Peabody Museum of American Archaeology and Ethnolo.

Papers of the Peabody Museum of American Archaeology and Ethnology, Harvard University online

. (page 1 of 31)
Online LibraryPeabody Museum of American Archaeology and EthnoloPapers of the Peabody Museum of American Archaeology and Ethnology, Harvard University → online text (page 1 of 31)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


.H -A

■'If ,x\'

^, viS^

o 0^








Cambridge, Mass.

Published by the Museum,


... -/

Salem tPtess;
The Salem Co., Salem, Mass.

^ A



1. Representation of Deities of the Maya Manusv_'R1pts.

By Paul Schellhas. Tkanslated by Miss Selil\
Wesselhoeft and Miss A. M. Parker. 1904.

Editorial Note by F. W. Putnam <^

Preface by Paul Schellhas 5

The Material of the Manuscripts 7

Representation of the Gods

God A. The Death-God 10

God B. The God with the Large Nose and Lolling Tongue 16

God C. The God with the Ornamented Face 19

God D. The Moon- and Night -God 22

God E. The Maize-God 24

God F. The God of War and Human Sacrifices .... 25

God G. The Sun-God 27

God H. The Chicchan-God 2S

God I. The Water- Goddess 31

God K. The God with the Ornamented Nose 32

God L. The Old, Black God 34

God M. Tlie Black God with the Red Lips 35

God N. The God of the End of the Year 37

God O. A Goddess with the Features of an Old Woman . 38

God P. The Frog-God 39

Mythological Animals

1. The Moan Bird 41

2. The Serpent 42

3. The Dog 42

4. The Vulture 43

5. The Jaguar 44

6. The Tortoise 44

Summary 46

Plate 1. I. Gods. IL Mythological Animals

2. Commentary on the Maya Manuscript in the Royal

Public Library of Dresden. By Ernst F5rstemann.

Tr.aa'slated BY' Miss Selma Wesselhoeft, .a.nd Miss

M. A. Parker. 1906.

Editorial Note by F. W. Putnam 51

Preface by Ernst Fcirstemann 53



First part (of Manuscript). Pages 1-45 55

Second Part (of Manuscript). Pages 46-74 182

Index to pages in Manuscript and corresponding pages in the

Commentary . , 267

Plate 2 I. Glyphs referred to in Text. II. Cardinal Points

3 Animal Figures ix the Maya Codices. By Alfred M.
TozzER AND Glover M. Allen. 1910.

Editorial Note by F. W. Putnam 275

Key to the Pronunciation of Maya Words 277

List of Plates 279

List of Illustrations in Text 281

Introduction 283

I. Synoptic Consideration of the Cleaning and Occur-

rence of Animal Forms

Manner of Representation 285

Mythological Animals 286

Animal Sacrifices 288

Offerings shown hj^ Glyphs 289

Animals as Rain-bearers 291

Animal Head-dresses 291

Secular Occupations 293

Animal Gh-j^hs . , 294

II. Zoological Identification and Ethnological Explanation

of Animal Forms

Mollusca 296

Fasciolaria gigantea 296

Oliva 297

Other Mollusca 298

Insecta 298

The Honey Bee 298

Blow-fiy 301

Lepidopterous In.-ects 302

Myriapoda 303

Centipede 303

Crustacea 304

Crayfish 305

Crab 305

Arachnida 305

Spider 305

Arachnoidea 305

Scorpion 305

Pisces 307

Several unidentified Fishes 307


Amphibia 308

Frogs or Toads 308

Tree-toad 310

Reptilia 310

Serpent 310

Iguana 318

Crocodile 319

Turtles 321

Aves 324

Herons 324

Frigate-bird 325

Ocellated Turkey 326

King Vulture 329

Black Vulture 331

Harpy Eagle 334

Yucatan Homed Owl 336

Yucatan Screech Owl or Moan Bird .... 337

Coppery-tailed Trogan or Quetzal .... 340

Blue Macaw 343

Imperial Woodpecker 345

Raven 346

Miscellaneous Birds 346

Mammalia 347

Opossum 347

Isine-banded Armadillo 347

Yucatan Brocket 347

Yucatan Deer 348

Yucatan Peccary 351

Baird's Tapir 353

Rabbit 354

Other Rodents 355

Jaguar 355

Puma 358

Coyote 358

Dog 359

Bear 364

Leaf-nosed Bat 365

Capuchin Monkey • 366

Bibliography 369

Plates 1-39, with explanations 374

Note. — This complete list of Contents will take the place of an Index
to this volume.




Vol. IV.— No. 1









Miss Selma Wesselhoeft and
Miss A. M. Parker

Translation revised by the Author

Cambridge, Mass.

Published by the Museum

December, 1904.




Vol. IV.— No. 1









Miss Selma Wesselhoeft and
Miss A. M. Parker

Translation revised by tlie Author

Cambridge, Mass.

Published by the Museum

December, 1904.



In order to make more widely known and more easily
accessible to American students the results of important re-
searches on the Maya hieroglyphs, printed in the German lan-
guage, the Peabody Museum Committee on Central American
Research proposes to publish translations of certain papers
which are not too lengthy or too extensively illustrated. The
present paper by one of the most distinguished scholars in this
field is the first of the series.

F. W. Putnam.
Harvard University

September, 1904.



Since the first edition of this pamphlet appeared in the year
1897, investigation in this department of science has made
such marked progress, notwithstanding the sHght amoimt of
material, that a re^^sion has now become desirable. It can
be readil}' understood, that a new science, an investigation on
virgin soil, such as the Maya stud}' is, makes more rapid progress
and develops more quickly than one pertaining to some old,
much explored territory.

In addition to numerous separate treatises, special mention
should be made of Ernst Forstemann's commentaries on the
three ]\Iaya manuscripts (Kommentar zur Mayahandschrift
der Koniglichen offentlichen Bibliothek zu Dresden, Dresden
1901, Kommentar ziu" Madrider Mayahandschrift, Danzig 1902,
and Kommentar zur Pariser Mayahandschrift, Danzig 1903)
which constitute a summary of the entire results of investiga-
tion in this field up to the present time.

The proposal made in the first edition of this pamphlet, that
the Maya deities be designated by letters of the alphabet, has
been very generally adopted by Americanists,, especially by
those in the United States of America. This circumstance, in
particular, has seemed to make it desirable to prepare for pub-
lication a new edition, improved to accord with the present
state of the science.

Warmest thanks are above all due to Mr. Bowditch. of Boston,
who in the most disinterested manner, for the good of science,
has made possible the publication of this new edition.

January, 190-1. P. Schellhas.



The three manuscripts which we possess of the ancient Maya
peoples of Central America, the Dresden (Dr.), the Madrid
(Tro.-Cort.) and the Paris (Per.) manuscripts, all contain a
series of pictorial representations of human figures, which,
beyond question, should be regarded as figures of gods. To-
gether with these are a number of animal figures, some with
human bodies, dress and armor, which likewise have a mytho-
logic significance.

The contents of the three manuscripts, which undoubtedly
pertain to the calendar system and to the computation of time
in their relation to the Maya pantheon and to certain religious
and domestic functions, admit of the conclusion, that these
figures of gods embody the essential part of the religious con-
ceptions of the Maya peoples in a tolerably complete form.
For here we have the entire ritual year, the whole chronology
with its mythological relations and all accessories. In addition
to this, essentially the same figures recur in all three manuscripts.
Their number is not especially large. There are about fifteen
figures of gods in human form and about half as many in animal
form. At first we were inclined to believe that further researches
would considerably increase the number of deities, but this
assumption was incorrect. After years of study of the subject
and repeated examination of the results of research, it may be
regarded as positively proved, that the number of deities rep-
resented in the Maya manuscripts does not exceed substan-
tially the limits mentioned above. The principal deities are
determined beyond question.

The way in which this was accomplished is strikingly simple.
It amounts essentially to that which in ordinary life we call
"memory of persons" and follows almost naturally from a care-
ful study of the manuscripts. For, by frequently looking at-
tentively at the representations, one learns by degrees to recog-



nize promptly similar and familiar figures of gods, by the char-
acteristic impression they make as a whole, or by certain details,
even when the pictures are partly obliterated or exhibit varia-
tions, and the same is true of the accompanying hieroglyphs.
A purely inductive, natural science-method has thus been fol-
lowed, and hence this pamphlet is devoted simply to descriptions
and to the amassing of material. These figures have been taken
separately out of the manuscripts alone, identified and described
with the studious avoidance of all unreliable,misleading accounts
and of all presumptive analogies with supposedly allied my-

Whatever cannot be derived from the manuscripts themselves
has been wholly ignored. Hypotheses and deductions have
been avoided as far as possible. Only where the interpretation,
or the resemblance and the relations to kindred mythologic
domains were obvious, and where the accounts agreed beyond
question, has notice been taken of the fact so that the imposed
limitations of this work should not result in one-sidedness.

Since, for the most part, the accounts of Spanish authors
regarding the myi:hology of the Mayas correspond only slightly
or not at all with these figures of gods, and all other conjectures
respecting their significance are very dubious, the alphabetic
designation of the deities, which was tentatively introduced
in the first edition of this work, has been preserved. This des-
ignation has proved to be practical. For the plate at the end
of this pamphlet, examples as characteristic as possible of the
individual figures of gods have been selected from the manu-

It is a well loiown fact that we possess no definite knowledge
either of the time of the composition or of the local origin of
the Maya manuscripts. The objection might, therefore, be
raised that it is a hazardous proceeding to treat the material
derived from these three manuscripts in common, as if it were
homogeneous. But these researches themselves have proved
beyond a doubt, that the mythologic import of the manuscripts
belongs to one and the same sphere of thought. Essentially
the same deities and the same mythologic ideas are, \\nthout
question, to be found in all the manuscripts.

The material of the insci'iptions has been set entirely at one


side, because the style of representation contained in them,
both of the mythologic forms and of the hieroglyphs, renders
comparison exceedingly difficult. In this field especial credit
is due to Forstemann and Seler, for the work they have done
in furtherance of interpretation, and mention should not be
omitted of the generosity with which the well known promoter
of Americanist investigations, the Duke of Loubat,has presented
to the Berlin Museum of Ethnology costly originals of reliefs
and inscriptions for direct study. The representations on the
reliefs from the Maya region, it is true, give evidence of dealing
with kindred mythologic conceptions. Figures and hieroglyphs
of gods, made familiar by the manuscripts, can also be found
here and there. But on the whole so fittle appears in support
of instituting a comparison with the manuscripts, that it seems
expedient to leave the inscriptions for independent and special

A. The Death-God.

God A is represented as a figure with an exposed, bony spine,
truncated nose and grinning teeth, i It is plainly to be seen
that the head of this god represents a skull and that the spine
is that of a skeleton. The pictures of the death-god are so
characteristic in the Maya manuscripts that the deity is always
easily recognized. He is almost always distinguished by the
skeleton face and the bony spine. Several times in the Dresden
manuscript the death-god is pictured with large black spots on
his body and in Dr. 19'' a woman with closed eyes, whose body
also displays the black spots, is sitting opposite the god. While
the Aztecs had a male and a female death-deity, in the Maya
manuscripts we find the death-deity only once represented as
feminine, namely on p. Q*' of the Dresden manuscript. More-
over the Dresden manuscript contains several different types
of the death-god, having invariably the fieshless skull and (with
the exception of Dr. 9^) the visible vertebrae of the spine.
Several times (Dr. 12^ and 13^) he is represented apparently
with distended abdomen. A distinguishing article of his cos-
tume is the stiff feather collar, which is worn only by this god,
his companion, the war-god F, and by his animal s3'-mbol, the
owl, which will both be discussed farther on. His head orna-
ment varies in the Dresden Codex; in the first portion of the

See Plate for representations of the fiods, A-l'


manuscript, relating in part to pregnancy and child-birth (see
the pictures of women on p. 16, et seq.), he wears on his head
several times a figiu-e occurring very frequently just in this part
of the Dresden Codex and apparently representing a snail (com-
pare Dr. 12^ and 13''), which among the Aztecs is likewise a
symbol of parturition. In view of these variations in the pictures
of the Dresden Codex, it is very striking that in the Codex Tro.-
Cortesianus, there is only one invariable type of the death-god,

A distinguishing ornament of the death-god consists of globu-
lar bells or rattles, which he wears on his hands and feet, on
his collar and as a head ornament. As can be distinctly seen
in Dr. ll^i, they are fastened with bands wound around the
forearm and around the leg; in Dr. 15<= these bells are black.

Among the symbols of the death-god a cross of two bones
should be mentioned, which is also found in the Mexican manu-
scripts. This cross of bones seems to occur once among the
written characters as a hieroglyph and then in combination with

a number :Tro. 10.* The figure £^ is a-lso a frequent sym-
bol of the death-god. Its significance is still uncertain, but it
also occurs among the hieroglyphs as a death-sign and as a
sign for the day Cimi (death).

The hieroglyphs of the death-god have been positively de-
termined (see Figs. 1 to 4). Figs. 1 and 2 are the forms of the
Dresden manuscript and Figs. 3 and 4 are those of the Madrid
manuscript. God A is almost always distinguished by two
hieroglyphs, namely Figs. 1 and 2 or 3 and 4. Moreover the
hieroglyphs are always the same, have scarcely any variants.
Even in Dr. 9^, where the deity is represented as feminine, there
are no variations which might denote the change of sex. The
hieroglyphs consist chiefly of the head of a corpse with closed
eyes, and of a skull. The design in front of the skull in Figs.
2 and 4 and under it in Fig. 3 is a sacrificial knife of flint, which
was used in slaying the sacrifices, and is also frequently pictured
in the Aztec manuscripts. The dots under Fig. 1 arc probably
intended to represent blood.

The death-god is represented with extraordinary frequency
in all the Maya manuscripts. Not only does the figure of the


god itself occur, but his attributes are found in many places
where his picture is missing. Death evidently had an important
significance in the mythologic conceptions of the Mayas. It
is connected with sacrifice, especially with human sacrifices per-
formed in connection with the captive enemy. Just as we find
a personification of death in the manuscripts of the Mayas, we
also find it in the picture-writings of the ancient Mexicans, often
surprisingly like the pictm-es of the Maya codices. The Aztec
death-god and his myth are known through the accounts of
Spanish writers ; regarding the death-god of the Mayas we have
less accurate information. Some mention occurs in Landa's
Relacion de las cosas de Yucatan, §xxiii, but unfortunately
nothing is said of the manner of representing the death-god.
He seems to be related to the Aztec Mictlantecutli, of whom
Sahagun, Appendix to Book III, "De los que iban al infierno y
de sus obsequias, " treats as the god of the dead and of the
underworld, Mictlan. When the representations of the latter,
for example in the Codex Borgia, and in the Codex Vaticanus
No. 3773, are compared with those of the Maya manuscripts,
there can be hardly a doubt of the correspondence of the two
god figures. In the Codex Borgia, p. 37, he is represented once
with the same characteristic head ornament; which the death-
god usually wears in the Maya manuscripts, and in the Codex
Fejervary, p. 8, the death-god wears a kind of breeches on which
cross-bones are depicted, exactly as in Dr. 9 (bottom).

Bishop Landa informs us that the Mayas "had great and im-
moderate dread of death." This explains the frequency of the
representations of the death-god, from whom, as Landa states,
"all evil and especially death" emanated. Among the Aztecs
we find a male and a female death-deity, Mictlantecutli and
Mictlancihuatl. They were the rulers of the realm of the dead,
Mictlan, which, according to the Aztec conception, lay in the
north ; hence the death-god was at the same time the god of
the north.

It agrees with the calendric and astronomic character of the
Maya deities in the manuscripts, that a number of the figures of
the gods are used in connection with specified cardinal points.
Since, according to the Aztec conception, the death-god was
the god of the north, we might expect that in the Maya manu-


scripts also, the death-god would be always considered as the
deity of the north. Nevertheless this happens only once, namely
in the picture at the end of Codex Cort., pp. 41 and 42. Else-
where, on the other hand, this god is connected with other
cardinal points, thus Dr. H^ with the west or east (the hiero-
glyph is illegible, but it can be only west or east), and in Dr.
27'' with the west. It is interesting to note that once, however,
in a series of cardinal points, the hieroglyph of the death-god
connected with the numeral 10 stands just in the place of the
sign of the north; this is on Tro. 24* (bottom).

In regard to the name of the death-god in the Maya language,
Landa tells us that the wicked after death were banished to an
underworld, the name of which was "Mitnal", a word which is
defined as "Hell" in the Maya lexicon of Pio Perez and which
has a striking resemblance to Mictlan, the Aztec name for the
lower regions. The death-god Hunhau reigned in this under-
world. According to other accounts (Hernandez), however,
the death-god is called Ahpuch. These names can in no wise
serve as aids to the explanation of the hieroglyphs of the death-
god, since they have no etymologic connection with death or
the heads of corpses and skulls, which form the main parts of
the hieroglyph. Furthermore, the hieroglyphs of the gods
certainly have a purely ideographic significance as already
mentioned above, so that any relation between the names of the
deities and their hieroglyphs cannot exist from the very nature
of the case.

The day of the death-god is the day Cimi, death. The day-
sign Cimi corresponds almost perfectly with the heads of corpses
contained in the hieroglyphs of the death-god.

A hieroglyphic sign, which relates to death and the death-
deity and occurs very frequently, is the sign Fig. 5, which is
probably to be regarded as the ideogram of the owl. It repre-
sents the head of an owl, while the figure in front of it signifies
the owl's ear and the one below, its teeth, as distinguishing
marks of a bird of prey furnished with ears and a powerful beak.
The head of the owl appears on a human body several times in
the Dresden manuscript as a substitute for the death-deity,
thus Dr. ISc, 19°, 20a and 20° anfl in other places, and the hiero-


glyphic group (Fig. 5) is almost a regular attendant hieroglyph
of the death-god.

A series of other figures of the Maya mythology is connected
with the death-god. This is evident from the fact that his
hieroglyphs or his symbols occur with certain other figures,
which are thus brought into connection wdth death and the

These figures are as follows:

1. His companion, god F, the god of war, of human sacrifice
and of violent death in battle, apparently a counterpart of the
Aztec Xipe, who will be discussed farther on.

2. The moan bird. See beyond under Mythological Animals,
No. 1.

3. The dog. See the same. No. 3.

4. A human figure, possibly representing the priest of the
death-god (see Dr. 28, centre, Dr. 5^ and 9^). The last figure
is a httle doubtful. It is bhndfolded and thus recalls the Aztec
deity of frost and sin, Itztlacoliuhqui. A similar form with
eyes bound occurs only once again in the Maya manuscripts,
namely Dr. 50 (centre). That this figure is related to the death-
god is proved by the fact that on Dr. 9^ it wears the Cimi-sign
on the middle piece of the chain around its neck. Fm-thermore
it should be emphasized that the Aztec sin-god, Itztlacoliuhqui,
likewise appears with symbols of death.

5. An isolated figure. Dr. 50^ (the sitting figure at the right).
This wears the skull as head ornament, which is represented in
exactly the same way as in the Aztec manuscripts (see Fig. 6).

6. Another isolated figure is twice represented combined with
the death-god in Dr. 22". This picture is so effaced that it is
impossible to tell what it means. The hieroglyph represents a
variant of the death's-head, Cimi. It seems to signify an ape,
which also in the pictures of the Mexican codices was sometimes
used in relation to the death-god.

The symbols of the death-god are also found with the figure
without a head on Dr. 2 (45) a, clearly the picture of a beheaded
prisoner. Death symbols occur, too, with the curious picture
of a hanged woman on Dr. 53 ^ a picture which is interesting
from the fact that it recalls vi\ddly a communication of Bishop


Landa. Landa tells us, the ]\Iayas believed that whoever
hanged himself did not go to the underworld, but to "paradise,"
and as a result of this belief, suicide by hanging was very com-
mon and was chosen on the slightest pretext. Sucli suicides
were received in paradise by the goddess of the hanged, Ixtab.
Ix is the feminine prefix; tab, taab, tabil mean, according to
Perez' Lexicon of the Maya Language, "cuerda destinada para
algun uso exclusivo". The name of this strange goddess is,
therefore, the "Goddess of the Halter" or, as Landa says, "The
Goddess of the Gallows". Now compare Dr. 53. On the up-
per half of the page is the death-god represented with hand
raised threateningly, on the lower half is seen the form of a
woman suspended by a rope placed around her neck. The
closed eye, the open mouth and the convulsivel}^ outspread fin-
gers, show that she is dead, in fact, strangled. It is, in all prob-
ability, the goddess of the gallows and halter, Ixtab, the patro-
ness of the hanged, who is pictured here in company with the
death-god; or else it is a victim of this goddess, and page 53
of the manuscript very probably refers, therefore (even though
the two halves do not belong directh^ together), to the mytho-
logic conceptions of death and the lower regions to which Landa

7. Lastly the owl is to be mentioned as belonging to the
death-god, which, strange to sa}^, is represented nowhere in the
pictures realistically and so that it can be recognized, although
other mythologic animals, as the dog or the moan bird, occur
plainly as animals in the pictures. On the other hand, the owPs
head appears on a human body in the Dresden manuscript as a
substitute for the death-deity itself, for example on Dr. 18^,
19°, 20a and 20*= and elsewhere, and forms a regular attendant
hieroglyph of the death-god in the group of three signs already
mentioned (Fig. 5).

Among the antiquities from the Maya region of Central Amer-
ica, there are many objects and representations, which have
reference to the cultus of the death-god, and show resemblances
to the pictures of the manuscripts. The death-god also plays

Online LibraryPeabody Museum of American Archaeology and EthnoloPapers of the Peabody Museum of American Archaeology and Ethnology, Harvard University → online text (page 1 of 31)