A New Logogram for <HUL> “to Arrive” – Implications for the Decipherment of the Month Name Cumku

Research Note 13

DOI: https://dx.doi.org/10.20376/IDIOM-23665556.20.rn013.en

Christian M. Prager1

1 Rheinische Friedrich-Wilhelms-Universität, Bonn

As part of our work on a new catalogue of Maya signs and their graphs, we are currently evaluating and revising Eric Thompson’s Catalog of Maya Hieroglyphs (1962). We are critically scrutinizing his system with the help of his original grey cards and supplementing it with signs that were not included in Thompson’s original catalogue. Despite its known shortcomings and incompleteness, his catalogue is still regarded as the standard work for Maya epigraphers, which is why we adopt Thompson’s nomenclature while removing misclassifications and duplicates, merging graph variants under a common nomenclature, and adding new signs or allographs to the sign index in sequence, starting with the number 1500.

Further, allographs are also systematized with the help of newly defined classification and systematization criteria, which we described in detail in Prager and Gronemeyer (2018). Basically, many graphs of Maya writing can be divided into two or more segments along their horizontal and vertical axes. These segmentation principles are designated by a two-letter code that is suffixed to the sign number. Thus, 1537bl, for instance, refers to a variant of the character 1537 (hand-with-moon sign) that has been vertically separated into two parts with only the left segment shown in that context, i.e., the hand without the moon sign (Figure 1). The revision of existing catalogues and their expansion, including a systematic index of all known allographs of each sign, will form the basis for our machine-readable text corpus of Classic Maya (Diehr et al. 2018).

7-21 10-1 10-7 14-19 19-12 34-7
1585va 271st 155st 1585vc 1537bh 1589st

Figure 1. Logographs for and “to arrive at one place“ with Tokovinine’s, Thompson’s (1962) and the project’s extended nomenclature of graphs. Drawings by Alexandre Tokovinine (2017).

The focus of this report is on an element in Maya writing that has not yet been listed in any of the published sign inventories (Figure 2). Due to its position in the Lunar Series in the inscription on Copan Temple 11, north entrance, eastern jamb, this element must represent the logogram HUL as so-called Glyph D and can be translated as “to arrive (at a place)” (MacLeod 1990; Stuart 2005:63). In Classic Mayan, hul is a common intransitive verb, for which numerous hieroglyphic variants were used due to its frequent occurrence in the corpus. Besides the phonetic spelling hu-li, a number of logographic spellings have been identified and deciphered for Glyph D in the past thirty years. In the most recent version of his visual catalogue of Maya glyphs, Tokovinine (2017) for example lists six entries with the value HUL, although he considers the decipherment HUL for the sign 34-7 questionable (Figure 1).

Figure 2. A new sign for “to arrive”: full and partial rendering in Glyph D and Cumku or hul ohl. Drawings by Christian Prager.

With at least 60 occurrences in historical narratives and about 360 references in calendar-astronomical sections of hieroglyphic texts, the verbal root hul is one of the most frequently attested entries in the Classic Mayan lexicon. In the so-called Supplementary Series, which was described for the first time by Sylvanus G. Morley (1916) and whose components were designated with the letters A to G as well as X and Y in the absence of linguistic readings, hul occurs in the context of Glyphs E and D. This complex, first associated with moon age by the astronomer and Mayanist John Teeple (1925, 1931), consists of the coefficients 1 to 29 combined with the term hul. The coefficients count the number of days elapsed after the last new moon: “# days (since last new moon) arrived” would be the free translation of this slot in the Supplementary Series. Morley’s early structural analysis already documented different spellings of Glyph D. Among them is the phonetic substitution hu-li in the texts of Palenques (Figure 3, examples no. 27-31), which was not deciphered until the 1990s in efforts which also led to the phonetic decipherment of the Glyph E-D complex (MacLeod 1990).

Figure 3. Excerpt from Morley’s structural analysis of the Supplementary Series, with logographic and syllabic spellings of Glyph D. After Morley (1916:pl. IV).

More spellings of hul in the context of Glyph D can be found in a later overview of the Supplementary Series as it was understood at the time (Schele et al. 1992). This compilation shows, for example, that the sign 155 is never used in the context of the Lunar Series. Its functional substitution with the sign 1585 or HUL in the month name Cumku, however, could be an indication that the character 155 also reads HUL (see Tokovinine 2017). However, Peter Bíró’s, Barbara MacLeod’s and Michael Grofe’s (2014:155) as well as Alejandro Garay’s (2018) most recent discussion of the sign 155 with their reading proposal BIX for sign 155 show, however, that these glyphs’ linguistic decipherments have not yet been conclusively clarified and that further evidence must be collected in order to finally assign linguistic values to them.

1585va 1585vt 1585vc 1537bh 1537bl 1589st 1559st:24st

Figure 4. Logographic spellings and a phonetic substitution for hul „arrive at a place“ in the context of Glyph D, with the TWKM project’s nomenclature and suggested transliteration values. Drawings by Christian Prager.

Summarizing our currently state of knowledge about Glyph D, we can now identify seven spellings of the verb hul in the Supplementary Series (Figure 4). These include the syllabic spelling 1559st:24st or hu-li, as well as three logographic realizations with different renderings of the signs 1585, 1537 and 1589. For the sign 1585, scribes used the three graph variants va, vt and vc; for T1537, the two variants bh and bl; and for the character 1589, the variant st (see Prager and Gronemeyer 2018 for discussion of the segmentation principles).

Figure 5. Drawing and photograph of the inscription of Copan Temple 11, North Entrance, Eastern Jamb. Drawing and photograph by Berthold Riese.

As a result of our work, we successfully identified a previously undocumented sign in the context of the Lunar Series inscribed on the eastern jamb of the northern doorway to Temple 11 in Copan (Figure 5). The sign in question is found in the slot for Glyph D and thus can be assumed to denote the linguistic value HUL. The corresponding calendar date is 6 Caban 10 Mol (June 30, 763). It represents the accession date of Yax Pasaj Chan Yopaat (Proskouriakoff 1960:468; Schele 1982:93) and is followed by a Supplementary Series with Glyph G9 and Glyphs D, C, X, B, and A of the Lunar Series. In the slot for Glyph D, the as-yet undocumented sign for the verb hul is prefixed with the coefficient 11. Schele, Stuart and Grube described this unusual variant of Glyph D, but did not draw any further conclusions about its possible phonetic reading (Schele et al. 1991:2). In our sign and graph inventory, the newly identified sign is listed under the number 1512.

Figure 6. Drawings and photographs of sign 1512. Drawings by Christian Prager, Berthold Riese, Linda Schele; photograph by Berthold Riese.

The icon of this sign and graph, which until now has been noted only once in previous research, shows a half moon sign tilted by 90° over the sky sign (561). It represents the new moon crescent above the horizon and visualizes this physical phenomenon as the basis for calculating the age of the new moon, as implied by use of the linguistic term hul “to arrive at a place” following the numerical coefficient. Due to its undoubted function here as Glyph D, it can be assumed that this sign, like the other logographs identified for Glyph D, also denotes the value HUL. However, this assumption can also be tested with the help of other references.

That identification of the sign 1512 represents a moon crescent above the horizon and can be linguistically deciphered as HUL are further confirmed by three occurrences of the sign which have not previously been recognized. In his dictionary, Erik Boot (2009:84) published three instances of the month sign Cumku, which according to him should be read as ja-wa. In all these references, what appears to be a form of the sign 181 for the syllable value ja that has been rotated 90° counter-clockwise appears above the sign 506 OL. Boot assumed that the sign 506 probably also represented the phonetic value wa in late texts, which is why he transliterated this unusual variant of the month Cumku as jaw.

Figure 7. Three occurrences of the month name Cumku with the spelling 1512bt:506st for hul ohl on a) CRN Elm. 9; b) CPN 285 (Incensarios); c) Kerr 791. Drawings by Christian Prager.

However, with the identification of the sign 1512 for HUL, we can revise Boot’s reading of the month Cumku. The sign above 506 OL that is turned 90° to the left is not a rendering of the sign 181 for the syllable ja, but an instance of the crescent moon that constitutes part of the graph of the sign 1512. According to our system of allographic classification, the sign 1512 can be segmented into two parts along its horizontal axis, whereby in the case of these hieroglyphs for Cumku, only the upper, crescent moon element is visible and the sign 506 or OL is superimposed over the bottom half of 1512 (Figure 8).

Figure 8. Composition principle of the hieroglyph Cumku: The sign 506 is superimposed over the lower segment of the hieroglyph 1512 , so that only the crescent moon of the sign’s icon is visible. In our system, this variant of 1512 is designated as 1512bt. Drawings by Christian Prager.

In addition, this unusual spelling of the month name Cumku with the newly identified logogram 1512 for HUL now confirms the previous decipherment of the month name Cumku as HUL OL (Stuart 2006:68). The functional substitution of the sign 1512 in the context of Glyph D with other graphic renderings for HUL is, on the one hand, evidence for the reading of 1512 as HUL. On the other hand, ethnohistorical sources attest to the terms hulol and ulol as this month name in colonial and late colonial Tzeltal and Tzotzil (Thompson 1950:106). Last but not least, the occurrence of the spelling 1585vt:506st HUL:OL for the month name Cumku, as attested at Tonina (Fragment 43), is evidence for a substitution between 155 HUL and 1512 HUL (Figure 9). This occurrence confirms hul ohl as the original phonetic reading of the month Cumku.

Figure 3. Tonina, Fragment 43 exhibiting the spelling 1585vt:506st for the month name Cumku. Photograph by Karl Herbert Mayer.1)Download: https://classicmayan.kor.de.dariah.eu/resolve/image_no/KHM_1980_F94_R03_13


I would like to thank Daniel Graña-Behrens, Sven Gronemeyer, Nikolai Grube, Mallory Matsumoto, David Stuart, and Elisabeth Wagner for constructive criticism of the text. Mallory Matsumoto also kindly corrected the English of the original draft.


Bíró, Péter, Barbara MacLeod, and Michael Grofe
2014 The Classic Period Readings of T155. Mexicon 36(6):166–177.
Boot, Erik
2009 The Updated Preliminary Classic Maya-English / English-Classic Maya Vocabulary of Hieroglyphic Readings. Electronic Document. Mesoweb. https://www.mesoweb.com/resources/vocabulary/Vocabulary-2009.01.pdf.
Diehr, Franziska, Maximilian Brodhun, Sven Gronemeyer, Katja Diederichs, Christian M. Prager, Elisabeth Wagner, and Nikolai Grube
2018 Ein digitaler Zeichenkatalog als Organisationssystem für die noch nicht entzifferte Schrift der Klassischen Maya. In Knowledge Organization for Digital Humanities: Proceedings of the 15th Conference on Knowledge Organization WissOrg’17 of the German Chapter of the International Society for Knowledge Organization (ISKO) [30th November – 1st December 2017, Freie Universität Berlin], edited by Christian Wartena, Michael Franke-Maier, and Ernesto de Luca, pp. 37–43. Freie Universität Berlin, Berlin.
Garay, Alejandro
2018 Implicaciones epigráficas de la supervivencia del calendario haab’ maya clásico en regiones fronterizas periféricas: el caso del mes Kumk’u y el año nuevo solar maya en las Tierras Altas de Guatemala. In XXXI Simposio de Investigaciones Arqueológiacas en Guatemala, edited by Bárbara Arroyo, Luis Méndez Salinas, and Gloria Ajú, pp. 839–850. Ministerio de Cultura y Deportes, Instituto de Antropología e Historia, Asociación Tikal, Guatemala.
MacLeod, Barbara
1990 Deciphering the Primary Standard Sequence. Ph.D. Dissertation, Department of Anthropology, U niversity of Texas, Austin, TX.
Morley, Sylvanus G.
1916 The Supplementary Series in the Maya Inscriptions. In Holmes Anniversary Volume; Anthropological Essays Presented to William Henry Holmes in Honor of his Seventieth Birthday, December 1, 1916, edited by F. W. Hodge, pp. 366–396. J. W. Bryan Press, Washington, D.C.
Prager, Christian M., and Sven Gronemeyer
2018 Neue Ergebnisse in der Erforschung der Graphemik und Graphetik des Klassischen Maya. In Ägyptologische “Binsen”-Weisheiten III: Formen und Funktionen von Zeichenliste und Paläographie, edited by Svenja A. Gülden, Kyra V. J. van der Moezel, and Ursula Verhoeven-van Elsbergen, pp. 135–181. Akademie der Wissenschaften und der Literatur, Abhandlungen der Geistes- und sozialwissenschaftlichen Klasse 15. Franz Steiner Verlag, Stuttgart.
Proskouriakoff, Tatiana
1960 Historical Implications of a Pattern of Dates at Piedras Negras, Guatemala. American Antiquity 25(4):454–475. DOI:10.2307/276633.
Schele, Linda
1982 Maya Glyphs: The Verbs. University of Texas Press, Austin, TX.
Schele, Linda, Nikolai Grube, and Federico Fahsen
1992 The Lunar Series in Classic Maya Inscriptions: New Observation and Interpretations. Texas Notes on Precolumbian Art, Writing, and Culture 29. Center of the History and Art of Ancient American Culture, Art Department, University of Texas at Austin, Austin, TX.
Schele, Linda, David Stuart, and Nikolai Grube
1991 A Commentary on the Inscriptions of Structure 10L-22A at Copán. Copán Note 98. Copán Acropolis Project & Instituto Hondureño de Antropología e Historia, Austin, TX.
Stuart, David
2005 The Inscriptions from Temple XIX at Palenque: A Commentary. Pre-Columbian Art Research Institute, San Francisco, CA.
2006 Sourcebook for the 30th Maya Hieroglyphic Forum at Texas. Department of Art and Art History, the College of Fine Arts, and the Institute of Latin American Studies, Austin, TX.
Teeple, John E.
1925 Maya Inscriptions: Glyphs C, D, and E of the Supplementary Series. American Anthropologist 27(1):108–115.
1931 Maya Astronomy. Contributions to American Archaeology 1(2):29-115. Carnegie Institution of Washington Publication 403.
Thompson, J. Eric S.
1950 Maya Hieroglyphic Writing. An Introduction. Carnegie Institution of Washington Publication 589. Carnegie Institution of Washington, Washington, D.C.
1962 A Catalog of Maya Hieroglyphs. The Civilization of the American Indian Series 62. University of Oklahoma Press, Norman, OK.
Tokovinine, Alexandre
2017 Beginner’s Visual Catalog of Maya Hieroglyphics. Mesoweb, San Francisco, CA.