COMMENTARY: Vase number K5515

In 1973, Michael D. Coe, in The Maya Scribe and His World, published a cream colored, covered vase as number 52. The vase is rather unusual as it has an inscription of 10 glyphs in 5 sections, incised on the cover and body. Coe remarks, "My guess is that the vase text contains a name..."

Marc Zender has been kind enough to present us with a discussion and translation of the text. I am happy to publish Marc's letter as I received it. Marc and I hope that we can elicit some discussion based on this new translation.


October 5th, 2001

Dear Justin,

Thank you for posting images of that wonderful lidded cream-ware vase published by Coe (1973: 112, vessel 52). I hadn't looked at this in a
good long while, and it was an enjoyable experience to revisit it once
again. As near as I can tell, no one has discussed the text on this
vessel since Mike's published description, and so a revisitation is
certainly long overdue.

Part of the reason for the lack of attempts, no doubt, is that the text
incorporates a number of unclear constructions and at least one
important but still undeciphered glyph (T174 at E). Moreover, as Coe
(1973: 112) has previously noted "the scribe used his stylus in a
forceful but somewhat sketchy manner" and as a result a number of other
glyphs resist easy identification. Published photographs (e.g., Coe
1973: 12 and K5515) improve the picture somewhat, but are still uncle in some important details (specifically glyphs B and C on the lid, and portions of glyph F). Finally, absence of provenance, a unique emblem glyph (at F) and an otherwise unknown sequence of nominal glyphs (at A-D) has hitherto confounded the linking of this vessel's text with the dynastic sequences and historical records of known sites. That said, the
text is interesting in its own right, and despite the aforementioned
difficulties of interpretation is certainly worthy of some discussion here.

To begin with, I think there's little question that the inscriptions on
the lid and the vessel form a continuous text of ten glyph-blocks. While
it's understandably difficult to be certain of this from the published
photographs, the fit of the lid and its agreement with the
surface-coloration of the vessel are strong arguments in favour of their
belonging together. Glyphic palaeography and content also mitigate in
favour of the inscriptions of both lid and vessel forming a single text.

Without further ado, then, and mindful of the caveats outline above, I
would transcribe the inscription as follows (note that I employ Coe's
glyph designations, but do not follow his proposed reading order on the lid):

Lid: C: ?-ti

D: ji-ji-la

A: yu-k'i-b'i

B: 'u-lu


B: MUWAAHN-wa-ni


D: ni-'i

E: 'u-?-chu-li

F: cha-la-'a-'AJAW

Glyphs C and D probably comprise an introductory formula for the vessel's inscription. While the main sign of glyph C resembles the 'God
N/Step' verb (now read T'AB') common to this formula, its
complementation and/or derivation with -ti is otherwise unknown, as is
the strange ji-ji-la construction (presumably cueing either jij-iil or
jij-al) which immediately follows. It's possible though by no means
certain that this latter compound is a scribal error for ji-*chi-la, a
collocation which normally follows 'God N/Step' in the PSS. Whatever
their precise rendering, however, that these inscriptions introduce the
extended glyphic nametag which follows seems certain.

Thankfully, the rest of the text is a little more straightforward, and
can be transliterated and translated as follows:

y-uk'ib' [ta] 'ul K'ihnich Chaahk Muwaahn Ti' B'ahlam Ni' 'u-?ch-uul

Chal-'a Ajaw

"(it is) the drinking-cup [for] atole of K'ihnich Chaahk Muwaahn Ti'

B'ahlam Ni'. He is the ? of the Lord of Chal-'a"

The owner or maker of the vessel, then, had a fairly complicated and
lengthy name whose meaning can be rendered more or less as "The Hot One, Raingod Hawk, Mouth of the Jaguar".

Interestingly, this text may well explain why the name of K'ihnic
Chaahk Muwaahn Ti' B'ahlam Ni' has yet to turn up on any monuments.

While he seems to have been either the owner or maker of the vessel, he
clearly identifies himself as a sublord of the king of Chal-'a. Since
Chal-'a itself remains unknown, we can say very little about its
location. However, that the king's title does not incorporate the common
k'uhul- prefix argues that Chal-'a may have been a relatively small center.

Despite some confusing constructions and the lamentably undeciphered
T174, then, this charming little lidded vessel speaks to us of an
atole-drinking sublord from the still unknown court of the king of
Chal-'a. It also demonstrates that sublords of even relatively small
sites could be named after important gods like Chaahk and K'ihnich.

All best,

Marc Zender
Department of Archaeology,
University of Calgary
2500 University Drive N.W.,
Calgary, AB T2N 1N4

Use your browser's back button to return to the database