No canoe or oars are needed to recognize the Paddler Gods

The Paddler Gods are so well documented as paddlers of sacred canoes on the Tikal incised bones of Tikal Burial 116 that even when there is no canoe (on Copan Stela P Stela 2, Stela 7 and Stela 13) you can still recognize the “paddlers” by their faces or by their Akbal-K’in hieroglyphs. The Jaguar Paddler usually has a crueller (a circle between his eyes). The Jaguar Paddler may have a feline ear but that is not necessary to ID. The Stingray Spine Paddler usually, but not always, has the stingray spine horizontally under the nose area. When not a face-variant, his sign is the K’in glyph (day, sun).

It is important to recognize that neither canoe nor paddlers have to be pictured to document that “Paddler Gods” because on Copan Stela P you get the faces of both on the front of the stela. The ceremonial bar of the king has one paddler sticking out of each end of the ceremonial bar. On one side of Stela P, the faces of each Paddler God are shown in the hieroglyphic inscription. Every Maya person who saw this stela would recognize the two Paddler Gods and would know that “behind the scene” they were paddling the sacred canoe into the Surface of the Underwaterworld.

Copan Stela 2, CPN 40, front, shows JGU head sticking out of ceremonial bar; the other Paddler God (Stingray Spine Paddler) is eroded and no longer visible. Drawing by Barbara Fash (Baudez 1994: Fig 49,B).

  • STONE, Andrea and Marc ZENDER
  • 2011
  • Reading Maya Art: A Hieroglyphic Guide to Ancient Maya Painting and Sculpture. Thames and Hudson.

    Page 51 discusses the Paddler Gods and shows pertinent face-variant Paddler God glyphs.


Copan Stela 7, face-variant-hieroglyphs on the right side. It is rare that the stingray spine is so clearly visible under the nose. The Jaguar Paddler God has a feline headdress but the crueller does not make a circle in front of the forehead (maybe the drawing needs to be improved?). Cropped by Hellmuth from drawing courtesy Ancient Americas at LACMA ( Drawing by Linda Schele © David Schele.


Jaguar Paddler God emerging from ceremonial bar; Stingray Spine Paddler God is eroded and not visible (at far right). Copan Stela 7, drawing on-line by Linda Schele, SD1031.


On Copan Stela 7 the Jaguar Paddler comes out of the left side of the ceremonial bar; on Copan Stela P, the Jaguar Paddler God comes out the right side of the ceremonial bar. By coincidence the Stingray Spine Paddler God is eroded on both these Copan stelae.

You can identify this face as the Jaguar Paddler because of the thick semi-circle under the eye that rises to the forehead to form a crueller.

Photograph by Nicholas Hellmuth, 5:50pm, February 3, 2024, Nikon D810, project of coordination and cooperation with IHAH. We donated all photographs to IHAH the final day of our stay.


Jaguar Paddler God (without crueller of JGU but with jaguar headdress). Incised Tikal bone from Bu. 116, Temple I, drawing by Linda Schele, SD2014. You can also see full-figure paddler gods (albeit with no canoe or paddle) on Ixlu Stela 2 and Jimbal Stela 1, both available in drawings by Linda Schele. Tikal Cache 198 (Kerr rollout K8009) shows both paddlers (coming out of a snake monster), but no canoe. A vase in the Museo Popol Vuh shows both paddlers in their canoe, paddling the Maize God. We show these in the FLAAR Reports (work in progress) on the Copan Paddler Gods.


Stingray Spine Paddler God with an iguana, one of the passengers in the canoe heading into the Underwaterworld. The incised Tikal bones from Bu. 116, Temple I, Incised Tikal bone from Bu. 116, Temple I, drawing by Linda Schele, SD2014. show the best examples of the horizontal stingray spine across the face under the nose. Drawing by Linda Schele, SD2014.


I show two different views of the Stingray Spine Paddler from the Tikal Burial 116 incised bones since in most scenes of just the face-variant hieroglyph it’s not easy to see the actual stingray spine. The Tikal artist emphasizes the stingray spine aspect.

In some hieroglyphic inscriptions Akbal (night) and Kin (sun, day) are used to name the Paddler Gods

The Jaguar Paddler can be shown as an Akbal hieroglyph. The Stingray Spine Paddler can be shown as K’in, sun, day. Illustrations from Maya Decipherment web site shows these night-and-day glyphs. Copan Stela 6 shows the Akbal hieroglyph.

Akbal (Ak’ab), night, darkness at left (Jaguar Paddler); K’in, day, sun at right (Stingray Spine Paddler hieroglyph). Copan Stela 13, north side. Cropped by Hellmuth from drawing by Linda Schele © David Schele, SD1040; drawing courtesy Ancient Americas at LACMA (


First posted February 22, 2024 by Nicholas Hellmuth

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