Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Analysis of the Term K’ojob in Era Day Expressions

The jehlaj k'ojob expression is the most widely quoted of all era day events in Maya inscriptions and it refers to the changing of a pedestal or altar at the start of the current era on             4 Ajaw  8 Kumk'u or August 11/13 3114 BC, the "zero" date of the Maya Long Count calendar. Here is an example from from Stela C, East side (block B6) of Quirigua, Guatemala:

JEL-[la]ja k’o-ba collocation from Quirigua Stela C
(Drawing by Annie Hunter) 

The item that is being changed is the k'ojob. The term is not well understood since it occurs very rarely in the inscriptions.  I thought a further inquiry into this enigmatic term might shed some light on the subject since so much of how we interpret this climatic era day event depends on knowing the type of the object that is being changed. The term k’ojob is found on the following era day monuments[1]:

Coba Stela 1, back (N18)
Chichen Itza, The Caracol (Structure 3C15), Panel 1, Right Lateral Face (R9)
Copan Stela 23, sides “A” (D7-D9) and “C” (F1)
La Corona Altar 4 (A’1)
Palenque, Temple of the Cross, Main Panel (D6)
Palenque, Temple of the Sun, Main Panel (E1)
Piedras Negras, Altar 1, Fragment B (L2)
Quirigua Stela C, East side (B6)

In all these cases, the word is spelled using two syllabic signs /k’o-/ and /-b’a/, with the intial /k’o-/ syllable spelled using the T220 sign that is a depiction of a clinched, downward pointing fist (Thompson 1962:449; Boot 2008:9). The /k’o/ syllable was first deciphered by Linda Schele based on a k’o-jo or k’oj for “mask” spelling on a Site R, Lintel 2 text associated with a figure wearing a mask (Schele 1991:108). Early in the decipherment of era day texts, it was proposed that the term k’ob might read yeb for “his stair” (Macleod 1991) with the T220 holding a syllabic value of /ye-/ (the T220 sign is very similar to the T710 /ye-/ sign representing the profile of a partially open right hand). As the meaning syllabic signs progressed, it became clear that T220 and T710 held distinct values of /k’o/ and /ye/ respectively. Schele used the /k’o/ value for T220 to derive k’oh, the word for “image/mask” on the Palenque Cross Tablet (D6) (while discounting the very prominent /–b’a/ syllable sitting directly under the /k’o-/ ) as well as on the K6593 Panel (block A4) (Schele 1992:122-123 and 127; Freidel et al. 1993:65-67 and page 70-71). Schele also applied the /k’o-/ value to a translation in the Quirigua Stela C era day text (B6) and arrived at a slightly different spelling than that on the Palenque Temple of the Cross example (this time incorporating the /-b’a/ syllable into the word) with a reading of k’ohba for “image or statue” (Schele 1992:123; Freidel et al. 1993:67). More recently, Freidel and MacLeod (2000) proposed a new reading for the subject of the era day expression at Palenque and Quirigua:
First of all, reevaluation of the Creation text at Quirigua C shows that the k’ohba “images(s)” reading was probably not correct. The subject of the “crossed planks” verb in Kan-Balam’s Palenque Creation texts, and in others, must be k’oob “hearth”, “trivit”, found in Yucatec k’ooben “hearth, hearthstones, kitchen with cognates in Kekchi “k’ub”; Chorti and Cholti “chub”- probably glottalized: ch’ub
The term was now thought to represent “hearthstone” and it relates to the colonial Yucatec Maya word for  k’ob’en “kitchen, hearth” that is composed of three stones on which a cooking griddle sits (cf. Barrera Vásquez 1980:406, after Boot 2009:9). This new reading has had favor among leading epigraphers in the field yet, others employ a more generalized term of “tripod” rather than hearthstone (Looper 2003:226).
The term k’ob is used in the inscriptions outside the context of era day expressions and these additional uses offer evidence toward its spelling and insights into its meaning (p.c. Péter Bíró 2008). Additional spellings of the word occur on Copan Structure 30, Altar 19469 (A1) (Schele 1990; Andrews 2005 et al. 2005:285-287) and Yaxchilan Hieroglyphic Stairway 5, Step 16 (block 81) (Boot 2009:111). The Copan altar is circular in shape and flat-topped; it is 30 cm in diameter and 8 cm thick and has wheel-like shape. A glyphic text is carved on its perimeter edge; the text “states that u yak’ chaak was brought out or manifested at the celebration of Yax Pasaj’s first k’atun of rule, and the ceramic effigy referred to is the yitah yahawil  “the companion of the lord or his office” (Andrews et al. 2005:287). This small circular altar makes an ideal platform on which the effigy indicated most probably sat. Notice how scribes spell the k’ob term on this Copan altar and on the Yaxchilan steps by adding the interior syllable /-jo-/ :

Copan Str.30 Altar 19469 (A1-A6):u-JEL k’o-jo-ba u ya-k’u CHAAK-ki .  . .

Yaxchilan Stairway 5 Step 16 (block 81):  .  .  .  k’o-jo-ba-li ye-TE’-je u-chan ta-ja-mo’-o? aj-15-ba-ki k’uhul-“YAX EG?”-[AJAW] KALOM-TE’

These two cases spell the term with the interior /-jo-/ syllable indicating that the word may be under-spelled in other cases when written as k’o-ba. The Copan example is especially telling since it occurs in phrase that uses the same verb jel collocation as in the era day expression by recording “the next k’ojob (of) uyak’u chaak[2] The item possessed by uyak’u chaak is the k’ojob or the round flat-topped altar itself on which the inscription is written. Here is a photo of a cast of the Copan altar:

Copan Structure 30, Altar 19469
(Photo by Carl Callaway)

Here is close up of the main event. Note the addition of the /-jo/ syllable above the /-ba/ sign:

u-JEL k’o-jo-ba collocation on Copan Structure 30, Altar 19469
(photo by Carl Callaway)

 In the Yaxchilan example,  k’o-jo-ba-li ye-TE’-je u-chan ta-ja-mo’-o? aj-15-ba-ki k’uhul-“YAX EG?”-[AJAW] KALOM-TE’ the possessor of the k’ojobil is the king Itzamnaj Balam III the “guardian” and captor of Torch Macaw[3]. So, the question arises:  What is the meaning of k’ojob? Does the term name a particular flat-topped stone or a hearth stone? The full spelling of the term as k’o-jo-ba argues against the previous derivation as k’o-ba and a classification as a hearthstone.  
One more example of the term k’ob comes from the site of Joyanca  where it is part of a standard dedicatory phrase for another small circular altar (very similar in shape and size to the previous Copan altar) from Structure 6E-12 thought to be used as an incensario stand (Formé 2006:06). David Stuart transcribed the glyph blocks A2-C1 as: T’AB'AY u-k’o-b’a TUN-ni-li? (Formé 2006:06) Like on the Copan altar, the item indicated by the k’o-ba spelling is the circular altar that is being dedicated. The Joyanca stone, with its flat top is ideal for an effigy stand. It is difficult to ascertain given the present evidence, if the k’ojob refers to the altar/pedestal stone itself, or to the effigy/god it supports, or the altar/pedestal stone and the effigy/god together (p.c.  Barbara Macleod 2011). Based on the current evidence stated, the proper spelling of the term is k’o-jo-ba for k’ojob and may translate as a flat-topped, circular stone altar.
In a counter opinion David Stuart (2011a:216-219) interprets the term under consideration as not k’ojob but k’oj meaning “image,” “mask” or “face” with the /–ba/ suffix attached at the end of k’oj  root serving apparently as an instrumental suffix[4]. The new glyphic phrase reads something like jelaj k’oj baah for “the face-image changed” (Stuart 2011a:219)[5] with k’oj being in this case “image.” Stuart offers the following explination:
Perhaps the word k’oj refers to masks, images, or faces that should be equated in some manner with the three sacred stones dedicated on that day by the gods. I suggest this as a possibility because we’ve long known that the three stone heads or masks along a celestial band comprise an important cosmological symbol for the Classic Maya, most often manifested as small portrait heads attached to “sky belts” worn by Maya kings as part of the ceremonial costume for period-ending rituals. The “change of masks” might then, refer to the idea of the cosmos getting a new identity of some type― a makeover of sorts―which in turn became symbolically reflected in the ritual dress of Maya Kings, and especially in their cosmic belts (Stuart 2011a:12).
The new Stuart hypothesis is difficult to adopt in the face of such a strong correspondence between the object named in the dedicatory passage on the altars/pedestal stones from Joyanca and Copan.

Hopefully in the future, additional texts using the k’ojob term will come to light and help clarify its essential meaning and semantic domain.

[1] See Quirgua Stela F, west side, block B16 and Quirgua Zoomorph P, South text, blocks M3a-M2a for other JEL k’o-b’a expressions on non-related era day monuments.

[2] The presence of the /u-/ prefix attached to the term jel derives a type of “change” similar to the word “next” where the subject is coming immediately after a previous change (p.c. Barbara MacLeod 2012).

[3] The mention of the k’ojobil on Yaxchilan Hieroglyphic stair, block 81 is in conjunction with a possible capture event (block 72) on the day  7 Chuen 19 K’ayab  (blocks 70-71) and a date that is also shared on Yaxchilan Stela 5 (p.c. Peter Mathews 2012).

[4] Normally, Ch’olan languages attach an instrumental suffix to an intransitivized verbal root in order to derive a noun that indicates the instrument used to perform or achieve the action indicated by the verb (p.c. Sven Gronemeyer 2011). Schumann Gálvez gives the following definition in his 1997 Mopán grammar: “.  .  . se coloca después de una raíz verbal para señalar instrumento que se usa o sirve para ejecutar aquello que la raíz verbal indica” (Schumann Gálvez 1997:82). As to how an instrumental suffix applies the root of a noun like k’oj is difficult at present to ascertain, but Yucatec for example also allows a derivation from a nominal base.

 [5] Interestingly Stuart’s reading of k’oj as “image” reflects back to a similar era day reading made by Linda Schele concerning the Kerr 6593 Panel. As Schele (1992:123) states, the key word “in the era expression is k’oh, k’ohba or kohob, all meaning ‘image’ or statue. Also she thought that “Ilahi yax k’oh” translated as “was seen, the image or statue”, and that “hal kohba” meant “appeared the image or statue” (Schele 1992:123; Freidel et al. 1993:65-66). Schele believed that the “image” referred to was a great earth turtle from whose cracked carapace the Maize God emerges (see K1892). Stuart (2011b) recently nullified Schele’s interpretation on K6593 Panel on the grounds of a faulty verb derivation and a misidentification of a historical ruler named yax k’oj ahk chak k’u-? Ajaw (Stuart 2011b). However he does not challenge Schele’s original assertion that the k’oj term spelled on Kerr Panel 6593 simply k’o-jo without the /–ba/ suffix.

Works Cited

Andrews, E. Wyllys, and Cassandra R. Bill

2005    A Late Classic Royal Residence at Copán. In: Copán The History of an Ancient Maya Kingdom. E. Wyllys Andrews and William L. Fash editors. School of American Research Advanced Seminar Series, Oxford.

Barrera Vásquez, Alfredo
            1980    Diccionario Maya Cordemex. Mexico: Ediciones Cordemex.

Boot, Erik
2002  A  Preliminary Classic Maya-English/English-Classic Maya Vocabulary Of Hieroglyphic Readings. .

2008 The Hand in Classic Maya Hieroglyphic Writing. Mesoweb. Available

2009a The Updated Preliminary Classic Maya – English, English – Classic Maya Vocabulary of Hieroglyphic Readings. On-line at:

Formé, Mélanie
2006    La cronologia ceramica de La Joyanca, Noroeste del Petén, Guatemala. BAR International Series 1572, Archeopress, Oxford, England.

Freidel, David, and Barbara MacLeod
2000    Creation Redux: New Thoughts on Maya cosmology from Epigraphy, Iconography, and Archaeology. In: The PARI Journal, A quarterly publication of the Pre-Columbian Art Research Institute, Vol. 1, No. 2, Fall 2000, Valerie Greene (ed.).

Freidel, David, Linda Schele, and Joy Parker
1993    Maya Cosmos: Three Thousand Years on the Shaman's Path. New York: Quill William Morrow.

Looper, Matthew G.
2003Lightning Warrior: Maya Art and Kingship at Quirigua. Austin: University of Texas     Press.

MacLeod, Barbara
1991    Maya Genesis: The First Steps. North Austin Hieroglyphic Hunch No. 5. Austin.

Schele, Linda
1990    Preliminary Commentary on the New Altar from Structure 30. Copán note 72. Copán, Honduras: Copán Acropolis Archaeology Project and the Instituto Hondureño de Antropología e Historia.
1991     Notebook for the XVth Maya Hieroglyphic Workshop at Texas. Austin, TX: Department of Art and Art History, University ofTexas.
1992    Workbook For The XVIth Maya Hieroglyphic Workshop At Texas. Austin, Texas: University Of Texas At Austin.

Schumann Gálvez, Otto

                1997    Introducción al Maya Mopan.Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México. 290   p.Mexico.

Stuart, David
2011a The Order of Days: The Maya World And The Truth About 2012. New York: Harmony Books.
Stuart, David
2011b  Reinterpreting a “Creation” Text from Chancala, Mexico. Maya Decipherment Web Blog, on the web at:

Thompson, J. Eric S.

1962    A Catalog Of Maya Hieroglyphs. Oklahoma: University Of Oklahoma Press.

1 comment:

Barb MacLeod said...

Carl, this is by far the most thorough and most accurate essay available on this term of paramount importance. I would like to share some ideas about it. One is that I believe the term /k'oj/ to have originated in a Yucatecan language. This (to a grammar nut like me) is the only explanation for the variants of the spelling we see on the monuments. But these are otherwise Ch'olan texts, so I conclude that the word was (as were a number of other Yucatecan archaisms) borrowed by Ch'olan speakers or retained in an archaic lexicon --I'd love to say from El Mirador-- that predated the Early Classic Ch'olan expansion. There's lots of other evidence, but that's a story for another day. So these are the words that I think are equivalent: /k'oj/ and /k'ojo(o)b/ and a third derived (contracted) form /k'oob/. I now hesitate to add /k'ojba(ah)/ 'image' to the list as the others explain all examples. /k'oj/ in Yucatecan means not only 'mask' but in a broader sense,'representative', 'something that stands for another'. The word (*/j/) as such appears in the Cordemex as 'statue', 'image' as well as 'one who is masked'. I found the term (=/k'oj bakab/) in the Chumayel, suggesting that the Bakabs ('pourers'), who are station-holders of the ha'ab and of the cardinal directions, can also be /k'oj/. Penultimately, Dave Stuart (p.c. 2010) noted a substitution at Tortuguero that I have increasingly agreed with--in the name of Bahlam Ajaw's mother. One example is on TRT Mon. 8 and the other is on TRT 6; on Mon 8 the spelling is T174:530, and on Mon. 6 it is /k'o-jo/ (with the "fist" /k'o/ sign). Dave told me he thinks T174:530 is probably K'OJ. Sven and I took a different position in our 2010 Wayeb Notes 34 paper, but I agree with Dave now. The compound appears to represent an *altar*--both as the T530 main sign and as the T174 superfix with its three "feet" depicted on either side of the little "stone". That said, I think T174:530 also reads AK 'seat' whenever it takes a /ya/ prefix. So we are closing in on the meaning of /k'oj/ not only as the pedestal altars you describe (at Copan, La Joyanca, Yaxchilan) but in a more metaphysical sense, as a 'representative' of the deity. This is why I suggested that the thing is the pedestal as well as what rests on top of the pedestal--all of it *awakened* during ritual. Finally, in Yucatec the intransitive verb /k'ojol/ (see in the Cordemex) means 'to give birth'. This would explain the /-Vb/ (echo of the root vowel) instrumental suffix. But it only explains it in Yucatecan, because the instrumental is (non-echo) /-ib/ in Ch'olan and /k'ojol/ 'give birth' does not appear in Ch'olan languages. So if we unpack this root /k'oj-ob/ a little deeper, we find it to mean something like 'instrument for birthing'. Aha!! Make offerings to it and voila! it comes alive. Barb