Image - Cacao Pod Vessel - K6706 © Justin Kerr FAMSI © 2001:
David Bolles

Combined Dictionary-Concordance of the Yucatecan Mayan Language


By David Bolles and William J. Folan

The types and varieties of man-made linear features of the Central and Northern Mayan area are quite varied, covering everything from the zac be1 between Coba,2 Quintana Roo and Yaxuna,3 Yucatan, which is almost 100 kms. in length (Folan 1985, Villa Rojas 1934), intrasite zac beob (Benavides 1976, Folan 1977a, Folan and Stuart 1974, Folan and Stuart 1977, Folan et al. 1983a, Navarette et al. 1979, Thompson 1928 and Thompson et al. 1932) and those features which are a few meters long, such as walkways and property walls. (Folan et al. 1983). Although not all of these features are impressive, taken together they contribute to a better understanding of the ancient Maya in terms of sociopolitical relationships and transportation. When thinking of zac beob we should also take into consideration the existence of real as well as mythological routes as well as noting the difference between the terrestrial, celestial and subterranean routes of the Maya (Folan 1976, 1977) who apparently referred to these roadways using a variety of terms. Moreover, zac beob were at times used as dikes in Coba (Folan 1982,Folan 1992a) and El Mirador, Guatemala. (Dahlin et al 1980.)

It should be noted that the term zac be was not used in early historical documents. The Spanish term calzada was the one generally used by such writers as Landa (1966) Lizana (1633) and Cogolludo (1971) and appears to be most equivalent to the term zac be as used in the modern literature. It is worth commenting that in the early dictionaries the terms be tun4 and zac be are both given as equivalent to calzada.


Aside from the observable and measurable terrestrial roadways, remains of which can be found today, there are the seemingly mythological terrestrial zac beob which have remained in folk memory. One of these is the zac be between Ich Caan Ziho5 (Mérida) and the coast fronting the island of Cuzamil (Cozumel),6 (Cogolludo 1971, Fedick 1996 and Isphording 1975) and thus would be a roadway of some 260 kms. in length. It was on the island of Cuzamil that the Maya goddess Ix Chel7 reigned at the moment of the conquest. (Landa 1966.) Her shrine on the island was a focal point for pilgrims from places as far away as Guatemala and Chiapas.8 Another such roadway goes between Coba and the Cenote Sagrado9 of Chi Chheen Itza,10 and from there a subterranean route continues on to Mexico / Tenochtitlan, passing by Uxmal11 in route. Mention should also be made of the celestial cuxaan zum12 between Zac Ii13 (Valladolid), Coba and Tulum,14 15 said to be built by the Itza Rey Macehualo 16 and to be wide enough for horsemen to ride upon while leading numerous armed men. The same celestial cuxaan zum between Coba, Zac Ii and Ho17 was cut by a Mexican force according to Jacinto May Hau of Coba. (Folan 1975, Folan et al. 1983, Miller 1974, Tozzer 1907.) There also exists a celestial zac be or cuxaan zum between Dzibil Chaltun18 and Itzmal (Izamal),19 Yucatan, ostensibly traveled by the Virgin of the Immaculate Conception who apparently began her journey in the Cenote X-Lah Cah,20 a sink hole at Dzibil Chaltun (Folan 1992) dedicated principally to domestic use based on the cultural contents found in it, in spite of all its mythological relationships. (Taschek 1994.) (see Newberry [1959] on its excavation.)

Mythological, subterranean passageways are common features of folklore in Campeche and Yucatan. These passageways usually connect a minor site to a major center such as Ich Caan Ziho or Uxmal. For example, there is the mythological underground passageway which begins at the Cenote X-Lah Cah of Dzibil Chaltun and connects it to the nearby town of Chablekal.21 (Mardin 1958.) This cenote is said to have been formed by a great thunderbolt sent by a deity. (Folan 1970.) The cenote supposedly has become a subaquatic shrine for Saint Ursula,22 who seemingly represents the Moon Goddess of the Maya who is known as Ix Tan Dzonot.23 The cenote is also a shrine for her sister La Concepcion Inmaculada and a child associated with a disease which produces reddish ulcers called anal kak.24 (See Baez - Jorge 1988, Folan 1970, Thompson 1976:245). Music being played in Chablekal is supposed to be audible in Dzibil Chaltun by way of this much publicized passageway described in a National Geographic article authored by Louis Marden (1958). There also exists a mythological subterranean passageway between the archaeological site of Acan Muul,25 (Pollock 1980) located within the territory of the Ejido de Chemblas26 to the north of the City of Campeche, and Uxmal according to a belief collected in the early 1990's. (José María Calan Zuc: personal communication.) The entrance of this feature discovered by an intoxicated traveler returning to his house in Nacheha27 from Yaxca28 is under the custody of a male deity-like individual called H-Zahcab,29 who watches over a gold table with a young unnamed virgin dressed in gold upon it in a building close to the main pyramid of the site. Kukul Can30 is to be found beneath this table bound by a golden chain which did not, however, impede him from going to Uxmal through this passageway whenever there are festivities there. This site is also associated with large black cats with bows of different colors, and a slowly pulsating light associated with its principal structure from which a sound of rapidly dragged chains was heard, possibly the gold ones binding Kukul Can. Within the main structure, our informant has heard gallos and pavos speaking like people as well as cattle conversing in human language

There also seems to exist a subterranean route between Copan, Honduras and Quirigua, Guatemala according to David Sedat (personal communication: 1996) thus adding an international flavor to these type linear features.



One of the best sources for learning about Maya linear features are the early Colonial dictionaries written in Yucatan by Franciscan friars in the late 16th and early 17th century. (Bolles: n.d.) There are various entries in these dictionaries describing these linear features, sometimes in great detail. Here we will look at some of the material supplied by the colonial dictionaries and Mayan manuscripts and use this material as our guide to a further understanding of these interesting features which given their importance have been much too ignored. At the same time, we will try to relate the archaeological features, both those already mentioned above as well as others, to their linguistic counterparts. These include both the raised stone or earthen filled roadways as well as those of other construction to be described below. In this discussion the meaning and significance of terms be tun, buth be, buthbil be, cochbaben be, chhibal be, haban be and noh be and their relationship to zac be will be examined. Also to be discussed are the terms xay be or "fork in the road" and hol can be or "crossroads", as well as the activities which took place at those junctions as found in the Maya Colonial literature such as the Books of Chilam Balam.



As already mentioned above, the longest zac be so far discovered archaeologically in the Maya area is the one between Coba, Quintana Roo and its satellite, Yaxuna, Yucatan. This roadway, almost 100 kms. long, approximately 8 (?) meters wide, and generally about .50 cms high, is accompanied by a series of platforms described by Alfonso Villa Rojas (ibid) in the early 1930's. It is a prime candidate for what the Spanish would have referred to as camino real and the Maya as noh be,31 defined as a long or principal roadway. An additional candidate for this type of roadway would be the one between Coba, Quintana Roo and Ixil, Yucatan,32 of some 20 kms. in length first followed and described by Jacinto May Hau, Nicolas Caamal Canche, Teoberto May Chimal and others. (Folan 1976, 1977a, Folan and Stuart 1974, Robles 1976). In reality, this road seems to be a shorter version of the Zac Be #1 going to Yaxuna and duplicates most of its notable features such as large ramps adding in one case a fairly large platform to one ramp located close to Coba as well as numerous smaller ones distributed over the 20 km. length of the zac be. These and other such roads probably defined the boundaries of the Coba urban area and the Coba regional state. (Folan 1976, Folan and Stuart 1974, Kurjack and Andrews 1975 and Kurjack and Andrews 1976.)

Another candidate for the term noh be33 would be the calzada mentioned by both Landa (1966)34 and Lizana (1633)35 which connects Ich Caan Ziho with Itzmal. This roadway is approximately 60 kms. in length. In the middle between these two major sites is the Ruins of Ake,36 through which this calzada apparently passed. Archaeological evidence gathered by Ruben Maldonado (1995, 1997) supports the existence of such a roadway between Itzmal and the Ruins of Ake. Beyond this, it is apparent from both Lizana (1633) and Cogolludo (1971)37 that there was a network of roads throughout the Yucatecan peninsula which Cogolludo refers to with the terms calzada and camino real. For Cogolludo, the purpose of this network of roads was to bring pilgrims from places as far away as Tabasco, Chiapas, and Guatemala, to the port of Ppole38 on the mainland across from the island of Cuzamil.

Another possible Mayan term for camino real is chhibal be,39 glossed as the main road from which side roads branch out. There are several zac beob in Coba which fit this description (Folan et al. 1983) as well as the zac be between Uxmal and Kabah40 followed by Victor Segovia Pinto. (personal communication: 1962.) There may be a reference to the kinship system in the use of the term chhibal be, relating a large road with certain lineage associations, corroborating the existence of kinship links suggested for local and intersite zac beob of Coba. (Folan 1975, Folan and Stuart 1974, Kurjack and Andrews 1975, 1976)

Yet another term given in the various dictionaries for the Spanish word calzada is buth, buth be or buthbil be, from the verb root buth meaning "to fill" and be meaning "road", referring definitely to the type of road today referred to as a stone-filled zac be. In a few of the dictionary entries it may be surmised that this type of road is, in particular, the type which crosses wet terrain such as the roadways through lakes and marshy areas at Coba, including the 6 meter wide zac be to Ixil which crosses a marsh. (Folan: personal observation.) Another example of this type of road is Zac Be #10 in Coba, a very low, difficult to follow roadway that connects the Zac Be #8 with Laguna Zacal Puuc41 and Yax Laguna42 according to its Carnegie discoverers (Thompson et al. 1932) and Jacinto May Hau (personal communication 1975). This roadway includes sections which enter into and rise out of sascaberas,43 the product of which may have been carried over this and other important zac beob. Zac beob filled with earth in Calak Muul,44 Campeche (Folan 1991, 1992 and Folan et al. 1995) and oyster shells and earth in Tabasco, as reported by Ernesto Vargas (1985:102), also cross marshy places such as the Bajo de El Laberinto in Calak Muul where several zac beob still to be ground truthed are shown crossing this wide seasonal marsh between Calak Muul and El Mirador, El Peten, Guatemala. (Folan 1992b, Folan et al. 1995a,b). The Guatemalan roadways are under investigation by Richard Hansen (1990 and 1994) and several other archaeologists including José Suasnavar (1994) as well as Julio A. Roldan (et al. 1991) in Ixtoton, Guatemala and surrounding areas.

Finally, for the word calzada there is the term be tun. It is apparent from both the Motul I and the Vienna dictionaries that zac be and be tun are considered to be synonymous.45 As noted in the opening paragraphs of this paper, the term zac be is not to be found in the early historical works about Yucatan. From the dictionaries there is no indication that the term zac be should take precedence over any of the other terms listed here, and it may be mere chance that sometime in the late 19th century, when the word zac be seems to have first come into use in the historical literature on Yucatan, that the term zac be was chosen over any of the various available Mayan terms.

Other terms which merit mention are cochbaben be, haban be, and holocnac be.

Cochbaben be means "wide road" and perhaps refers to the broad concourses at principal sites such as the ones at Dzibil Chaltun and Chi Chheen Itza. The astronomically aligned zac be at Dzibil Chaltun (Coggins and Drucker 1988) is 20 meters wide and connects the building cluster in front of the Temple of the Seven Dolls to the plaza in the middle of the building complex around the Cenote X-Lah Cah. (Andrews IV and Andrews V 1980.) The zac be then continues on to the west towards another similar cluster of buildings without passing through the Central Plaza. The zac be at Chi Chheen Itza goes from the plaza on the north side of the Temple of Kukul Can to the Cenote Sagrado.46 (Folan 1977b.) There are also broad concourses at the ruins of Nak Be47 and Tikal,48 Guatemala, which might be classified as cochbaben be. (Hansen 1991.)

Haban be may refer to "bush road", perhaps what one would refer to today as a wide brecha in Campeche, while Holocnac be means "open road" with vegetation removed. Perhaps a portion of the road network described by Cogolludo consisted of this type of roadway, since vestiges of roadways made with raised roadbeds are yet to be found in the abundance suggested by him.

Among the lesser roads we have chhux be,49 ek be,50 luth be / luluth be,51 and thuthul be52 meaning pathways that may be represented by some narrow raised features in Calakmul and Coba in the form of walkways or bush trails.

One interesting feature of some zac beob for which a term has not been found in the Colonial dictionaries and literature is the dividing line down the middle of some zac beob such as the one from Coba to Ixil. (Folan and Stuart 1974 and Folan 1977a.)


There have been recent discoveries of roadways in tidal areas which are now underwater. It must be surmised that there has been a change in the sea level, perhaps as much as a couple of meters, since these roadways were built. (Folan et al. 1983b.) An example of these roadways are the zac beob discovered by Sophia Pincemin (1993), Alfred Siemens et al. (personal communication: 1997) and Ernest Vargas (1996) in and around Itzam Kanac.53 These features which cross the Rio Candelaria are similar to the zac be which cross Lake Macan Xooc54 at Coba. (Folan et al. 1983, Thompson et al. 1932. Another major linear feature is located at the mouth of the Rio Candelaria and Laguna Panlao,55 (Vargas ibid) along with what are described by Siemens et al. (ibid) and Vargas (ibid) as eight check dams crossing the river at various points which could also have served as bridges. These features are much larger than the small bridge excavated by Maria del Rosario Dominguez (1991-1992) in association with the zac be crossing a canal between two aguadas in Calak Muul but smaller than the prehispanic bridge which apparently crossed the Usumacinta River at Yax Chilan,56 Chiapas. Mention should also be made of the zac be and defensive works associated with Isla Cerritos excavated by Anthony Andrews and collaborators. (Andrews and Gallareta 1986.)57 These features are now under water due to sea level rise. Xel Ha58 also exhibits similar features such as a jetty-like zac be connecting an island to the peninsula and a defensive wall. (Miller 1982 Fig. 108).


The Mayan Colonial literature, particularly the Books of Chilam Balam, makes several references to particular features associated with zac be where various types of activities took place. (Bolles n.d.) One of the more common terms is xay be which refers to a fork in a road such as the junction of Zac Beob #6 and #7 leading to Pak Chheen59 and Caanal Kaax60 in Coba. There are various other examples of forks in the road at Coba. Related to the term xay be are the terms hol can be referring to a crossroad and hol can heleb and hol can lub which is a resting place at the crossroads. It is a common practice to have resting places or lub built where paths converge in the Northern Maya area. These resting places are normally tables built out of stone positioned so that a traveler carrying a load with a tumpline can back up to the table and lower the load onto the table without having to squat down. Although something such as these resting places would seem difficult to locate archaeology, it would appear that one example probably exists in Coba. It is at the juncture of Zac Be #8 and #13 where a large flat stone is to the found. (George Stuart: personal communication: 1997).

The existence of these crossroads should be of interest to those who have worked in Coba because it is at Coba where one of the most elaborate of crossroads exists, formed by a raised platform with a small shrine on top and a fallen stelae fragment on its north side. This crossroads is reached by four ramps at the junction of Zac Beob #1 and #3 and is located a short distance from the major Group B built along the shores of Laguna Coba and Macan Xooc.

In the majority of the references to crossroads and forks in the road in the Books of Chilam Balam a statement is made that houseflies and blue-tailed flies shall cry at the crossroads. While never explicitly stated, it seems that the intent of these phrases is that ambushes will take place at the crossroads or at forks in the road resulting in the gathering of houseflies and blue-tailed flies to feed and lay their eggs on the corpses resulting from armed conflicts. There is a statement in the Bocabulario de Maya Than de Viena which would seem to support this notion, as it lists in an entry the phrase "reñir a la encrucijada" or "fighting at the crossroads".61 If what the Colonial Mayan literature tells us is related to reality, it should be possible to locate indications of some sort of armed conflict in these road junctions in the form of projectile points and related artifacts or even fragments of human bone as the end product of the rotten corpses described above.62


Another subject of interest is the question of what is the real meaning and function of miz be (sweep the road) and related activities having to do with "sweeping" of public places: miz lub (sweep the leagues / resting place), miz luum (sweep the land), miz kiuic (sweep the plaza), and miz peten (sweep the region). According to Camargo, the meaning of the month name Ochpaniztli63 which begins on September 18th is "sweep the roads". It would seem that the idea of sweeping the roads, at least in the Mexican highlands, had a definite time when this activity takes place. So far in the Mayan sources no indication has been found stating that this activity takes place at a certain time of the year. It would seem though that like so many other activities in an agrarian society, it makes sense that this activity should occur at a specific time of the year, and is not an activity which occurs randomly throughout the year. A search has been made through the Mayan texts themselves for more specific information, but there is nothing specific said about this activity, not even when it should take place. As is the case when we say "leap year", and expect the listener to know what we mean, it seems that just the mention of the activity is considered to be enough information for the reader by the writer, and that a more thorough explanation is not necessary.

The term u matan miz be64 refers to a section of road which is to be swept and cleaned of weeds by a particular town, barrio, or person. This statement not only reminds one of a type of civic duty but the fact that roads were probably built based on sections assigned to a group of individuals. Such might be the case for the Ma Chucaani65 Zac Be #26 in Coba, where only some sections of one stretch of this zac be was made with a raised roadbed, leaving spaces in between them. (Folan and Stuart 1974). A similar thing was observed only a few years ago in the construction of a new road from Tekax to Becan Chheen,66 Yucatan in 1960, resulting in some sections of the road being completed before others, thus producing empty spaces on the road that, in this case were later built in by teams of pieceworkers. (Folan 1969, personal observation 1960).

On a much larger scale, Ruben Maldonado Cardenas (1996) informs us that the principal zac be from Itzmal to Ake was originally missing a section from Zic Pach67 to X-Em Na.68 This section of the zac be was added much later. Similarly, a section of the zac be between Uci and Kan Zahcab69 was at first missing, namely the beginning section between Kancab and Ucan Ha which was later added on.

According to Landa, it was on those cleaned roads during the Kan70 years associated with the bacab Ah Can Tzic Nal71 that an image of Chac Uayab Haab72 was carried to the east, which is the world direction for the Kan years, ostensibly at the limits of a village marked by a pile of stones now referred to as ppic tun in Maya and mojoneras in Spanish.


Several mythological personages have been associated with roadways. Generally speaking some manifestation of the goddess Ix Chel is considered as being the guardian of these personages. One of these manifestations is Ix Zac Beliz or "she who walks the white road". Although Ix Zac Beliz is considered to be the maternal grandmother of the rain god Chac,73 it is Ix Chel herself who is depicted in a mural in Tulum as carrying two small images of Chac according to Sabloff and Rathje (1975) while walking on some type of leveled area which may be a roadway.

In Coba the deity Chiribias, also known as the Virgin de Guadalupe and Ix Chebel Yax,74 with her husband Itzam Na75 who lives in Lake Coba in the form of an alligator, are related to zac beob strongly associated with water. (Folan 1992.) This is also the case of the Cenote Sagrado of Chi Chheen Itza which is probably associated with Chac as well as Itzam Na (Folan 1968). Additionally, Chi Chheen Itza, which is laid out according to the dictates of the Popol Vuh, is also strongly related to the Enchanted Twins, Hun Ah Pu76 and X-Balan Qué,77 and the Underworld, Xibalba,78 which is supposedly located under the Great Ball Court. (Folan 1980 and 1987.) This is the dwelling place of the Lords of the Underworld, who are depicted on the sides of the Ball Court engaged in a game using the head of Hun Ah Pu as the ball. Also depicted is a hallucinogenic tree whose leaves are smoked in the form of a cigar by the contemporary Maya, according to Beatriz Barba Ahuatzin de Piña Chan, Celso Gutierrez Baez (1996) and Fausto R. Del Angel Tafoya. (personal communication: 1996.) This perhaps explains the source of the material in the cigars smoked by Enchanted Twins in their journey through the Underworld as explained in part by the above authors.

Also, according to one of us, a mythological passageway between the Cenote Sagrado and the Cenote X-Toloc79 passes beneath the Temple of Kukul Can. (Folan, ibid.) It is here that the Enchanted Twins took a turn to the west on the black road to continue their journey. There is also a zac be between the Temple of the High Priest's Grave with its feathered serpents, a graphic representation of Kukul Can on its balustrades and the Cenote X-Toloc. (Cobos, this symposium.)

We can thus surmise that not only the Enchanted Twins, but Kukul Can and X-Quic,80 the mother of the Enchanted Twins are associated with cenotes and zac beob of both a subterranean and terrestrial nature, especially since Villa Rojas (ibid) informs us that it is the King Ucan81 or Kukul Can who built the zac be between Coba and Yaxuna. Kukul Can also shows up in relationship to the underground route between Acan Muul and Uxmal and between Mani82 and Ich Caan Ziho, where he was accompanied by X-Nuc Mani,83 a mythological female who will pass out little nut shells of water in exchange for children when the end of the world comes (Burns 1983) reminding us of the recurring problem of climate change and drought in the Peninsula of Yucatan. (Folan et al. 1983, Gunn and Adams 1981; Messenger 1990.) It should be also noted that there seems to be an association between child sacrifice to X-Nuc Mani and the child seen in the Cenote in Dzibil Chaltun and also child sacrifice in the neighboring Open Chapel where a child was left on the altar ostensibly as an offering, according to local beliefs. (Folan 1970.) X-Nuc is also associated with the route from Chan Santa Cruz to the Rio Hondo passing through the town of Noh Bec84 where she and two kakaz baaloob85 as well as the Bob86 live according to Valentina Vapnarsky (1995).

Also of great interest to us are the mythological characters associated with crossroads and resting places. Ralph Roys (1965) has informed us of an Ix Hol Can Be or "lady opening-at-the-four-roads" or crossroads listed in an incantation for traveler seizure that may probably be related to Ix Chel in her form as the Ix Tabay, as well as Cit Hol Can Lub referring to "father-opening-at-the-four-roads" or crossroads.



Many of the major roadways of the ancient Maya in Northern Yucatan usually start out as unimpressive structures, as in the case of the zac beob of Coba / Yaxuna and Coba / Ixil, but become more impressive as they progress. This progression is analogous to the analysis of the various types of roads of the Maya. Although many people have come to regard zac be only as roadways used for ceremonial, commercial or militaristic purposes at one time or another, as well as linking kinship groups in the case of the celestial and terrestrial zac beob be as shown in our early work in Coba, (Folan 1975) we are also discovering that they are associated with many different personages mostly associated with Ix Chel and her alternate guises and with Kukul Can, X-Nuc and her neighbors and secondarily with the Chacoob, Itzam Na and the Enchanted Twins, with X-Quic probably being related to the virgins who were supposedly lowered into the Cenote Sagrado with the hope of receiving a message from the gods regarding prognostications of the year to come. (Folan 1980, 1987)

We have also learned from the dictionaries that certain type activities take place in certain parts of a zac be, some of which can be confirmed archaeologically. Also of importance is the notice of the term which denotes family relationships.

It should be recalled, however, that work on zac beob is only just beginning. Although it was thought by some only a few years ago that no zac beob existed in the Peten87 of Campeche and Guatemala, recent discoveries have proved otherwise. Examples of these discoveries include those by Pincemin (1994), Siemens et al (1996) and Vargas (1985) in the Rio Candelaria area, by Hansen (1991 and this symposium) and others including Gomez (1995), Roldan et al.(1991); Suasnavar (1994) in Ixtoton, El Mirador, Nak Be, and Tintal, by the Chases (this symposium) in El Caracoal, by Wendy Ashmore this symposium in Xunan Tunich,88 also in Belice, by Scott Fedick (1996) in the Yal Ahau89 region of Northern Quintana Roo, by Maldonado in Ake and Dzibil Chaltun, and by Rafael Cobos (this symposium) in Chi Chheen Itza. Furthermore, from our preliminary work in and around Calak Muul, Campeche, it would seem that discoveries of roadways are just getting started. One of us has also suggested that the zac be of Coba may be astronomically oriented and the zac be termini of Coba may represent a star map and/or a map of the regional state of Coba. (Folan et al. 1983.) We must remember, however, that not only field work, but ethnographic and linguistic efforts not only compliment but give life to those right-of-ways of the ancient Maya, touching upon many aspects of their sociopolitical and mythological organization.


1White road, from zac = white and be = road. However, Morley (1963:309) gives the following: The word sacbe ( sacbeob, plural) means in Maya "artificial road" - sac, "something artificial, made by hand"; and be, "road."

This is a misinterpretation of an alternative meaning of zac. Compare, for example, with the Motul I: Çac: en composicion de algunas diciones disminuye la siginificacion o denota cierta imperfecion, como çac cimil, çac cheh, çac yum, ettz. lo qual se pondra adelante.

Frequently the true meaning of this zac is "false, feigned", but it would be incorrect to say that zac be = "false road".

2See Motul I: Ah coba: especie de los faisanes llamados bach. Bach is the bird Ortelis vetula pallidiventris (Roys 1931) or Cissolopia yucatanica (Folan 1983a), and is called chachalaca in Spanish. Alternatively, perhaps "Putrid Water" is meant, from cob = putrid and -a = water. Compare with the following entries in the Vienna: Alberca de agua: koba; pek. / Lago o laguna de agua: koba; hoc akal. / Piélago de río: koba., from which one might assume that Koba is in fact the correct spelling of this word. However, the Books of Chilam Balam consistently spell this name as Coba. Often these texts refer to Coba as Kinchil Coba. (The numeric terms kinchil and hun tzootz ceh (= all of the hair of a deer) are given as being equivalent in Beltrán's Arte, and are glossed as "un millon". A rough English equivalent might be "innumerable". Strictly speaking, kinchil equals 3,200,000.) In the text from the Chumayel which notes that 13 Ahau Katun is seated at Kinchil Coba, the parallel text from the Ti Tzimin gives the alternative site name Cabal Ix Bach Can. The meaning of this alternative name is not absolutely certain. Cabal = low, ix = female, bach = chachalaca, can = snake/shoot. However, since the word for "sky/heaven" is spelled both can and caan in the Mayan colonial texts, an alternative meaning might involve the word "heaven" rather than "snake". Yet another alternative is that ix bach can is an yet unidentified plant name, this because the word can is a common term meaning "shoot/tendril" and is to be found in various plant names. The use of cabal as given in this name is consistent with Mayan plant nomenclature. It is interesting to note that both from the Motul I entry given above and the Chilam Balam entry it appears that Coba and the bird bach are interconnected.

3Perhaps originally Yaxuma, from yaxum = the bird Cotinga amabilis and -a = water.

4Road of rock, from be = road and tun = rock.

5In Heaven Born, from ich = in, caan = sky, heaven, and zih = to be born. During the colonial period and today the Mayan populace refer to the city as Ho, from which the writers of Spanish historical sources get T-Ho or Ti Ho. Note that the principal temple in Mérida, perhaps where the Casa del Pueblo now stands (that is, the area bounded by Calles 65, 46, 67, and 50), was, according to the Motul I Dictionary, called Chun Caan, the Base of Heaven. See Motul I: Ah chun caan: ydolo de los indios antiguos de Merida. ¶ Item: el cerro grande que esta tras San Francisco de Merida.

6This island is called Cuzamil in Mayan documents, and is derived from cuzam = swallow.

7Fair-skinned Woman, from ix = female and chel = fair-skinned. Chel also means "rainbow".

8It is interesting to note that Cogolludo (1971) mentions the existence of such a roadway:

Cogolludo (1971:I/24): Era Cozumél el mayor Santuario para los indios que habia en este reino de Yucatan, y á donde recurrian en romeria de todo él por unas calzadas que le atravesaban todo, y hoy permanecen en muchas partes vestigios dellas, que no se han acabado de deshacer, y asi habia alli grandes kues (ku na), adoratorios de ídolos.

Cogolludo (1971:I/250-251): Consérvase hoy la memoria, de mas de lo escrito en las historias, de que la isla de Cozumél era el supremo santuario, y como romano de esta tierra, donde no solo los moradores de ella, pero de otras tierras concurrian á la adoracion de los ídolos, que en ella veneraban, y se vén vestigios de calzadas que atraviesan todo este reino, y dicen rematan á lo oriental dél en la playa del mar, desde donde se atraviesa un brazo dél, de distancia de cuatro leguas, con que se divide esta Tierra Firme de aquella isla. Estas calzadas eran, como caminos reales, que guiaban sin recelo de perderse en ellos, para que llegasen <251> á Cozumél al cumplimiento de sus promesas, á las ofrendas de sus sacrificios, á pedir el remedio de sus necesidades, y á la errada adoracion de sus Dioses fingidos.

9 One of two cenotes or sink holes in the center of Chi Chheen Itza. The other cenote is X-Toloc, mentioned later in this paper. In the colonial Mayan texts there is no special name for the Cenote Sagrado. The name ofthe site is Chi Chheen or Chi Chheen Itza, or occasionally Uucil Yaab Nal (seven quantities of corn), and the cenote itself is refered to simply as chheen.

10 Mouth of the Well of the Itza, from chi = mouth, chheen = well, and Itza = a Mayan group.

11 Meaning unknown. Cogolludo (1971:I/251) notes that an alternative name for Uxmal is Uxumual, and thus perhaps the name Uxmal is derived from U Xul Muyal = at the end of the clouds.

12 Living rope, from cuxaan = living, alive, and zum = rope.

13 White Hawk, from zac = white and ii = hawk. Over the front door of the cathedral facing the central plaza of Zac Ii there is a shield which has a representation of this bird.

14 A wall or fortification made of dirt. Probably from tul = around and luum = earth.

15 Tozzer (1941) gives the following information in note 908:

According to the folklore of the present Mayas, in the olden times there was a road suspended in the sky stretching from Tulum and Coba to Chichen Itza and Uxmal. This pathway was called cuxan sum or sac be. It was in the nature of a large rope ( sum ) supposed to be living ( cuxan ) and in the middle flowed blood. Tozzer, 1907, 153.

16 The hispanified term Rey Macehualo = King of the peasant/indians, from the Spanish rey = king and the Nahuatl maceualli = peasant or vassal. In Mayan this term is u rey mazeualoob. In present-day Mayan mazeual is an alternative name for the Maya themselves.

17 This is the present-day Mayan name for Mérida, and is derived from Ich Caan Ziho. See the footnote to Ich Caan Ziho above.

18 Written Bedrock, from dzibil = written and chaltun = bedrock. The local Mayans refer to this site as X-Lah Cah, or "old/ruined town".

19 This place name is generally referred to as Itzmal in Mayan documents and pronounced as such today. The place name is obviously related to the principal deity and temple built to him in this town, Itzam Na.

20 Old town, from lah / lab = old, rotten, and cah = town. As noted in the footnote to Dzibil Chaltun above, X-Lah Cah is the name used by the local populace for Dzibil Chaltun. In Mayan documents this is probably the site of Chable, also referred to as Lahun Chable. See the note to Santa Ursula below.

21 As noted above, the original name for Dzibil Chaltun was probably Chable, and also Lahun Chable which means "ten Chable", probably because the last 10 Ahau Katun (1374) before the Spanish conquest was seated here. The function of the suffix -kal is unclear. Kal means "twenty" and "to close".

22 Cogolludo (1971) confirms that Santa Ursula is the patron saint of Chablekal. Note that he spells the town's name Chable. It is unknown when the suffix -kal was added to the name.

Cogolludo (1971:I/302-303): El convento de Cumkal tiene cuarto lugar en la tabla del primer capitulo custodial del año de 1549. Es titular de su iglesia nuestro padre San Francisco; sus visitas son Santiago del pueblo <303> de Chicxulub (Chhic Xulub), Santa Ursula del de Chablé (Chable), San Pedro Apóstol del de Chulul, y San Juan Bautista del Zicipach (Zicil Pach).

23 She who is in Front of the Cenote, from ix = female, tan = in front of, and dzonot = cenote or sink hole.

24 An as yet unspecified skin disease. Roys translates anal kak as "a certain small ulcer" in Ethno-Botany (Roys 1931), and chac anal kak as "a small ulcer" in the Bacabs (Roys 1965), and translates hobonte kak which is given as an equivalent to chac anal kak in the Bacabs as "erysipelas". Arzápalo (1987) concurs. Chac anal kak is given again on page 106 of the Bacabs, and Roys translates this as "red anal-kak ulcers", with Arzápalo giving "Viruelas-rojo-encendido".

25 There are, unfortunately, several meanings of the word acan as shown by the entries in the Motul I given below. The most common use of acan is the one which means "sigh / moan", and thus the name of this site would seem to be "Moaning / Sighing Mound" perhaps associated with the sound of the chains according to our informant. However, perhaps this site was dedicated to the god Acan, the god of fermented drink (either balche or ci, or perhaps both), and thus the name would mean "Acan's Mound", which may refer to the inebriated witness to the above events.

Acan: el dios del vino, que es vaco.

Acan: el mismo, vino.

Acan: tio hermano de madre o de madrasta, y tio, marido de la tia, hermana de padre. ¶ Item: abuelo segundo de parte de la madre.

Acan: gemir y gemido. ¶ Item: quexarse el enfermo, y estar fatigado.

Acan: bramar y bramido. ¶ Acan v cah vacas.

Acan: aullar las palomas.

Acan: bufar algunos animales y bramar.

Acan: bufido assi.

Acan: zumbar y zumbido como de oydos. ¶ Item: el zumbido y ruido de la flecha o piedras y la culebra quando corre y el viento quando haçe ruido.

Acaan: partiçipio de actal: cosa fundada o fixa: o asentada fixa. ¶ Acaan v chun pak: fixo esta el çimiento de la pared.

Acaan: mar o laguna sosegada.

Not included in this list is the plant acan/acam = Orobanche sp. (Roys 1931:213).

26 Probably Chheen Blas, or "the Well of Blas".

27 Probably Nachal Ha = "Far Water".

28 There are several alternative meanings for this place name. Yax can mean both "green/blue" and "first". Ca, if the a is pronounced short or clipped, can mean "striped squash" (Cucurbita spp.), and by extention "skull", and "metate". If the a is pronounced regular and spelled cah, it can mean "town". I would think that Yax Cah = "First Town" / "Green Town", depending on the features of the place, is to be assumed as the correct reading, unless there is no town to be found at this site. In that case "Green Striped Squash" / "Green Skull" / "Green Metate" are the possible meanings.

29 He of the Cave, from h- = male and zahcab = cave and the white marl which is dug from caves. Here of course zahcab refers to the cave itself.

30 Feathered Snake, from kukul = feathered and can = snake. Called Quetzal Coatl in Nahuatl.

31 Big Road, from noh = big and be = road. This is generally glossed as "camino real" in the dictionaries.

32 The meaning of Ixil is unknown. This town of Ixil is 20 kms. southwest of Coba and about 35 kms. south of Che Maax. There is a second, better known town named Ixil which lies just north of Cumkal and Chhic Xulub.

33 As mentioned above, noh be is generally glossed as "camino real" in the early dictionaries.

34 Landa (1966:109): Los segundos edificios que en esta tierra son más principales y antiguos - tanto que no hay memoria de sus fundadores - son los de T-ho (Ich Caan Ziho, or today Ho); están a trece leguas de los de Izamal (Itzmal) y a ocho del mar como los otros; y hay señales hoy en día de haber habido una muy hermosa calzada de los unos a los otros. Los españoles poblaron aquí una ciudad y llamáronla Mérida por la extrañeza y grandeza de los edificios, el principal de los cuales señalaré aquí como pudiere e hice (con el) de Izamal (Itzmal), para que mejor se puede ver lo que es.

35 While Ich Caan Ziho is not directly mentioned in the following paragraph by Lizana, it is not hard to surmise that the road going westward from the temple of Kauil would lead to the Ruins of Ake and then on to Ich Caan Ziho.

Lizana (1633:6v): Y este [templo] era el que está en la parte del puniente y, assí, se llama y nombra Kabul, que quiere dezir "mano obradora". Allí ofrecían grandes limosnas, y lleuavan presentes y hazían romerías de todas partes. Para lo qual hauían hecho quatro caminos o calzadas a los quatro vientos, que llegavan a todos los fines desta tierra y passavan a la de Tavasco y Guatemala y Chiapa, que aún hoy [s]e ve, en muchas partes, pedazos y vestigios della. Tanto era el concurso que acudía a estos oráculos de Itz[a]m [N]a T[h]ul y [K]abul, que havía hechos caminos.

36 There is no known meaning for this name. Some relate that an earlier name is Aqu.

37 See the earlier footnote in which Cogolludo (1971) talks about the roads leading to Cuzamil.

38 Meaning uncertain. Perhaps this name has to do with merchants. See Motul I: Ppolmal: mercadear, tratar y contratar, comprar y vender.; and Ppolom .l. ah ppolom: mercader. The location of this port is not specified in the sources known to us, but probably is in or about Playa del Carmen.

39 Literally "Linage Road", from chhibal = caste, linage, and be = road. See Motul I: Chhibal: casta; linage. ¶ De aqui sale: v chhibal be: camino grande, prinçipal, y real respecto de los otros pequños y sendas que salen del. ¶ valkahen a chhab v chhibal be a ppatahe: vueluete atras a tomar el camino prinçipal y real que dexastes o que perdiste.

40 Meaning uncertain, perhaps due to a misspelling of the name.

41 White Hill, from zacal = white and puuc = hill.

42 Yax = green.

43 A hispanification of the Mayan word zazcab = cave and the marl or white earth derive from this cave. In colonial times this term was written zahcab.

44 Twin Hills, from calak = paired, twin, and muul = man-made mound or man-made hill.

45 See Vienna: Calçada, camino enpedrado: be tun, çac be.; and Motul I: Be tun: camino o calçada de piedra. / Çac be: calçada o camino de calçada.

46 Landa (1966:113-114): Tenía delante la escalera del norte (of the Temple of Kukul Can), algo aparte, dos teatros de cantería, pequeños, de cuatro escaleras, enlosados por <114> arriba, en que dicen representaban las farsas y comedias para solaz del pueblo. Va desde el patio, enfrente de estos teatros, una hermosa y ancha calzada hasta un pozo (que está) como a dos tiros de piedra.

47 Abutting the Road, from nak = abut and be = road.

48 Meaning unknown. Perhaps Ti Kal, meaning "At Twenty" or "At the Closure". Note that Chablekal also has the word kal in it.

49 Narrow Road, from chhux = narrow and be = road.

50 Dark Road, from ek = dark, black, and be = road, so-called because the pathway is closed in by vegetation and thus dark.

51 Apparently from luth meaning to jump, to lope, or to trot, and thus a pathway which has not been cleaned of impediments causing the user to trot or jump along the pathway.

52 Narrow Road, from thul = narrow and be = road. This is still a common term in use today.

53 The correct meaning of Itzamkanac is unknown. From the dictionaries we see that itzam = lizard and kanac = Alchornea latifolia Swartz. Scholes and Roys (1968:64) have this comment: "We are unable to translate Itzamkanac. Itzam, which means "lizard", was also an element of the name of the Yucatecan sky god, Itzamna, and in Maya art generally the sky is represented by a snakelike lizard monster with a band of astronomical symbols along its body. As yet, however, we have found no mention of Itzamna either among the Acalan or in Tabasco." It should be remembered, however, that Lizana (1633) states that pilgrims came from "Tavasco y Guatemala y Chiapa" to Itzmal, thus implying that the people of Tabasco were well aware of the god Itzam Na.

54 Perhaps "Covered Shark", from macan = covered and xooc = shark.

55 It can not be determined if this is a Mayan word, or perhaps a Chontal or Nahuatl word. If the former, it is misspelled. There is no word which approaches the spelling Panlao in the various Nahuatl dictionaries.

56 Green Prophet, from yax = green and chilam / chilan = prophet.

57 National Geographic Research, Vol. 4, Nº 2, pp. 196-207.

58 Parted Water (?), from xel = to part and ha = water. Perhaps this name has been mispronounced, and comes from something like X-Chel Ha, the Water of Ix Chel. In any case, Motul I gives xel as follows: Xel.ah,eb: despedaçar o partir con la mano o cuchillo pan, frutas, carne.

59 Well Wall, from pak = wall and chheen = well.

60 High Forest, from caanal = high and kaax = forest.

61 Vienna 88r: Encruçijada de caminos: u katil be, u xay be .l. u xayal be. ¶ Ydos a reñir a la encruçijada: xenex ti xay be ti oc yail.

62 However, Cogolludo (1971:II/330) gives another example of how the crossroads were used: Los cuerpos del padre Fr. Juan y capitan echaron en una hoya de tierra blanca, dejándolos allí. A los demas llevaron á la cruz del camino por donde habian de venir los otros españoles, y los dejaron clavados cada uno en una estaca, y despues quemando el pueblo y iglesia, se huyeron á los montes.

63 Ochpaniztli, it seems, has to do with otli = road and tlachpanaliztli = the action of sweeping, from which somehow the word ochpantli = camino ancho y real (Molina 1970) is derived.

64 The charity of sweeping the road, from matan = alms, charity, miz = sweep, and be = road. See the Motul I:

Matan miz be: la parte que cabe de barrer y limpiar del camino a algun pueblo o parcialidad o persona. ¶ a matanex miz be lo: esto es lo que os cabe de limpiar de vuestra penetencia.

The DMM has these two related entries:

Parte o pertenençia de camino que caue a cada pueblo para limpiar: v kochol miz beil; v matan miz beil.

Perteneçia o parte del camino que cada lugar esta obligado a limpiar: v kochol miz beyl; v matan miz beil.

65 Ma chucaani means "incomplete".

66 Well in a ravine, from becan = ravine and chheen = well.

67 While this name is given as Sitpach in the modern maps, it is clear both from the Chumayel and El Documento de Yax Kukul that its Mayan name is Zic Pach. The meaning of zic pach is unclear.

68 This place name is unregistered in the Colonial dictionaries and literature. The verb root em means "to descend", and appears in the place name Emal. Na could either means "house" or "mother", depending on pronunciation.

69 Yellow Cave / Yellow Marl, from kan = yellow and zahcab = cave, marl. This town is often given in the present-day maps as Cansahcab.

70 Note that Landa (1966) shifts the year bearers in relationship to the world direction colors one quadrant counter-clockwise, and thus gives the Muluc in place of Kan. Tozzer (1941) talks about this discrepancy in various notes. For the year Muluc see note 687.

71 Four Honored Corn (?), from ah = male, can = four, tzic = honor, revere, and nal = corn.

72 Red Year Ending, from chac = red and uayab haab = the last five days of the Mayan annual calendar. Chac or Red is the color to the East, the color of the Kan years.

73 There is no discernable difference in pronunciation (for us in any case) between chac = rain / rain god, chac = red, and chac = great, big.

74 The true meaning of the names Chiribias and Ix Chebel Yax are unknown. Cogolludo (1971:I/247) states that Chiribirias (note the difference in spelling) is the Mayan name for the Virgin Mary. Barrera transforms Cogolludo's Chiribirias to Ix Chebel Yax, perhaps based on Landa and Cogolludo both noting the existence of such a goddess, but the Barrera reading presupposes that the second syllable ri in chiribir is not valid. The i's in Cogolludo's name and the common substitution of r for l would make one think that perhaps the name might be Ix Chhilibil Yax, where chhilib = twig. However, the word cheeb = strong, so perhaps Ix Chebel Yax is correct. In the passage about Chiribirias Cogolludo notes that Ix Chel is the mother of Chiribirias, whereas in the passages where Landa and Cogolludo mention Ix Chel and Ix Chebel Yax together no relationship is ascribed between the two. It would thus not be surprising to find out that Ix Chebel Yax and Ix Chhilibil Yax are two distinct deities. It should be noted that neither name is attested in the Mayan colonial literature.

75 Lizard House, from itzam = lizard, crocodile, and na = house.

76 Quiche for One Blow Gun Hunter, from hun = one, ah = male, and pu = blow gun.

77 Quiche for Little Jaguar Deer, from x- = little, balan = jaguar and qué = deer.

78 In Quiche Maya xibalba means the underworld whereas in Yucatec Maya xibalba means the ruler of the underworld himself. In Yucatec Maya the name of the underworld is mitnal, or today metnal, probably derived from the Nahuatl term mictlan, from micca = dead and -tlan = place of.

79 Roys (1931): An ash-colored lizard with a crest on its head.

80 Quiche Maya: "blood of a woman" or perhaps "little blood", from x- = female or little, and quic = blood. According to Edmonson (1971), X-Quic is the daughter of Cuchuma Quic, one of the lords of Xibalba, and was impregnated by the head of Hun Hun Ah Pu spitting into her hand, resulting in the birth of the Enchanted Twins Hun Ah Pu and X-Balan Qué.

81 The meaning of this name is unknown. Perhaps it is a corruption of the name Kukul Can.

82 Meaning unknown. Some suggest it is related to the verb mani = he/she/it passed by.

83 Old Woman of Mani, from x- = female, nuc = old, and Mani.

84 Big Oak, from noh = big and bec = oak (Ehretia tinifolia L.). The town of Noh Bec is about half way between Chan Santa Cruz (Felipe Carrillo Puerto) and Bak Halal (Bacalar).

85 Evil things, from kaz = evil and baal = thing.

86 Unfortunately, none of the dictionaries have an entry for this cat. It is evident as can be seen in the below entries from the Books of Chilam Balam that the bob is in the same category as balam (jaguar), bolay (unspecified large cat), and coh (puma).

d196 u balamil cab chac bolay, chac bob, yetel zac bob

j294 tu kin yan u chibaltamba balam yetel chac bob yetel coh

j296 buluc ahau u kin u nichhlin coo yetel lach lam pach balam yetel chac bob

87 Peten = region, district, province.

88 Woman Rock, from xunan = woman and tunich = rock.

89 There appears to be two possible meanings for the name Yal Ahau: Water of the Ruler, from aal = drinking water and ahau = ruler, or The Child of the Queen, from al = child of a female, and ahau = ruler. In the later case, since the name is Yal Ahau and not Mehen Ahau, the ruler is assumed to be female.


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1941 See Landa (1941) above.

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