Every monograph on Maya hieroglyphic writing shows:
Logographs
Phonetic aspects of Maya hieroglyphs
Affixes: suffixes, prefixes, postfixes, suprafixes
Face variants
Full-figure personified hieroglyphs

There are many “major gods” of the ancient Maya:

  • The Old Gods (God D, God L, God N)
  • snake monsters of many kinds
  • Maize God
  • Hero Twins
  • Several Xibalba skeletal demons, devils and deities
  • JGU, Jaguar God of the Underworld, often a solar deity
  • Paddler Gods (JGU and Stingray Spine Paddler)
  • And lots more.

Every year’s “Hieroglyphic Workshop” at universities in USA and EU also show all these aspects, plus recently discovered texts on recently found sculptures. But so far nowhere have I found a complete list of all full-figure personifield hieroglyphs.

In a note in his decades of studies of Hieroglyphs, John Montgomery mentions “23 full figure hieroglyphs” which I assume means 23 different sculptures have at least one such full-figure personified hieroglyph. But nowhere do I see a catalog, a list, or any mention of where you can find all twenty-tree personified full-bodied hieroglyphs.

By full-figure I mean literally a complete body: head, body, limbs. Some are birds, fish, reptiles (Bufo toad for Uinal), so not always “human”). Lots of Maya personages are composites: part reptile, part bird, part human. Other epigraphic jargon is pitogram or pictograph (Kettunen and Helmke 2020: 131) but I prefer “full-figure” or “full-figure personified”.

The full-figure hieroglyphs most common the numbers and periods of a Long Count. But at Copan, on the bench fronts, 80% or more of the glyphs are full-figure personified format.

Full-figure (full-body) hieroglyphs are well known for:

Morley says he knew only five:

  • Copan Stela D (my favorite is the seated, cogitating Bufo toad)
  • Quirigua Zoomorph B (includes great Bufo toad)
  • Quirigua Stela D, East side
  • Quirigua Stela D, West side
  • Copan Hieroglyphic Stairway

Sylvanus Morley was a full-time dedicated archaeologist and epigrapher, which is precisely why he was not able to identify the fauna in Maya art. He calls the Uinal a frog. Sorry, it is a toad, originally named Bufo marinus and now Rhinella marina.

But he adds more:

  • “an oblong altar at Copan” (no name or number)
  • Copan Stela 15, as period glyph of an Initial series

John Montgomery mentions “24” but gives no list (that I have found so far). Ironically only Copan Stela D appears when you ask the search category for full-figure. And in his caption for Copan Stela D is where he says: “Full-figure glyphs are one example of only about 24 known cases. Full-figure glyphs are one example of only about 24 known cases.” Although the (inadequate) search system of FAMSI brings up only one, if you know which sculptures to look for you can find Yaxchilan Lintel 48 (but without the words full-figure in keywords). The Keywords were clearly not prepared by either an iconographer or epigrapher. I have sent my modest 200 keywords to Dumbarton Oaks to assist them to find if any of my 200 were in their database of 800 keywords (since I included only iconography not epigraphy).

I estimate that the digital database(s) of

  • Maya hieroglyphs in Germany have “all 24” plus several more. But in the meantime, at least here are a few:

  • Copan Stela 15, the Uinal (Bufo Toad) is full-figure, but others are face variants.
  • Copan Stela 24, the Uinal (Bufo Toad) is full-figure, but others are face variants.
  • Copan Stela E, CPN 9, only one glyph is full-figure (so not just head-variant; glyphs not illustrated by Baudez)
  • Copan Temple 11. One glyph has a kneeling person but no other glyphs (that I have seen so far on Temple 11) are full-figure
  • Copan Stela D, CPN 7 has the full-figure hieroglyphs most often published (Baudez 1994: F9g 11,B, drawing by Anne Dowd).
  • Copan Hieroglyphic Stairway, right-hand column
  • Copan Temple 26, LOTS of full-figure-hieroglyphs. Examples B1 and B2 are in drawing by David Stuart in Houston and Stayder 2020) https://journals.openedition.org/lhomme/36526?lang=en
  • Copan bench front, Str. 9N-82
  • Copan bench front, Str. 9M-18
  • Copan bench front, Str. 10L-26
  • Copan Sky Band bench front (not as much a text, more a cluster of celestial personalities but definitely FULL-figure).
  • Copan Altar 41, CPN 82, lots of full-figure personages One is Block D1 (Houston 2021:Fig. 3.10,a)
  • Copan Altar W, two rows of full-figure glyph blocks; half preserved; rest missing.
  • Copan Stela 63, drawing by Barbara Fash. Most are face-variants but at least four are full-figure. The Uinal glyph is the most amazing. Early Classic
  • Quirigua Stela D, East side and West side
  • Quirigua Zoomorph B, Monument 2
  • Quirigua Zoomorph P, also known as Quirigua Monument 2 (Looper
  • Quirigua Altar O’ (O prime), Monument 23
  • Palenque Palace Tablet of the Foliated Cross
  • Yaxchilan Lintel 48, CMHI, PMAE
  • Yaxchilan Throne 2, Block 3, CMHI, PMAE surely elsewhere at Yaxchilan

After weeks of searching I also found:

Caracol Stela 20
Ixkun (Ixcun) Stela 2

Naj Tunich (Houston 2021: Fig. 3.10c citing Stone 1995: Fig. 8-79) is as “full figure” as those on Copan benches.

Altar de Sacrificios Stela 12, C3, citing Graham 1972: Fig. 35 in Houston 2021: Fig. 3.13,b

La Corona Hieroglyph Stairway 2, Block XI, pC2 (Houston 2021: Fig. 3.14,d).

Palenque Temple of the Foliated Cross, A17 (Houston 2021: Fig. 3.13c, with drawing by David Stuart).

Tonina Monument 174, E1 (Houston 2021: Fig. 3.13d)

So I have found more than Montgomery’s “24”. Snag is that since I do not have Montgomery’s actual list, I do not know whether (probably) he had other examples than I have not yet found (I have now found about 26, based on publications by epigraphers). Surely there are more, but the ones at Copan, Quirigua, Yaxchilan and Palenque can keep us busy, especially the seldom published ones on the façade of Copan Temple 26.

But these last four are not at all like the FULL-figure PERSONIFIED hieroglyphs of Copan Stela D and the bench fronts.

Most studies of glyphs in the previous century were from bas-relief stone sculptures. Now you can occasionally find full-figure hieroglyphs on the underside of a crocodile “figurine” have been published by:

Miller and Martin 2004: Pl. 71 Houston 2021: Fig. 3.1 (Photo by Jorge Pérez de Lara)

Plate 71) line drawing.

Grube (: Figure 8) shows full-figure (bird) hieroglyphs on a Lucha Incised blackware bowl from Early Classic Burial in Caracol Str. C47.

Palenque, House C, Hieroglyphic Stairs, has one full-figure reclinging hieroglyph but nowhere else in the Long Count; they are beautifully detailed face-variant glyphs.

 


Although the full-figure hieroglyphs of Copan Stela D are the ones most often published (in part due to the several excellent line drawings that show all the details), in fact the Palace Tablet of Palenque is just as awesome. The style of the Palace Tablet in Chiapas, Mexico is definitely “smoother” than the impressive style of Copan, Honduras.

 

Excavations of Maya sites is still the important aspect of Maya archaeology. Archaeological research needs field work to produce fresh new documentation with provenance. The several different university projects at Copan over many decades has produced both excavations and documentation of the stelae, altars and all other sculpture. Copan, Palenque, and parts of Tikal are extensively excavated and thoroughly published.

Since there are so many experienced archaeologists continuing their excellent field work in every area of the Maya Lowlands and some projects in the Maya Highlands, I have focused on iconography. Now I am gradually learning epigraphy (though I still need many years to learn more).

One way I am learning is to find all the 50+ years of photography of hieroglyphs on stelae, lintels, altars and scanning them in high resolution. We have started with the Nim Li Punit hieroglyphs, especially the face-variant glyphs of Stela 15. We have sent about 50GB of scans to Phil Wanyerka and will send all the scans to the Belize archaeologist institute when we have as many Nim Li Punit contact sheets found as possibl (as possible since it would take extensive office/research space and an entire team to sort and catalog all 50 years of photography).

  • HOUSTON, Stephen D.
  • 2014
  • The Life Within. Classic Maya and the Matter of Permanence. Yale University Press
  • HOUSTON, Stephen D. and Andréas STAUDER
  • 2020
  • What is a Hieroglyph? in: L’Homme 233(1), S. 9–44

    Less-commonly published examples of full-figure personified hieroglyphs: Tortueguero Monument 6

    Epigrapher Stephen Houston has published a helpful article on full-figure glyphs. He kindly sent me a copy when I asked him for it (and other epigraphers sent me the same article when I asked them about full-figure glyphs). Inother words, it seems this is the first and only epigraphic report specifically dedicated to full-figure glyphs?
  • HOUSTON, Stephen
  • 2021
  • Impossible Unities, Full-Figure Glyphs among the Maya. Chapter 3, pages 54-79 in The Hidden Language of Graphic Signs, Cryptic Writing and Meaningful Marks, Edited by John Bodel and Stephen Houston. Cambridge University Press.
  • SCHELE, Linda and Matthew LOOPER
  • 1996
  • The Inscriptions of Quirigua and Copan, Part 2. Pages 90-159.

    I do not yet have Part 1, not name of a publisher (none is mentioned on front cover).
  • VAN STONE, Mark Lindsey
  • 2005
  • Aj-Ts’ib, Aj-Uxul, Itz’aat, & Aj-K’uhu’n K’uhu’n: Classic Maya Schools of Carvers and Calligraphers in Palenque After the Reign of Kan-Bahlam. PhD dissertation, University of Texas at Austin.

    This is the best discussion of a single sculpture with lots of full-figure Long Count hieroglyphs. The discussion is on the style of carving and how many sculptors worked on a single text. Mentions epigraphic and some iconographic aspects that are helpful, but focuses on style of individual sculptors chiseling away to create the lengthy text of the Palenque Tablet.

    Helpful download from FAMSI.org website http://www.famsi.org/research/vanstone/MVanStoneDissertation.pdf

90% of discussions of full-figure hieroglyphs continue to feature Copan, Quirigua, and Palenque; and occasionally Yaxchilan. Houston 2021 shows and mentions more. Next step is if an epigrapher, or a student writing a PhD dissertation, could show the entire corpus of full-figure hieroglyphs, even sculptures and artifacts or murals where there are just a single full-figure personified glyph.

Face-variant hieroglyphs is a next step, but there are hundreds of face variants and probably so often pictured that there are over a thousand examples.

Why Focus on Full-Figure personified Hierolgyphs?

I study these precisely because I am not (yet) an epigrapher and for sure not a linguist. I can speak a dozen words of Q’eqchi’ Mayan language and read dozens of words in Yucatec. I can recognize a dozen Maya hieroglyphs (which means I need to earn the remaining 800!).


Although the full-figure hieroglyphs of Copan Stela D are the ones most often published (in part due to the several excellent line drawings that show all the details), in fact the Palace Tablet of Palenque is just as awesome. The style of the Palace Tablet in Chiapas, Mexico is definitely “smoother” than the impressive style of Copan, Honduras.

Excavations of Maya sites is still the important aspect of Maya archaeology. Archaeological research needs field work to produce fresh new documentation with provenance. The several different university projects at Copan over many decades has produced both excavations and documentation of the stelae, altars and all other sculpture. Copan, Palenque, and parts of Tikal are extensively excavated and thoroughly published.

Since there are so many experienced archaeologists continuing their excellent field work in every area of the Maya Lowlands and some projects in the Maya Highlands, I have focused on iconography. Now I am gradually learning epigraphy (though I still need many years to learn more).

One way I am learning is to find all the 50+ years of photography of hieroglyphs on stelae, lintels, altars and scanning them in high resolution. We have started with the Nim Li Punit hieroglyphs, especially the face-variant glyphs of Stela 15. We have sent about 50GB of scans to Phil Wanyerka and will send all the scans to the Belize archaeologist institute when we have as many Nim Li Punit contact sheets found as possibl (as possible since it would take extensive office/research space and an entire team to sort and catalog all 50 years of photography).


Full-figure hieroglyphs on Copan Stela D got me started; on Palenque Palace Tablet I was photographing with complete photo studio already in 1994 (with INAH permit for 18-months of photography across Mexico). Then the beautifully entangled full-figure hieroglyphs of Quirigua zoomorphs got me in deeper.

And after spending months preparing FLAAR Photo Archive reports on full-figure hieroglyphs of Copan bench fronts, I noticed a scan of a 35mm scan of THE MOST AMAZING full-figure Maya hieroglyph. It took me a few hours to learn that it came from Copan Stela 63 (since our half-century of photographs are not cataloged, which is why we are considering a relationship with a university, museum or research institute or foundation to have space and funding to catalog all 25,000+ 35mm color slides (Leica resolution) and thousands of medium format Hasselblad camera with Zeiss lenses Made in Germany, plus some 4x5” and a few 8x10” transparencies with Linhof camera and Schneider and Rodenstock quality lenses.

  • BELL Ellen E., CANUTO, Marcello A. and Robert J. SHARER (editors)
  • 2004
  • Understanding Early Classic Copan. University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archeology and Anthropology. 439 pages.

    Fig. 4.8, page 75 and Fig. 11.9 page 229 each show the same drawing of the hieroglyphic inscription of Early Classic Copan Stela 63.
  • FASH, William
  • 2001
  • Scribes, Warriors, and Kings: The City of Copan and the Ancient Maya. Thames & Hudson.

    Fig. 37 shows Copan Stela 63
  • FASH, Barbara
  • 2011
  • The Copan Sculpture Museum. Ancient Maya Artistry in Stucco & Stone. Peabody Museum Press.

    A great catalog of a wonderful museum based on the work of archaeologists for over a century, especially the current projects of PMAE in cooperation with IHAH in Copan, Honduras. Page 105 shows the drawing of Stela 63, but with a gray background on the page the images are not visible (and the drawing is too small). We have instructed all illustrators and book people in our in-house team to never show black text on a gray or other colored background; and never to attempt white text on a light-colored background. For the tiny size aspect, this is why we show our drawings at full vertical page height when possible. Not the fault of the author but the font of this book is so small that even with my reading glasses I literally can’t read the text. When a book is in digital PDF, then I can enlarge the font on my 32” 4K monitor and read quite easily.

    Not one single detail in the drawing is visible, barely even a complete glyph block, so we scanned the page at full-scanner resolution to about 200MEGAbytes

Undeciphered Writing System of Teotihuacan

Lots of articles and discussed in many books. But we recommend you start with:

  • TAUBE, Karl
  • 2000
  • The Writing System of Ancient Teotihuacan. Chapter 1, 56 pages in Ancient America-Center for Ancient American Studies, Barnardsville, N.C

    Easy download. Very educational report by Karl Taube.
  • TAUBE, Karl
  • 2011
  • Teotihuacan and the Development of Writing in Early Classic Central Mexico. Chapter 5, pages 77-109 in Their Way of Writing Scripts, Signs, and Pictographies in Pre-Columbian America, Elizabeth Hill Boone and Gary Urton, editors. Dumbarton Oaks Pre-Columbian Symposia and Colloquia.

    Easy and helpful download. Filled with helpful illustrations that are hard to find elsewhere (so these illustrations make this chapter useful both for Teotihuacan iconography and epigraphy).
  • VALDEZ Bubnova, Tatiana
  • 2012
  • Los grafemas teotihuacanos. Relaciones entre nombres propios y contextos entre los años 250 y 600 d. C. Teopancazco y La Ventilla. PhD dissertation. UNAM, Mexico. 1197 pages in the PDF (yes, over one thousand pages).

Zapotec Writing of the Oaxaca area of Mexico Hieroglyphs before the Olmecs?

I visited Oaxaca in the late 1960’s-1970’s. By 1975 I had found Oaxaca influence in the ceramic art of the Tiquisate area of the Costa Sur part of Guatemala. I had noticed a set of three different divine faces that often were in a row on cylindrical tripods. I called these the Tiquisate Trinity. The “leader” of this trinity I named Curly Face. He is most likely a local Guatemalan trade route adaptation of Cocijo of Monte Alban. I found Curly Face on ceramics at Kaminaluyu (from the Carnegie era excavations and publications). And I was surprised to find one major Curly Face as a 3-dimensional blackware “cookie jar” of Peten. All are Early Classic and hardly any monograph on deities of Mesoamerica has as large a corpus as are in the FLAAR Photo Archive.

In other words, Oaxaca had trade relationships with Highland Guatemala and from there to the Lowland Maya of Peten. The Zapotec barrio in Teotihuacan itself has often been published (but so far I have found no Tiquisate style Curly Face in the art of Teotihuacan; but surely they exist in the Zapotec barrio somewhere).

So Oaxaca is a crucial place to study hieroglyphs, and I list below scholars who have entered this field.

  • MARCUS, Joyce
  • 1980
  • Zapotec Writing. Scientific American. 242 (2): 50–67
  • MARCUS, Joyce
  • 2020
  • Zapotec Monuments and Political History. University of Michigan Press.

    In the article and book by Joyce Marcus yhou can find all the other articles and books on Zapotec hieroglyphic writing.
  • URCID, Javier
  • 1993
  • The Pacific Coast of Oaxaca and Guerrero: The westernmost extent of Zapotec script. Ancient Mesoamerica. 4 (1): 141–165.

    If you find and read all of the articles by Javier Urcid you can learn a lot.

    doi:10.1017/S0956536100000833

Hieroglyphs of Cotzumalhuapa culture (Bilbao and surroundings)

Not many hieroglyphs have been found at Teotihuacan, though a few do exist. The language of Teotihuacan is estimated but not known for sure. Curious that one of the major imperial capitals in the world, with long-distance trade routes from Central Mexico through Tabasco to Peten; and Central Mexico through Oaxaca, through Soconusco (cacao area of Chiapas) and then the Costa Sur of Guatemala heading down to northwest part of Costa Rica.

But hieroglyphs do exist for the Cotzumalhuapa culture. The sculptures here are a mixture of some Maya, some Veracruz, several obviously borrowing of Teotihuacan motifs plus some unknown features. To what degree Bilbao area was influenced by lower Central America is an open question.

Oswaldo Chinchilla Mazariegos has dedicated decades to studying the entire corpus of sculptures of the entire Cotzumalhuapa area (also spelled Cotzumalguapa, if you need everything best to Google both spellings). I have visited these sites half a century ago and also taken an entire portable photo studio to the museum in Germany where the major ballgame sculptures of Bilbao are located.

  • CHINCHILLA Mazariegos, Oswaldo
  • 2011
  • The Flowering Glyphs Animation in Cotzumalhuapa Writing. Chapter 4, pages 43-75 in Their Way of Writing Scripts, Signs, and Pictographies in Pre-Columbian America, Elizabeth Hill Boone and Gary Urton, editors. Dumbarton Oaks Pre-Columbian Symposia and Colloquia.

    Easy and helpful download.

 

First posted February 16, 2024 by Nicholas Hellmuth

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