Where is Copan Altar W’, Altar Wprime?

The 1994 book on Maya Sculpture of Copan by Claude Baudez says that Copan Altar W’ (Altar Wprime) is in the “local museum” (meaning the village museum of the town of Copan Ruinas). However during 2023-2024 this museum has been closed as it is being completely reconstructed (all the cacao trees removed that were around Copan Stela 7 because a solid tile floor has been placed over the entire surface of the room (so no more plants inside the museum). During our February 2024 field trip with IHAH permits we photographed Altar T and Copan Stela 7 in this village museum but did not see Altar W’. Perhaps it is in a back room? We wish to return to Copan to photograph the full-figure hieroglyphs on the back side and the Bufo Toad and God K (K’awil) on the front side.

If you know where Copan Altar W’ is stored during 2024, please let us know: FLAAR-Mesoamerica symbol FLAAR.org (put the actual @ symbol, close the space, and that is our contact).


Morley photograph of the front of Copan Altar W’ (Wprime) in Ward and Rice 2021: Fig. 2.4. The caption says the winal frog is the wo; but it is a toad, not a frog, and is Bufo Toad, not the wo. The shape of a wo is totally different than a Bufo Toad.

 

The animal at the left is a Bufo Toad not a Turtle

Half the articles by epigraphers and iconographers call the animal head at the left a turtle. This is because a turtle is often coming out of the left of a 4-sided cave-entrance symbol. But on Copan Altar W’ there is no turtle on either side; the animal featured at the left is clearly a Bufo Toad (Bufo marinus, now named Rhinella marina). You can compare this head on Altar W’ with Uinal toads and with the head under the seated crocodile on the side of Copan Altar T. Fortunately lots of discussions by epigraphers and iconographers do correctly recognize the head as a toad (it’s not a frog).


The row of “teeth” of identical triangular shape is typical of the Bufo Toad (and iguana), but this head is the size of the Bufo Toad. The water lily flower tied around the forehead is typical of the Bufo Toad (not often for an iguana). In the round circle behind the eye are missing the traditional 3 circles inside. Need to study the original to see if they still exist and should be added to the drawing.

The God K at the right is a traditional K’awil, a royal title. Curious that a toad foot is below the God K head (so the Bufo Toad is associated with both ends of the bicephalic creature. The “body” is the four-segmented Witz Monster with a frontal face. So there are actually three heads (more than bicephalic). In other sculptures, the four-segmented concept is often the underside of a turtle, so I can understand why some epigraphers and iconographers mistakenly identify the profile face at the left as a turtle head (but it’s clearly a Bufo Toad head in all respects).

Copan Altar W’ (Altar Wprime), CPN 101, drawing by Barbara Fash published in many locations including Baudez 1994: Fig. 68

 

Full-figure personified hieroglyphs on the back side of Copan Altar W’

Half the articles by epigraphers and iconographers call the animal head at the left a turtle. This is because a turtle is often coming out of the left of a 4-sided cave-entrance symbol. But on Copan Altar W’ there is no turtle on either side; the animal featured at the left is clearly a Bufo Toad (Bufo marinus, now named Rhinella marina). You can compare this head on Altar W’ with Uinal toads and with the head under the seated crocodile on the side of Copan Altar T. Fortunately lots of discussions by epigraphers and iconographers do correctly recognize the head as a toad (it’s not a frog).


Completely full-figure personified Maya hieroglyphs on the back side of Copan Altar W’ (Altar Wprime), CPN 101, drawing by Barbara Fash; not published in many locations; not in Baudez 1994. Sylvanus Morley was very impressed by these full-figure variants (Morley 1920: 333-334). Some of the glyphs are identified in his tabulation on pages 591-592.


Drawing by Sylvanus Morley of all four sides of Copan Altar W’ (Altar Wprime); his Fig. 46 in Ward and Rice 2021: Fig.2.3. The black-and-white drawing by Barbara Fash is easier to see the details but Morley’s drawing is pretty good.

 

References Cited for Copan Altar W’

If you Google “Copan Altar W’” you get lots of articles by epigraphers and iconographers. But the three books that feature Altar W’ are listed here in our References Cited:

  • BAUDEZ, Claude-François
  • 1994
  • Maya Sculpture of Copan, The Iconography. University of Oklahoma Press. 300 pages.
  • MORLEY, Sylvanus Griswold
  • 1920
  • The Inscriptions at Copan. The Carnegie Institution of Washington, Publication No. 219. 643 pages.
  • WARD, Christopher and Prudence M. RICE
  • 2021
  • The Archaeological Field Diaries of Sylvanus Griswold Morley: The Spy Years, 1917–1918. The Morley Diary Project, Volume II. Illustration assistance by Don S. Rice. 439 pages.

 

First posted February 14, 2024.

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