JOM: A Possible Reading for the “Star War” Glyph?

Research Note 25

DOI: https://doi.org/10.20376/IDIOM-23665556.21.rn025.en

Dimitrios Markianos-Daniolos1

1 Rheinische Friedrich-Wilhelms-Universität, Bonn

 

This research note is based on a chapter from my master’s thesis which discusses the possible readings of the Star War glyph. In that thesis, I attempt to provide the most up-to-date and complete examination of this sign. The insights gained from this investigation now allow us to draw new conclusions and re-evaluate our understanding of this enigmatic term. This article will discuss one of the new ideas that arose from this study, specifically a hypothesis that may yield a new reading proposal.

With at least 54 confirmed individual appearances in the Maya script, the Star War glyph has been used to record at least 41 events, while two additional occurrences form parts of non-verbal phrases. In terms of structure, the sign has been observed to have several graphs (Figure 1), all of which record the same action.

 

Figure 1. Graph variants of the Star War glyph. Drawings by Christian Prager (TWKM 2014 – date).

 

 

From the substitutions and spelling variations observed, it can be concluded that no consistent patterns are observed in terms of graph use. The graph known as “star-over-earth” most likely forms the complete variant of the Star War glyph, as it can substitute for every other Star War graph. The syllables –yi and –ya are often attached to the Star War glyph, the former producing the -V1y mediopassive suffix, while the latter likely acts as a temporal deictic marker. One case of nominalisation has been observed, as seen on Piedras Negras Throne 1 where the syllable –la acts as a nominaliser, indicating qualitative abstraction. The Star War glyph has also been observed to take on numerical coefficients, as well as the preposition ti, which may be indicative of some directionality.

There are several contexts in which this term appears. Most commonly, the Star War glyph is used to record the result of historical battles, where it is used to express the downfall of military forces, cities, or dynasties. The implications of these events seem to vary, but in some cases led to severe consequences and the formation of dependencies between polities. These historical Star War events have not been observed to be timed to the movements of celestial bodies such as the planet Venus, meteor showers, or comets. A preference is visible regarding certain moon phases, as well as cycles relating to agriculture and the seasons, however such patterns are also common among other verbs used in the context of warfare.

Aside from that, the Star War glyph can appear in contexts that have nothing to do with warfare. In mythological contexts, the Star War glyph has been used to record events such as the sinking of the Maize God’s canoe, as seen on several carved bones from Tikal and the Star War Vase, which correspond to the violent weather conditions that are visible in the accompanying iconography. The glyph also appears in contexts relating to k’atun prophecies, as seen in the Paris Codex. Finally, the Star War glyph was probably also used in topographic references. On Piedras Negras Throne 1, a ceremony is recorded, taking place in the central sector of the city. In the phrase tu “star war”-l tahn ch’een ? tuun (Figure 2) the Star War glyph may form part of a precise locative expression. A rough translation may be “at the ‘star war quality’ of the centre of the settlement, at the Paw Stone”. Stuart (2004a) has demonstrated that the “Paw Stone” glyph likely refers to Piedras Negras Altar 4 which was found in the East Group Plaza of the site. Therefore, the text on the throne probably records an event that took place in the East Group Plaza of Piedras Negras, near Altar 4.

 

Figure 2. Passage E’6-F’2 from Piedras Negras, Throne 1. Drawing by Marc Zender (2020:68).

 

It is possible that in this case, the Star War glyph refers to a quality attributed to the central sector of Piedras Negras. Looking at a map of the site, one sees that the East Group Plaza is one of the largest flat areas in this part of the site, sitting at the feet of a steep hill. Moving toward the river, between the East Group Plaza and Sector O/N one encounters a drop in elevation, or a split in the terrain. It may be that the Star War glyph is used to describe features of the land such as the sharp decline in elevation or a split in the landscape. The important distinction here being that it is the tahn “centre” of the ch’een that “goes down”, and not the ch’een itself. We may be looking at a precise locative expression referring to a place or a topographic feature in the vicinity of the East Group Plaza. Additionally, on the Palenque Initial Series Vase, a Star War glyph is followed by a phonetically spelt kab “earth” reference (Figure 3). The phrase bolon “star-over-earth” kab may also refer to features of the earth or the landscape, acting as a potential toponym.

 

Figure 3. Passage from the Palenque Initial Series Vase. Redrawn by the author from Schele and Mathews (1993:155).

 

In terms of iconography, the Star War sign and its graphs have been related to mythical beings and events such as the Starry Deer Crocodile and its decapitation which led to a cosmic deluge (Wagner 2009; Rivera 2018:323). Scenes such as the Star War Vase provide additional information, where the raining star is associated with heavy meteorological forces (Zender 2020). These contexts associate the Star War graphs with the night sky, the underworld sky, dark environments, storms, and deluges. Such interpretations can be supported by parallels found in Maya iconography, and provide a good approximation to what the Star War graphs might actually represent.

Having outlined some of the key conclusions drawn from that investigation, I will move on to the reading of the glyph. In the past, numerous reading proposals for the Star War glyph have been put forward. The majority of them, revolve around the general sense of “sinking” or “going down” (Table 1).

 

Researcher1)Many of these reading proposals are unofficial or unpublished. For this reason, the years displayed here may not correspond to publications.

Reading Proposal

Translation

Closs (1979)

kab ek’, ek’ box

earth star”, “black star”

Kremer & Voss (1993)

bul

to sink, submerge”

Lacadena (1995)2)Cited in Wagner (2009).

ts’ay/ts’oy

to come down”

Boot (1995)

hay/haykah

to destroy/destroy towns”

Stuart (1995)

jub

to topple, go down”

Velásquez García (2002)3)Cited in Grazioso (2002: 241-242).

chek/tek

to step on, to kick, to humiliate”

Zender (2005)4)Cited in Kettunen and Helmke (2005: 72).

ch’ay

to be defeated, go down”

Aldana (2005)

ek’emey

to descend, go down”

Kremer (2006)

t’ub

to sink”

Chinchilla Mazariegos (2006)

uk’

to cry, to weep, to lament”

Prager (2009)5)Personal Communication (2020).

nay

to lean over, fall down, smash

Prager (2018)6)Personal Communication (2020).

lub

to fall, sink, fall flat on the earth”

Table 1. Table including many previous Star War reading proposals, and the year on which they were they were proposed. However, many of them are unofficial or unpublished suggestions which probably emerged earlier than indicated here. It should also be noted that some of these readings are no longer supported by the researchers who originally proposed them.

 

The problem is, that due to the sheer variety of sinking-related terms found in Mayan languages, it is difficult to find a reliable root in dictionaries that truly fits the description. This is coupled with the absence of any Star War phonetic complements that are legible, making the search for a reading even more challenging. The fact that on Piedras Negras Throne 1 a tu-preposition precedes it, indicates that the Star War root is likely consonant initial. Many of the previous reading proposals favour a CVC root. However, in other publications, some researchers have favoured a CVY root and point to the –yi suffix that is often attached to the Star War glyph as evidence for such a structure (Boot 1995; Kinsman n.d.). More recently, the Star War occurrence on Piedras Negras Throne 1 has been proposed to be a unique example where phonetic complementation is the only possible explanation (Zender 2020:68). Since this occurrence is nominalised, the –yi syllable would serve no other purpose other than act as a phonetic complement. However, another explanation may also apply. The –yi syllable consistently acts as a spelling for the mediopassive suffix, something also seen in other verbs recording motion. Following that, an alternative explanation may be that we are looking at an example of “fossilised spelling” where the –yi has become an incorporated visual component of the glyph. Since the –yi syllable is extremely common in Star War spellings (with at least 23 occurrences, all of which work as mediopassive suffixes), it may have ended up as a visual component of the Star War glyph. Piedras Negras Throne 1 was commissioned in 785CE, which would make this Star War occurrence one of the latest examples in the Classic Period. On top of that, such a phenomenon has been observed before in Maya scribal practices, for instance on page 61 of the Dresden Codex, one finds an u-LOK’-yi spelling that is meant to be read as u-LOK’. An example from the Classic Period can be found on vase K1775 in the Kerr Catalogue, where a T’AB-yi spelling is observed, but with an additional –yi infixed in the /T’AB/ logogram. Such practices have been interpreted as conventional conflations (Gronemeyer 2014:402), and show that such examples, although rare, did exist in Maya scribal traditions. Admittedly, this is more of a paleographic argument than a linguistic one, but it might offer an alternative explanation to the unique spelling we see on Throne 1 of Piedras Negras.

In terms of semantics, due to the absence of any clear phonetic complements, one must take into account every single context the Star War glyph appears in, to find a term that semantically corresponds to it. Several of the previous Star War reading proposals do not satisfy all of its known semantic fields, while others provide promising cases but do not exceed each other in terms of likelihood. As seen in Table 1, some reading proposals that primarily have to do with “sinking”, “submerging”, or “falling” constitute good contenders in the search for a Star War reading. However, in the process of examining the Star War glyph, I came across an alternative possibility, one which I would like to share in this article.

The text found on Copan Stela 11 records important events regarding the dynasty that ruled the city for centuries (Figure 4). The exact dating of the monument is difficult to determine, although the date 8 Ajaw may correspond to K’atun endings such as 9.13.0.0.0 or 9.0.0.0.0. Following the date, we see the verb jomooy spelt as jo-mo-yi. The verb’s subject probably reads wiinte’naah (Estrada-Belli and Tokovinine 2016:160-161), a term associated with Copan’s early dynastic beginnings, and Teotihuacan (Stuart 2000:492-493; 2004c:435-438; Tokovinine 2013:63; Bíró 2020). This term also appears at other Maya sites, however in many cases it has been determined to act as a reference to Teotihuacan itself (Fash et al. 2009:214). In addition to that, both iconographic elements and hieroglyphic texts at Copan link the wiinte’naah with Copan Temple 16 (Structure 10L-16). Temple 16 may have been used as an ancestral shrine, heavily associated with the foundation of the Copan dynasty, and possibly “designated” as a wiinte’naah. The exact translation of the term has not been determined yet, but rough translations in the past have included “the Origin House” or “the Foundation House”. However, according to recent research, a more likely translation would be “House of Darts” (Bíró 2020). It has also been suggested that in this case, wiinte’naah refers to Teotihuacan itself (Guenter 2020:240). According to this interpretation the date 8 Ajaw does not correspond to a specific date but rather characterises a period. The next glyph blocks on Copan Stela 11, include jul “spear” or “piercing” and mention Waxaklajuun Ubaah Chan, also known as the Teotihuacan War Serpent.

 

Figure 4. Copan, Stela 11. Drawing by Linda Schele © David Schele. Photograph courtesy Ancient Americas at LACMA (ancientamericas.org).

 

The couplings taj “obsidian” and took’ “flint” appear to characterise the “face” or “eyes” of the War Serpent. The glyph that follows probably reads u-lok’oom, which based on similar dictionary entries, might be understood as a reference to the image of someone, although its exact meaning remains uncertain. This is followed by the name of K’inich Yax K’uk’ Mo’, the founder of the Copan dynasty, whose name is followed by Yax Pasaj Chan Yopaat, who most likely ruled Copan at the time the monument was erected. It is possible that the two names may act as a temporal parenthesis which included all Copan rulers in between, but that too remains uncertain. Another interpretation may see u-lok’oom as a reference to the “taking away” or “removing” of K’inich Yax K’uk’ Mo’ by Yax Pasaj Chan Yopaat (Guenter 2020:241). According to Guenter (Guenter 2020:243), Copan Stela 11 does not record a past event, but a prophecy. This prophecy might retrospectively refer to a previous 8 Ajaw k’atun, which fell in the mid-6th century and could reference the downfall of Teotihuacan itself. This might even have older origins, going back to the Preclassic collapse. The implication here being, that Stela 11 was produced during the reign of Yax Pasaj Chan Yopaat and records a prophecy foretelling the demise of the Copan dynasty, linking it to that of Teotihuacan 13 k’atuns earlier. Alternatively, it may simply record the collapse of divine authority at Copan, signalling the demise of a dynasty (Stuart 1993:345-346). In either case, the verb jomooy appears to be an apt descriptor for a grand downfall event.

The verb root jom is very rare in Maya hieroglyphic inscriptions, but it holds meanings that are surprisingly similar to the ways Star War glyph has been used. To explore this idea, I will provide a summary of dictionary entries corresponding to four semantic fields, the full list of which can be found in the Appendix. After that, a short discussion will follow, assessing the likelihood of /JOM/ being the reading of the Star War glyph.

The first and most common meaning of jom in Mayan languages, is the general act of sinking or plunging into a hollow area. The dictionary entries gathered, show that such meanings are found in all linguistic branches of Mayan languages. For instance, the colonial Yukatek home or homah means “to push into an abyss” (Bolles 2001:1746), while other terms in Yukatek include jomik “hundir, desfondar” (Yoshida 2009:28), hom or hóom “remove bottom” (Bricker 1998:110), which give an idea as to the general meaning. Other Yukatekan languages include similar terms, for instance in Itza one finds jomik “make a hole, perforate”, jomk’otak “ready to collapse” (Hofling and Tesucún 1997:318-319), in Mopan there is jom “sink” (Hofling 2011:221), and in Lacandon jüooman “break up”, jóomsik “make a hole in”, and jo’m-jo’m “collapsed” (Hofling 2014:159). In Cholan languages, Chontal provides some examples, such as hom “to sink, fall in” (Knowles 1984:423) and jome “to sink” (Keller and Luciano 1997:139). Additional examples are seen in Q’anjob’alan languages, for example Akatek has homloi or homlui “hundirse” (Andrés et al. 1996:56), and Chuj has jom “escarpar” (ALMG 2003a:42). Mamean and K’iche’an languages also have similar terms, such as the Tektitek jomil “agujerear, hacer uno o más agujero en la tierra” (Simón Morales and Gutierez 2007:120), or the K’iche’ jomojik “deep, sunk” (Ajpacajá Tum et al. 1996:99). These examples show that common meanings of jom include sinking, falling in, digging, making holes, and submerging.

The second meaning of jom has to do with destruction, violence, and disruption. There are terms referring to the destruction of buildings for instance in colonial Yukatek we see homchahal cah “perderse, destruirse, o hundirse el pueblo” (Ciudad Real 2001:259) or homah “derribar edificios” (Barrera Vásquez 1980:229)7)The Barrera Vásquez dictionary (Barrera Vásquez 1980) does not distinguish between the sounds of hache recia and hache suave. For this reason, terms were chosen that also occurred in or semantically corresponded to terms in the Calepino de Motul dictionary (Ciudad Real 2001) which does make the distinction.. In Chontal one finds a more explicit example, with homole meaning “war” (Knowles 1984:423). Tojolab’al also presents us with relevant terms relating to destruction, violence, and confounding, e.g. jomi “descomponerse, destruirse, degenerar, atarantarse, confundirse, arruinarse” (Lenkersdorf 2010:273). Similar terms relating to disruption and breakage are seen in examples such as the colonial Tzeltal homen “desbaratado” (Ara 1986:47), the Tzotzil jomol “roto, perforado” (Delgaty and Ruíz Sánchez 1978:66), and the Poqomaam homel “desolación, calamidad, destrucción, estrago, clades, exterminación, vastitar” (Feldman 2000:116).

So far, these semantic areas are also covered by most previous Star War reading proposals, and are the meanings most commonly associated with the Star War glyph. However, two more meanings exist which make jom stand out. The first one, is a general sense is of “caving in” but is mostly applied to landscapes, and is found in most Mayan languages. In Yukatek for example, hom refers to features such as ditches, pits, sinkholes, ridges, abysses, and the “sinking” of the land. Some examples of this may be the Yukatek hom “zanja, abismo” (Kaufman 2003:992; Michelon 1976:147), or jom “zanja, hoyo o barranca oscura” (Gómez Navarrete 2009:135; Ciudad Real 2001:258). In other Yukatekan languages one finds similar terms, such as the Mopan jomoc a lu’umu “hay un lugar hundido en la tierra” (Ulrich and Ulrich 1976:103; ALMG 2003b:42) while in Lacandon we see jo’m ru’um “collapsed land”, amongst others (Hofling 2014:159). In other linguistic branches there are similar terms referring to features of the landscape, such as the Akatek homoni “estar bien hundido (tierra)”, or homkiltaj “tierra hundida” (Andrés et al. 1996:56), or the Tzotzil homal and sjomal “gorge, narrow valley” referring to the split of objects or the landscape (Laughlin 1975:157; Laughlin and Haviland 1988:213; Delgaty and Ruíz Sánchez 1978:66). Interestingly, in K’iche’ and Kaqchikel, hom or jom are used to refer to ballcourts, another “sunken area” (Edmonson 1965:41; Rodríguez Guaján 1990:59).

One last semantic field of jom that needs mentioning, has to do with meteorological phenomena which would be especially important in the context of the Star War glyph. Important terms come from colonial Tzeltal e.g. homel “diluvio”, hom “hacerse diluvio”, homel haal “agua grande” (Ara 1986:47). Although fewer in number, other terms can be found in Mayan languages, which relate to natural phenomena such as the Yukatek hom kaknab “alterarse y embravecerse la mar” (Heath de Zapata 1978:258), hom “crecida mar o río” (Ciudad Real 2001:254) while the Barrera Vásquez dictionary also relates it to high tides and raging seas (Barrera Vásquez 1980:229). Other languages relate jom to strong winds, hurricanes, the humidity of the earth, and rushing water, as seen in the Appendix.

In the Chilam Balam book of Chumayel, one finds an interesting example concerning the end of the world, which took place when a group of underworld deities named Bolontiku captured Oxlahuntiku. This was followed by a “sudden rush of water” and then ti homocnac canal, homocnac ix ti cab… “the sky would fall, it would fall down upon the earth…” (Roys 1967:99-100). There are several reasons why this passage is interesting. As seen in previous passages, the author appears to use the verb root hom, in this case describing the events that would transpire during the end of the world. The “sudden rush of water” and “falling of the sky upon the earth” strongly resemble the imagery we see in the star-over-earth graph of the Star War glyph. When discussing this passage, Zender noted the similarity between the name Bolontiku and the Classic Maya group of deities named Bolon Yokte’ K’uh (Zender 2020:70). In fact, Bolon Yokte’ K’uh are credited with the Star War event against the Maize God and the stormy conditions seen on the Star War Vase, through the oblique phrase ukabjiiy “under the authority of”. Furthermore, after the destructive event described in the Chilam Balam passage, trees are set up in the corners of the world, eventually followed by the creation of the world (Roys 1967:99-100). At this point, scenes such as the Vase of the Seven Gods or the Vase of the Eleven Gods come to mind, where world-creation is the dominant theme. Bolon Yokte’ K’uh, among other deities have gathered in front of God L, with bundles of Star War glyphs appearing in front of them. It may be that such events involved the creation of trees, earth, and celestial bodies (Prager 2013:493). Therefore, several references from the Chilam Balam of Chumayel make use of the root jom to recount important events involving destruction and creation that may be relevant to the Star War glyph. This destructive and creative aspect might also be seen in the myths already connected to the Star War glyph, such as the decapitation of the Starry Deer Crocodile that caused a giant flood. However, although such parallels may appear compelling, these links are highly speculative. Further evidence is needed to securely interpret and establish links between such passages and Star War imagery, something also noted by Zender (2020:70).

Other interesting occurrences of jom can be found in Ritual de los Bacabes where one encounters tan homlah kab “en las profundidades de la tierra” (Arzápalo 1987:217), and hom kab “en las cavernas de la tierra” (Arzápalo 1987:309). Such examples, further demonstrate the semantic areas in which jom can be used.

In terms of grammar, jom appears to be a root transitive verb in most languages, however exceptions can also be found. In his analysis, Wald (2007:294) cites intransitive examples from Chontal, and Tojolab’al which have both transitive and intransitive forms. However, according to Wald, the latter may be based on earlier mediopassive forms, since many Spanish translations end in –se. It should also be noted that in the examples available, jom is a verb that works with the ti and ta prepositions e.g. in Chontal (Keller and Luciano 1997:139), which is also observed in some Star War examples.

It should also be said that in the past, the example on Copan Stela 11 has been translated as “it finishes” (Schele and Freidel 1990:343) and was interpreted as referring to the “termination” of the dynasty. However, Stuart (1993:345-346) also noted the destructive meanings in Yukatek, related the event to the mutilation of structures, and connected the inscription to the Classic Period collapse. Another example of the verb jom being used in Maya hieroglyphic texts comes from a ceramic sherd from Buenavista del Cayo (Reents-Budet et al. 2000:104, Fig. 6a; Reents-Budet 1994:81). The full text on the sherd is not well understood, but the last three glyph blocks spell out jomo’w iik ? and record an action by an unknown subject (Figure 5). This subject cannot be identified but the glyph has been associated with Itzamnaaj before (Helmke 2012:114), who is depicted next to the text.

 

Figure 5. Example of a jom spelling from a ceramic fragment from Buenavista del Cayo. Drawing by Barbara McLeod (Reents-Budet 1994: 81).

 

This constitutes another occurrence of the jom verb, this time in the antipassive voice. Interestingly, the toponym iik is also seen as the subject of a Star War verb on La Corona Element 29 (Figure 6).

 

Figure 6. Star War example from La Corona, Element 29. Drawing by the author, after photograph by Cristina Guirola, courtesy of Proyecto Regional Arqueológico La Corona (PRALC).

 

This is of course not an example of substitution, but at least it shows that the same toponym can appear both in a Star War example as well as in a jom example. Just like the occurrence on Copan Stela 11, the verb on the sherd has also been translated as “he finishes”. However, perhaps a more fitting translation for both occurrences may be “sinking”. This might be because the meaning of sinking is more common and widely distributed in Mayan languages, whereas translations referring to “ending” or “termination” are fewer (Garay Herrera 2017:100-101). Furthermore, as outlined earlier there are many examples connecting jom with natural formations such as sinkholes, caves, or caverns. This may be especially appropriate in the context of Copan Stela 11, since the ruler dressed as the Maize God stands above a giant cenote sign. Both sides of the scene display water-shell motifs that usually appear in the context of the watery underworld. In this scene, the ruler appears in the guise of the Maize God emerging from a sinkhole presumably after having sunken in.

Having covered the linguistic background of the verb root, I will now briefly discuss how a potential /JOM/ reading of the Star War glyph may fit in the relevant contexts. Most Star War occurrences appear in historical militaristic inscriptions, where the downfalls of rulers, military forces, and cities are recorded. In such contexts, translations such as “sinking” or “collapsing” may be appropriate to describe the results of conflicts, while additional meanings such as the violent and destructive translations of jom may also be fitting. It may also be that extreme weather phenomena were seen as appropriate metaphors in the context of warfare. In such cases, the “sinking” of a ruler or their military force would probably be metaphorical. Furthermore, it may not be a coincidence that the Star War glyph takes on terms such as kab ch’een or simply ch’een as its subjects, unlike other verbs of motion, such as jub. This might be important considering the close connection jom has with landscapes, terrains, and geographical features. The “sinking”, “getting a hole”, or simply “caving in” of one’s kab ch’een would fit well in the context of jom.

When it comes to mythology, the Star War glyph appears in scenes such as the sinking of the Maize God’s canoe, as seen on bones MT-38A, MT-38B, MT-38D, MT-50 from Tikal, as well as the Star War Vase. In this context, a jom reading would be more literal, as it would record the submerging of the canoe in the dark watery underworld. It must be noted, that the sinking of the Maize God’s canoe appears to be part of a longer narrative which may be connected to agriculture-related mythology. While examining dictionary entries relevant to the verb root jom, I came across many examples of the term being used in the context of maize, especially rotten maize. Examples such as the Tzotzil hom “scooping up corn in hands and sloshing in water” (Laughlin 1975:158), may have some relevance in the context of agricultural terms. However, such maize-related terms may not share the same root as the other uses of jom and are therefore unreliable.

In terms of iconography, the Star War glyph has been associated with storms, deluges, and harsh weather conditions. For instance, on the Star War Vase, a giant star appears above the Maize God’s canoe navigating through choppy waters, while rain appears to be falling throughout the scene. There may also be iconographic links between the Star War glyph and the decapitation of the being known as the Starry Deer Crocodile, which may link it to floods or deluges. With regards to the graphs of the Star War glyph, they most likely depict a star with water, or some type of fluid falling or bursting from its sides. In this context, dictionary entries of jom relating it to storms and deluges, e.g. the colonial Tzeltal homel “diluvio” or hom “hacerse diluvio” (Ara 1986:47) would be especially fitting. The meteorological forces associated with the Star War graphs correspond well with terms from different Mayan languages that refer to storms, deluges, floods, strong winds, and raging seas.

An especially interesting case can be seen on Throne 1 of Piedras Negras. As mentioned previously, it is possible that the Star War occurrence found in the throne text acts as a topographic reference by referring to features in the landscape of central Piedras Negras. This may be a decline in elevation, a “split” in the landscape, or even a flat area such as the East Group Plaza. Such features may be visible in maps of the site, where the landscape “goes down”. Thus, the text may act as a very precise reference to the setting in which the ceremony took place, most likely in the vicinity of the East Group Plaza. If this interpretation is correct, it would fit many of the topographic meanings of jom. Terms such as the Yukatek homil “la parte hundida” (Pérez 1866-1877:137), hom “hundimiento de la tierra” (Kaufman 2003:992), or the Tzotzil homal “gorge, narrow valley” (Laughlin 1975:157) come to mind, which would be describing the shape of the landscape in central Piedras Negras. A preliminary translation may be “at the sinking/dipping of the centre of Piedras Negras”.

However, an even more interesting example comes from an undesignated fragment at Tonina (Figure 7).

 

Figure 7. Star War example from an undesignated Early Classic fragment from Tonina. Preliminary drawing by Guido Krempel, courtesy of Coordinación Nacional de Conservación del Patrimonio Cultural del INAH.

 

There, the Star War graph used is a star-over-earth variant, but a cleft or opening is seen in the earth sign. In what may be an example of powerful wordplay, this Star War occurrence describes the act of “sinking” or “caving in” of one’s kab ch’een while at the same time alluding to the topographic meanings of jom, thus giving away the reading of the sign. This is probably the oldest confirmed Star War occurrence, dating to the 6th century which is what makes it so unique. While briefly commenting on this occurrence, Stuart (2011:298) suggested this graph may have to do with opening or breakage. Alternatively, one could see this opening not as a reference to breakage, but of “caving in” or simply a “dipping” of the landscape. This might be because similar graphs, such as those of the /PA’/ sign, usually exhibit sharp cracks or fissures pertaining to breakage, whereas this Tonina fragment shows a wider split in the earth sign. Of course, one example is not enough to support such subtle distinctions but might offer an explanation where both the reading and graph of the sign semantically overlap.

Finally, there is one more example which could demonstrate links to the topographic uses both the Star War glyph and jom have in common. On the Palenque Initial Series Vase (Figure 3), one could read the relevant Star War passage as bolon jom kab. Such a reading resembles terms like the Yukatekan jóomkab “abismo” or jom áaktun “caverna” (Gómez Navarrete 2009:135). It is possible that we are looking at another example of the Star War glyph being used in topographic references. In this instance, possible translations may be “nine abysses”, “caves/caverns”, or simply the “9-Abyss Place”. This would resemble other such toponymic references that combine the number nine with geographical features such as “Nine Lands” (Tokovinine 2013:44-46) or “Nine Hills Place” (Stuart 2004b:5).

There may also be reason to doubt the likelihood of previous reading proposals such as jub. For instance, a number of differences between jub and the Star War glyph call this link into question. Aside from the fact that no direct substitution exists between the two terms, their spatial distribution is fairly different, with jub only being used in certain parts of the Maya Area whereas the Star War glyph is more widespread (see Figure 8).

 

Figure 8. Star War – jub comparisons: Spatial distribution of the Star War Glyph (top); Spatial distribution of the expression jubuuy (bottom). Maps by Marie Botzet.

 

Another point to consider, is that Star War events often fall on the days Ak’bal and Ix, whereas to my knowledge almost no jub event ever falls on these days8)One exception to this would be a jub event registered on Tamarindito, Hieroglyphic Stairway 2, Step 4: B1 corresponding to 9.16.9.17.14.. On top of that, the Star War glyph takes on the terms kab ch’een or ch’een as its subjects, while the jub verb does not. Moreover, certain grammatical features of the Star War glyph such as its pairing with numerical coefficients, nominalisation, and the taking of prepositions in martial contexts, are not observed with jub. Finally, the two terms also appear to differ when it comes to the moon phases on which they fall, with Star War military events primarily falling on both the waxing gibbous (7-15 days) and waning gibbous phases of the moon (16-24 days), while jub military events tend to only fall on the waxing gibbous phase (7-15 days). If jub is the reading of the Star War glyph, one would expect the two terms to exhibit very similar behaviour but that is not evident in the inscriptions.

Other terms such as hay have previously been considered as possible Star War readings, especially by researchers favouring a CVY root (Boot 1995; Kinsman n.d.). While discussing one of the Chilam Balam passages mentioned previously, Zender cited the terms bulkabal “flood” and haycabal “destrucción del mundo” as examples that might be illustrative of an incorporated kab in the Star War reading (Zender 2020:68). However, since no clear and consistent pattern of graph change is seen among Star War occurrences, the idea of kab acting as an incorporated noun seems unlikely. Examples such as the Palenque Initial Series Vase or the Star War Vase show instances where kab and kab ch’een follow star-over-earth occurrences which in turn would produce repetitive readings. From the examples available, the kab element does not appear to play any key role in the syntax of the Star War glyph and does not make predictable appearances. That being said, proposals such as hay rely on a limited number of dictionary entries, mostly restricted to Yukatek. As noted by Boot (1995), some refer to destruction, however the majority have to do with “thinning” which would be less fitting when considering all Star War occurrences.

Why would /JOM/ be a fitting reading proposal for the Star War glyph? Such a reading would fit in every single semantic context of the Star War glyph, and could provide sound explanations for all known occurrences, even the more challenging ones. There is considerable overlap between the uses of jom in Mayan languages and the Star War glyph, not only with regards to their meanings, but also in the ways they are used. A potential /JOM/ reading would cover the meanings of sinking, warfare, destruction, topography, as well as natural phenomena such as storms and deluges. Therefore, /JOM/ would constitute a good “semantic common denominator” with regards to the meanings of the Star War glyph. Such a reading proposal stands out, as it would fit visually, grammatically, thematically, semantically, and is based on a term we know was already in use during the Classic Period.

Unfortunately, the biggest problem facing this entire hypothesis, is the same one facing other Star War reading proposals, which is the lack of any syllabic spelling or phonetic complements that can confirm or disconfirm it. Hopefully future discoveries will help settle this decades-old question once and for all. Until then one can only speculate and work with the little evidence that we have so far.

 

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Appendix: Dictionary Entries

Terms related to “sinking/falling/collapsing/getting a hole”

YUK

jom

to push into an abyss

(Bolles 2001:1746)

YUK

jom

hundir, desfondar

(Yoshida 2009:28)

YUK

hom kahal

hundirse

(Michelon 1976:147)

YUK

hom chahal

hundirse en el lodo (los cascos de caballo)

(Michelon 1976:147)

YUK

joom

desfondado

(Gómez Navarrete 2009:135)

YUK

joom

desfondar

(Gómez Navarrete 2009:135)

YUK

jom

perforado

(Gómez Navarrete 2009:135)

YUK

hom

remove bottom

(Bricker et al. 1998:110)

YUK

hóom

remove bottom

(Bricker et al. 1998:110)

YUK

homchahal

hundirse o sumirse los pies en el lodo o atolladero

(Ciudad Real 2001:258)

YUK

homchek’tah

hundir o sumir el pie en cosa hueca

(Ciudad Real 2001:259)

YUK

homil’ahal

hundirse, ir en el hueco

(Barrera Vásquez 1980:229)

YUK

homol

hundir, desfondarse, abismar

(Barrera Vásquez 1980:229)

YUK

hoomol

hundirse al desplomarse alguna cosa hueca o cavernosa

(Barrera Vásquez 1980:229)

ITZ

jomk’ajal

hacerse hoyo (de golpe), desplomarse, get a hole (suddenly), collapse

(Hofling & Tesucún 1997:319)

ITZ

jomol

ahoyarse, collapse, cave in, get a hole

(Hofling & Tesucún 1997:319)

ITZ

joom

ahoyar, hacer hoyo, perforate

(Hofling & Tesucún 1997:319)

ITZ

jomik

ahoyarlo, hacerle hoyo grande, make a hole, perforate

(Hofling & Tesucún 1997:319)

MOP

jomca’al

hundido/a, pando/a, profundo/a

(Ulrich & Ulrich 1976:107)

MOP

joma’an

hundido

(ALMG 2003b:42)

MOP

joomi

fue hundida

(ALMG 2003b:42)

MOP

jomik

semi hundido

(ALMG 2003b:43)

MOP

jom

hundir, sink

(Hofling 2011:220)

MOP

joma’an

hundido

(Hofling 2011:220)

MOP

jomb’ol

hundrirlo, be sunk

(Hofling 2011:220)

MOP

jomtal

hundirse, sink

(Hofling 2011:221)

MOP

jomik

hundir

(Schumann Gálvez 1997:262)

LAC

jo’m-jo’m

derrumbado, collapsed

(Hofling 2014:159)

LAC

jo’man

romperlo, be broken

(Hofling 2014:159)

LAC

jóoman

romperse, break up

(Hofling 2014:163)

LAC

jóomsik

ahoyarlo, make a hole in

(Hofling 2014:163)

AKA

homlone

hundir

(Andrés et al. 1996:56)

AKA

homloi

hundirse

(Andrés et al. 1996:56)

CHN

hom(e(l))

to sink, fall in

(Knowles 1984:423)

CHN

jome

hundirse, sumirse

(Keller & Luciano 1997:139)

CHN

jomesan

hundir, sumir, sumergir

(Keller & Luciano 1997:139)

TZE

jom

pierce it, agujerearlo

(Berlin & Kaufman 1997:26)

TZE

jomel

ahuecar

(Pineda 1986:401)

TZE

jomol

ahuecado

(Pineda 1986:401)

TZO

jomol

está perforado, está agujereado

(Cowan 2001:53

TZO

jomol

está roto (tela)

(Cowan 2001:53

TZO

jomel

hacer o cavar un hoyo, agujerear, perforar

(Delgaty & Ruíz Sánchez 1978:66)

TZO

jomol

roto, perforado

(Delgaty & Ruíz Sánchez 1978:66)

TZO

sjomemal

rompimiento

(Delgaty & Ruíz Sánchez 1978:66)

TZO

jomoch’tael

perforar, picar

(Delgaty & Ruíz Sánchez 1978:66)

TZO

jom ta ‘ut

fosa, cosa hueca

(Delgaty & Ruíz Sánchez 1978:66)

TZO

jomal te’

dugout, arteza

(Laughlin & Haviland 1988:213)

CHJ

jom

escarpar, to dig

(ALMG 2003a:42)

KCH

jomojik

ahondado, hundido, hondo, deep, sunk

(Ajpacajá Tum et al. 1996:99)

MAM

joml

vacío:el estómago

(Maldonado Andrés et al. 1983:114)

 

Topographic/Landscape-related Terms

YUK

johm

zanja, cima, hoyo hundimiento de la tierra

(Kaufman 2003:992)

YUK

hom

zanja, abismo

(Michelon 1976:147)

YUK

jom

zanja, hoyo o barranca obscura

(Gómez Navarrete 2009:135)

YUK

jóomkab

abismo

(Gómez Navarrete 2009:136)

YUK

jom áaktun

caverna

(Gómez Navarrete 2009:135)

YUK

jomlil

cueva

(Gómez Navarrete 2009:135)

YUK

homil

la parte hundida

(Pérez 1866-1877:137)

YUK

jóom

hoyo, concavidad

(Bastarrachea Manzano et al. 1998:93)

YUK

hóom

subside (earth)

(Bricker et al. 1998:110)

YUK

hóomol

subsided

(Bricker et al. 1998:111)

YUK

hom

zanja, sima, hoya o barranca oscura, hundimiento de tierra

(Ciudad Real 2001:258)

YUK

hom

zanja, sima, hoya o barranca oscura, hundimiento de tierra y cabo o quebrada que dejó algún aguaducho y caverna de tierra y atolladero

(Ciudad Real 2001:258)

YUK

hom

abismo

(Barrera Vásquez 1980:228)

YUK

hom

barranco oscuro y hondo, hoyo hondo y oscuro, agujero hondo como de tuza o topo

(Barrera Vásquez 1980:228)

YUK

hom lu’um

zanja, foso

(Barrera Vásquez 1980:228)

YUK

homhom

cavernas muy desplomadas, hundimientos repetidos

(Barrera Vásquez 1980:228)

YUK

homil

cueva, hueco

(Barrera Vásquez 1980:229)

LAC

jo’m ru’um

tierra derrumbada, collapsed land

(Hofling 2014:159)

TZO

jomel

hacer o cavar un hoyo, agujerear, perforar

(Delgaty & Ruíz Sánchez 1978:66)

TZO

sjomal

valle

(Delgaty & Ruíz Sánchez 1978:66)

TZO

homal

gorge, narrow valley

(Laughlin 1975:157)

TZO

sjomolil

abertura, hoyo

(Delgaty & Ruíz Sánchez 1978:66)

TZO

jomol ch’en

cueva

(Delgaty & Ruíz Sánchez 1978:67)

TZO

jom-te’

canoa

(Delgaty & Ruíz Sánchez 1978:66)

TZO

hom

canoe, trough (for animals or salt manufacture)

(Laughlin 1975:157)

TZO

jom

embrasure, loophole, tronera

(Laughlin & Haviland 1988:213)

TZO

jom

boat, canoe, ship

(Laughlin & Haviland 1988:213)

AKA

homan

hundido (tierra)

(Andrés et al. 1996:56)

AKA

homkiltaj

desnivelado (tierra)

(Andrés et al. 1996:56)

AKA

homoni

estar bien hundido (tierra)

(Andrés et al. 1996:56)

TEK

jomil

agujerear, hacer uno o más agujeros en la tierra

(Morales & Guiterrez 2007:120)

KCHq

jom

instalación para juego de pelota maya

(Rodríguez Guaján et al. 1990:59)

KCH

hom

ball court

(Edmonson 1965:41)

 

Destruction/violence/disruption-related Terms

YUK

homchahal cah

perderse destruirse o hundirse el pueblo

(Ciudad Real 2001:258)

YUK

homah

derribar edificios, cerros, hundirse la tierra

(Barrera Vásquez 1980:229)

YUK

homol

hundirse el edificio

(Barrera Vásquez 1980:230)

CHN

homole

war

(Knowles 1984:423)

PQM

homel

desolación, calamidad, destrucción, estrago, clades, exterminación, vastitar

(Feldman 2000:116)

TOJ

jomi

descomponerse, destruirse, degenerar, atarantarse, confundirse, arruinarse

(Lenkersdorf 2010:274)

TOJ

jomo

destruir, devovar, batir, corromper, atantar, confundir, contradecirse

(Lenkersdorf 2010:273

TOJ

hom-(Vw)

to ruin, to destroy, to wreck

(Furbee-Losee 1976:352)

TOJ

jomuman

destructor, asesino, veneno

(Lenkersdorf 2010:274)

TOJ

jomtala’an

tachar, asolar

(Lenkersdorf 2010:274)

 

Meteorological Terms

TZE

homel

diluvio

(Ara 1986:47)

TZE

hom

hacerse diluvio

(Ara 1986:47)

TZE

homel haal

agua grande

(Ara 1986:47)

YUK

homol

crecida mar o río

(Ciudad Real 2001:259)

YUK

hom

creciente de mar o río, marea alta

(Barrera Vásquez 1980:229)

YUK

hom kaknab

alterarse y embravecerse la mar

(Andrews Heath de Zapata 1978:258)

YUK

hom

el sonido de viento

(Michelon 1976:147)

YUK

homchahal k’ak’nab

alterarse y embravecerse la mar

(Barrera Vásquez 1980:229)

YUK

homocnac kaknab

anda la mar brava y alterada

(Ciudad Real 2001:259)

YUK

homoknak ik’

viento recio y bravo que hace ruido

(Ciudad Real 2001:259)

YUK

homchahal ik’

ventar muy recio, algún viento

(Barrera Vásquez 1980:229)

YUK

homoknakil lu’um

humedad de la tierra

(Barrera Vásquez 1980:230)

KCH

jomomik

sound of rushing water or wind

(Christenson 2003:46

KCH

homoh

sigh (of wind in the trees)

(Edmonson 1965:41)

KCH

homovik

sigh (of wind in the trees)

(Edmonson 1965:41)

PCH

jomlik

fuerte viento, huracán

(Sedat 2001:358)

Footnotes

Footnotes
1 Many of these reading proposals are unofficial or unpublished. For this reason, the years displayed here may not correspond to publications.
2 Cited in Wagner (2009).
3 Cited in Grazioso (2002: 241-242).
4 Cited in Kettunen and Helmke (2005: 72).
5 Personal Communication (2020).
6 Personal Communication (2020).
7 The Barrera Vásquez dictionary (Barrera Vásquez 1980) does not distinguish between the sounds of hache recia and hache suave. For this reason, terms were chosen that also occurred in or semantically corresponded to terms in the Calepino de Motul dictionary (Ciudad Real 2001) which does make the distinction.
8 One exception to this would be a jub event registered on Tamarindito, Hieroglyphic Stairway 2, Step 4: B1 corresponding to 9.16.9.17.14.