Link to enlarge K6042 (Las Bocas - Ceramic Vessel) THE FOUNDATION RESEARCH DEPARTMENT

Directions and Partitions in Maya World View
by Nicholas A. Hopkins and J. Kathryn Josserand

Table of Contents

The Four Directions: Terms and Hieroglyphs
The Meaning of the Directional Terms
Support for the Hypothesis
East and West
The Mythology Behind the Metaphor
North and South
Four-way Partitions of the Universe


The words and hieroglyphs used by the Classic Maya, the Colonial Maya, and the modern Maya for the "four directions" have been a subject of interest for a long time. Sixteenth-century sources provided the words used by the Yucatec Maya for the directions. The terms were East, lik'in or lak'in; North, xaman; West, chik'in; and South, nohol (Martínez Hernández 1929). These are still the terms used by Mayas of the Yucatecan branch of the Mayan family (Barrera Vásquez et al. 1980; Bricker et al. 1998; Hofling & Tesucún 1997). As far as the glyphs were concerned, epigraphic research in the nineteenth century identified the hieroglyphs used to represent the directions. However, it was a long time before scholars knew how to put these two lines of evidence together, and there are still unresolved questions

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