and are so widely scattered and inaccessible, that it is difficult for students of Central American archeology to become familiar with what has been accomplished in this important field of investigation. In the present memoir Mr. Morley, who has devoted a number of years to the study of Maya archeology, and especially to the hieroglyphs, summarizes the results of these researches to the present time, and it is believed that this Introduction to the Study of the Maya Hieroglyphs will be the means of enabling ready and closer acquaintance with this interesting though intricate subject.

Very respectfully,

F. W. Hodge,
Ethnologist-in-Charge.

Dr. Charles D. Walcott,
Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution,
Washington, D. C.




[ vii ]

PREFACE

With the great expansion of interest in American archeology during the last few years there has grown to be a corresponding need and demand for primary textbooks, archeological primers so to speak, which will enable the general reader, without previous knowledge of the science, to understand its several branches. With this end in view, the author has prepared An Introduction to the Study of the Maya Hieroglyphs.

The need for such a textbook in this particular field is suggested by two considerations: (1) The writings of previous investigators, having been designed to meet the needs of the specialist rather than those of the beginner, are for the greater part too advanced and technical for general comprehension; and (2) these writings are scattered through many publications, periodicals as well as books, some in foreign languages, and almost all difficult of access to the average reader.

To the second of these considerations, however, the writings of Mr. C. P. Bowditch, of Boston, Massachusetts, offer a conspicuous exception, particularly his final contribution to this subject, entitled "The Numeration, Calendar Systems, and Astronomical Knowledge of the Mayas," the publication of which in 1910 marked the dawn of a new era in the study of the Maya hieroglyphic writing. In this work Mr. Bowditch exhaustively summarizes all previous knowledge of the subject, and also indicates the most promising lines for future investigation. The book is a vast storehouse of heretofore scattered material, now gathered together for the first time and presented to the student in a readily accessible form. Indeed, so thorough is its treatment, the result of many years of intensive study, that the writer would have hesitated to bring out another work, necessarily covering much of the same ground, had it not been for his belief that Mr. Bowditch's book is too advanced for lay comprehension. The Maya hieroglyphic writing is exceedingly intricate; its subject matter is complex and its forms irregular; and in order to be understood it must be presented in a very elementary way. The writer believes that this primer method of treatment has not been followed in the publication in question and, furthermore, that the omission of specimen texts, which would give the student practice in deciphering the glyphs, renders it too technical for use by the beginner. [ viii ]

Acknowledgment should be made here to Mr. Bowditch for his courtesy in permitting the reproduction of a number of drawings from his book, the examples of the period, day and month glyphs figured being derived almost entirely from this source; and in a larger sense for his share in the establishment of instruction in this field of research at Harvard University where the writer first took up these studies.

In the limited space available it would have been impossible to present a detailed picture of the Maya civilization, nor indeed is this essential to the purpose of the book. It has been thought advisable, however, to precede the general discussion of the hieroglyphs with a brief review of the habitat, history, customs, government, and religion of the ancient Maya, so that the reader may gather a general idea of the remarkable people whose writing and calendar he is about to study.




[ ix ]

CONTENTS

Page
Chapter I. The Maya 1
Habitat 1
History 2
Manners and customs 7
II. The Maya hieroglyphic writing 22
III. How the Maya reckoned time 37
The tonalamatl, or 260-day period 41
The haab, or year of 365 days 44
The Calendar Round, or 18,980-day period 51
The Long Count 60
Initial Series 63
The introducing glyph 64
The cycle glyph 68
The katun glyph 68
The tun glyph 70
The uinal glyph 70
The kin glyph 72
Secondary Series 74
Calendar-round dates 76
Period-ending dates 77
U kahlay katunob 79
IV. Maya arithmetic 87
Bar and dot numerals 87
Head-variant numerals 96
First method of numeration 105
Number of cycles in a great cycle 107
Second method of numeration 129
First step in solving Maya numbers 134
Second step in solving Maya numbers 135
Third step in solving Maya numbers 136
Fourth step in solving Maya numbers 138
Fifth step in solving Maya numbers 151
V. The inscriptions 156
Texts recording Initial Series 157
Texts recording Initial Series and Secondary Series 207
Texts recording Period Endings 222
Texts recording Initial Series, Secondary Series, and Period Endings 233
Errors in the originals 245
VI. The codices 251
Texts recording tonalamatls 251
Texts recording Initial Series 266
Texts recording Serpent Numbers 273
Texts recording Ascending Series 276




[ x ]

List of Tables

Page
Table I. The twenty Maya day names 37
II. Sequence of Maya days 42
III. The divisions of the Maya year 45
IV. Positions of days at the end of a year 48
V. Relative positions of days beginning Maya years 53
VI. Positions of days in divisions of Maya year 55
VII. Positions of days in divisions of Maya year according to Maya notation 55
VIII. The Maya time-periods 62
IX. Sequence of katuns in u kahlay katunob 80
X. Characteristics of head-variant numerals 0-19, inclusive 103
XI. Sequence of twenty consecutive dates in the month Pop 111
XII. Comparison of the two methods of numeration 133
XIII. Values of higher periods in terms of lowest, in inscriptions 135
XIV. Values of higher periods in terms of lowest, in codices 135
XV. The 365 positions in the Maya year 141
XVI. 80 Calendar Rounds expressed in Arabic and Maya notation 143
XVII. Interrelationship of dates on Stelæ E, F, and J and Zoömorph G, Quirigua 239

[ xi ]

ILLUSTRATIONS


Page
Plate 1. The Maya territory, showing locations of principal cities (map) 1
2. Diagram showing periods of occupancy of principal southern cities 15
3. Page 74 of the Dresden Codex, showing the end of the world (according to Förstemann) 32
4. Diagram showing occurrence of dates recorded in Cycle 9 35
5. Tonalamatl wheel, showing sequence of the 260 differently named days 43
6. Glyphs representing Initial Series, showing use of bar and dot numerals and normal-form period glyphs 157
7. Glyphs representing Initial Series, showing use of bar and dot numerals and head-variant period glyphs 167
8. Glyphs representing Initial Series, showing use of bar and dot numerals and head-variant period glyphs 170
9. Glyphs representing Initial Series, showing use of bar and dot numerals and head-variant period glyphs 176
10. Glyphs representing Initial Series, showing use of bar and dot numerals and head-variant period glyphs—Stela 3, Tikal 178
11. Glyphs representing Initial Series, showing use of bar and dot numerals and head-variant period glyphs—Stela A (east side), Quirigua 179
12. Glyphs representing Initial Series, showing use of head-variant numerals and period glyphs 180
13. Oldest Initial Series at Copan—Stela 15 187
14. Initial Series on Stela D, Copan, showing full-figure numeral glyphs and period glyphs 188
15. Initial Series on Stela J, Copan 191
16. Initial Series and Secondary Series on Lintel 21, Yaxchilan 207
17. Initial Series and Secondary Series on Stela 1, Piedras Negras 210
18. Initial Series and Secondary Series on Stela K, Quirigua 213
19. Initial Series and Secondary Series on Stela F (west side), Quirigua 218
20. Initial Series on Stela F (east side), Quirigua 220
21. Examples of Period-ending dates in Cycle 9 223
22. Examples of Period-ending dates in cycles other than Cycle 9 227
23. Initial Series, Secondary Series, and Period-ending dates on Stela 3, Piedras Negras 233
24. Initial Series, Secondary Series, and Period-ending dates on Stela E (west side), Quirigua 235
25. Calendar-round dates on Altar 5, Tikal 240
26. Initial Series on Stela N, Copan, showing error in month coefficient 248
27. Page 12 of the Dresden Codex, showing tonalamatls in all three divisions 254
28. Page 15 of the Dresden Codex, showing tonalamatls in all three divisions 260
29. Middle divisions of pages 10 and 11 of the Codex Tro-Cortesiano, showing one tonalamatl extending across the two pages 262
30. Page 102 of the Codex Tro-Cortesiano, showing tonalamatls in the lower three divisions 263

[ xii ] 31.

Page 24 of the Dresden Codex, showing Initial Series 266
32. Page 62 of the Dresden Codex, showing the Serpent Numbers 273
 
Figure 1. Itzamna, chief deity of the Maya Pantheon 16
2. Kukulcan, God of Learning 17
3. Ahpuch, God of Death 17
4. The God of War 17
5. Ek Ahau, the Black Captain, war deity 18
6. Yum Kaax, Lord of the Harvest 18
7. Xaman Ek, the North Star God 19
8. Conflict between the Gods of Life and Death (Kukulcan and Ahpuch) 19
9. Outlines of the glyphs 22
10. Examples of glyph elision, showing elimination of all parts except essential element 23
11. Normal-form and head-variant glyphs, showing retention of essential element in each 24
12. Normal-form and head-variant glyphs, showing absence of common essential element 25
13. Glyphs built up on a phonetic basis 28
14. A rebus. Aztec, and probably Maya, personal and place names were written in a corresponding manner 29
15. Aztec place names 30
16. The day signs in the inscriptions 38
17. The day signs in the codices 39
18. Sign for the tonalamatl (according to Goodman) 44
19. The month signs in the inscriptions 49
20. The month signs in the codices 50
21. Diagram showing engagement of tonalamatl wheel of 260 days and haab wheel of 365 positions; the combination of the two giving the Calendar Round, or 52-year period 57
22. Signs for the Calendar Round 59
23. Diagram showing section of Calendar-round wheel 64
24. Initial-series "introducing glyph" 65
25. Signs for the cycle 68
26. Full-figure variant of cycle sign 69
27. Signs for the katun 69
28. Full-figure variant of katun sign 70
29. Signs for the tun 70
30. Full-figure variant of tun sign 70
31. Signs for the uinal 71
32. Full-figure variant of uinal sign on Zoömorph B, Quirigua 71
33. Full-figure variant of uinal sign on Stela D, Copan 71
34. Signs for the kin 72
35. Full-figure variant of kin sign 73
36. Period glyphs, from widely separated sites and of different epochs, showing persistence of essential elements 74
37. Ending signs and elements 78
38. "Snake" or "knot" element as used with day sign Ahau, possibly indicating presence of the u kahlay katunob in the inscriptions 83
39. Normal forms of numerals 1 to 19, inclusive, in the codices 88
40. Normal forms of numerals 1 to 19, inclusive, in the inscriptions 89
41. Examples of bar and dot numeral 5, showing the ornamentation which the bar underwent without affecting its numerical value 89

[ xiii ] 42.

Examples showing the way in which numerals 1, 2, 6, 7, 11, 12,16, and 17 are not used with period, day, or month signs 90
43. Examples showing the way in which numerals 1, 2, 6, 7, 11, 12,16, and 17 are used with period, day, or month signs 90
44. Normal forms of numerals 1 to 13, inclusive, in the Books of Chilan Balam 91
45. Sign for 20 in the codices 92
46. Sign for 0 in the codices 92
47. Sign for 0 in the inscriptions 93
48. Figure showing possible derivation of the sign for 0 in the inscriptions 93
49. Special sign for 0 used exclusively as a month coefficient 94
50. Examples of the use of bar and dot numerals with period, day, or month signs 95
51. Head-variant numerals 1 to 7, inclusive 97
52. Head-variant numerals 8 to 13, inclusive 98
53. Head-variant numerals 14 to 19, inclusive, and 0 99
54. A sign for 0, used also to express the idea "ending" or "end of" in Period-ending dates 102
55. Examples of the use of head-variant numerals with period, day,or month signs 104
56. Examples of the first method of numeration, used almost exclusively in the inscriptions 105
57. Signs for the cycle showing coefficients above 13 110
58. Part of the inscription on Stela N, Copan, showing a number composed of six periods 115
59. Part of the inscription in the Temple of the Inscriptions, Palenque, showing a number composed of seven periods 115
60. Part of the inscription on Stela 10, Tikal (probably an Initial Series), showing a number composed of eight periods 115
61. Signs for the great cycle and the great-great cycle 118
62. Glyphs showing misplacement of the kin coefficient or elimination of a period glyph 128
63. Examples of the second method of numeration, used exclusively in the codices 131
64. Figure showing the use of the "minus" or "backward" sign in the codices 137
65. Sign for the "month indicator" 153
66. Diagram showing the method of designating particular glyphs in a text 156
67. Signs representing the hotun, or 5-tun, period 166
68. Initial Series showing bar and dot numerals and head-variant period glyphs 174
69. Initial Series showing head-variant numerals and period glyphs 183
70. Initial Series showing head-variant numerals and period glyphs 186
71. Initial Series on Stela H, Quirigua 193
72. The tun, uinal, and kin coefficients on Stela H, Quirigua 194
73. The Initial Series on the Tuxtla Statuette, the oldest Initial Series known (in the early part of Cycle 8) 195
74. The introducing glyph (?) of the Initial Series on the Tuxtla Statuette 196
75. Drawings of the Initial Series: A, On the Leyden Plate; B, on a lintel from the Temple of the Initial Series, Chichen Itza 197

[ xiv ] 76.

The Cycle-10 Initial Series from Quen Santo 200
77. Initial Series which proceed from a date prior to 4 Ahau8 Cumhu, the starting point of Maya chronology 204
78. The Initial Series on Stela J, Quirigua 215
79. The Secondary Series on Stela J, Quirigua 216
80. Glyphs which may disclose the nature of the events that happened at Quirigua on the dates: a, 9. 14. 13. 4. 17 12 Caban 5 Kayab; b, 9. 15. 6. 14. 6 6 Cimi 4 Tzec 221
81. The Initial Series, Secondary Series, and Period-ending date on Altar S, Copan 232
82. The Initial Series on Stela E (east side), Quirigua 236
83. Calendar-round dates 241
84. Texts showing actual errors in the originals 245
85. Example of first method of numeration in the codices (part of page 69 of the Dresden Codex) 275




[ xv ]

BIBLIOGRAPHY

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—— 1906. The Temples of the Cross, of the Foliated Cross, and of the Sun at Palenque. Cambridge, Mass.

—— 1909. Dates and numbers in the Dresden Codex. Putnam Anniversary Volume, pp. 268-298, New York.

—— 1910. The numeration, calendar systems, and astronomical knowledge of the Mayas. Cambridge, Mass.

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Brinton, Daniel G. 1882 b. The Maya chronicles. Philadelphia. (No. 1 of Brinton's Library of Aboriginal American Literature.)

—— 1894 b. A primer of Mayan hieroglyphics. Pubs. Univ. of Pa., Ser. in Philol., Lit., and Archeol., III, No. 2.

Bulletin 28 of the Bureau of American Ethnology, 1904: Mexican and Central American antiquities, calendar systems, and history. Twenty-four papers by Eduard Seler, E. Förstemann, Paul Schellhas, Carl Sapper, and E. P. Dieseldorff. Translated from the German under the supervision of Charles P. Bowditch.

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Dieseldorff, E. P. See Bulletin 28.

Förstemann, E. 1906. Commentary on the Maya manuscript in the Royal Public Library of Dresden. Papers Peabody Mus., IV, No. 2, pp. 48-266, Cambridge. See also Bulletin 28.

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—— 1911. The historical value of the Books of Chilan Balam. Ibid., XV, pp. 195-214.

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This work is in the public domain in the United States because it was published before January 1, 1923.


The author died in 1948, so this work is also in the public domain in countries and areas where the copyright term is the author's life plus 60 years or less. This work may also be in the public domain in countries and areas with longer native copyright terms that apply the rule of the shorter term to foreign works.