Image - Cacao Pod Vessel - K6706 © Justin Kerr FAMSI © 2001:
Inga Calvin

Rollout Photography of Polychrome Pottery from El Salvador
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K30016, Joya de Cerén, El Salvador

Research Year:  1997
Culture:  Maya
Chronology:  Late Classic
Location:  El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala
Sites:  Joya de Cerén, Nuevo Cuzcatlán, and others

Table of Contents

General Categories of Pseudo-glyphs
Images of Vessels
Joya de Cerén, El Salvador
Nuevo Cuzcatlán, El Salvador
Recovered vessels from a variety of sites in El Salvador and Honduras by Peabody Museum Expeditions
Ceramics from unprovenienced sites currently stored and the University of Colorado Museum, Boulder, CO
Sources Cited


Funds from FAMSI permitted me to pursue my on-going research of Late Classic Period (A.D. 600 - A.D. 900) Maya vessels embellished with "pseudo-glyphs" or "glyphoids." As will be presented here, FAMSI Grant No. 96042 has allowed me to establish a database of rollout photographs of provenienced vessels decorated with "pseudo-glyphs" (glyph-like symbols that do not conform to the canons of Maya hieroglyphic writing as currently understood). The ceramics included in this corpus derive from sites in El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala. It must be noted that this project could not have been conducted without the generosity of Justin Kerr who facilitated the creation of my rollout camera and whose system of K-numbers is used to reference these rollout images.

Advances in the field of archaeology and epigraphy over the past 50 years have provided significant new understandings about the nature of Late Classic Period Maya society. In particular, great progress has been made in determining the nature of hieroglyphic writing and in providing new decipherments that help illuminate elite Maya history. Decipherment of the glyphs painted on Late Classic Period pottery has revealed information regarding the function and geographic and social origin of particular vessels and has provided insight about Maya beliefs, social structure, and elite interactions. A neglected component of Late Classic pottery epigraphic studies, however, has been analysis of the symbols defined as "pseudo-glyphs" or "glyphoids" (Longyear, 1944; 1952; Viel, 1983; 1993) because these signs do not share the same rules as conventional Maya hieroglyphics.

General Categories of Pseudo-glyphs

Although both conventional Maya hieroglyphs and pseudo-glyphs appear painted on ceramics as rim and body texts, symbols identified as pseudo-glyphs do not clearly convey a currently recognized meaning. However, as will be discussed in greater detail in my Ph.D. dissertation and as revealed by survey of this preliminary database, pseudo-glyphs form four general categories:

  1. Decorative or design elements that cannot be pronounced. These symbols do not conform to the established morphological canons of hieroglyphs and appear to be "space fillers;" however, they appear in places on the vessel where conventional glyphs typically occur.
  1. Single, repeating glyphs that record pronounceable words with a decipherable meaning but, due to the repetitive nature of the text, have extremely limited or no readily understood communicative value.
  1. Recognizable glyphs with unlikely phonetic complements (affixes) that combine into long phrases, often with repetitive glyphs that do not conform to known rules of syntax or grammar. This group forms a highly problematical corpus in that the signs can be phonetically read, they will often incorporate portions of the PSS (Primary Standard Sequence), but do not convey meaning in the same manner as conventional glyphs.
  1. Copador-style glyphs. Copador pottery has largely received academic attention in terms of associating petrography with deposition contexts (Beaudry, 1984; Bill, 1997; Bishop et al., 1986a; Bishop et al., 1986b).

All of these categories are represented in this rollout sample. This corpus consists of images of vessels from the following sites:

  1. Joya de Cerén, El Salvador, excavated under the direction of Dr. Payson Sheets, University of Colorado-Boulder. These vessels are currently stored in the on-site museum at Joya de Cerén and the David Guzman Museum, San Salvador, El Salvador (K30011 to K30018).
  1. Nuevo Cuzcatlán, El Salvador, a salvage project conducted under the direction of Dr. Howard Earnest. These vessels are currently stored at the David Guzman Museum, San Salvador, El Salvador (K30019 to K30027).
  1. Vessels from a variety of sites in El Salvador and Honduras, recovered by several Peabody Museum Expeditions beginning in A.D. 1891. These ceramics are stored at the Peabody Museum, Harvard University, Cambridge, MA (K30028 to K30063).
  1. Ceramics from unprovenienced sites and currently stored at the University of Colorado Museum, Boulder, CO (K30001 to K30007).

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Rollout Photography of Polychrome Pottery from El Salvador  (2.90 MB)

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Submitted 07/01/1998 by:

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