The Stone-in-Hand Glyph
By:  Tim Knowlton
Vea este artículo en Español.

"Stone-in-Hand" glyph

The "Stone-in-Hand" glyph (so-called due to its resemblance to T714, except with a stone instead of a fish, depicted in the hand) is a rare Mayan glyph, known from only a small number of ceramic vessels and even fewer monumental contexts. The sparseness of the representation of this glyph has been a serious impediment to its decipherment. This study proposes what the author believes to be the most likely phonetic and semantic meaning of the glyph, based on the glyphic affixes and associated iconography present on known examples.

The "Stone-in-Hand" glyph appears primarily on Late Classic ceramics, generally as part of the name phrase of a way, or supernatural co-essence, depicted on the vessel. Based on its ability to function alone without glyphic affixes, as it does on K5070, it is assumed the glyph has at least a CVC (Consonant, Vowel, Consonant)  logographic value. Although the fact that it appears in name phrases, suggests the glyph to be a noun, its initial position in monumental texts as on Caracol Stela 21 and Yaxchilán Hieroglyphic Stairway, Step VII, clearly demonstrates that grammatically the glyph functions as a verb. Therefore, in examining its place in the name phrases of wayob, we should expect the glyph to function as a nominalized verb.

The single most frequent context in which the "Stone-in-Hand" glyph appears is in the name phrase of the "star-serpent-jaguar" of K1230, K1652, and K2284.  In all of these examples, the glyph appears as a main sign taking the T44, to superfix and the T140, la subfix. This combination also appears in other wayob name phrases, such as that of Hun Ahaw on K4546, and of Mok Chi also on K2284.  The la subfix is also attached to the Mok Chi name phrase on K3924.  We already know we should expect the glyph to function as a nominalized verb, therefore the T140, la syllable, is probably serving as the nominalizing verbal ending -al. The ubiquitousness of the T44 to superfix attests to its importance in reading this glyph. In the absence of any morphological use, it is assumed that T44, to, is functioning as a phonetic complement representing the first syllable (CV) of the CVC logogram. This disqualifies Linda Schele’s interpretation of the "Stone-in-Hand" glyph as simply a variant of T714, with the value of tsak  (Freidel et al. 1993, 354).

Other subfixes which appear with "Stone-in-Hand" include the T23 na syllable (present on both Caracol Stela 21 and Yaxchilán Hieroglyphic Stairway 2, Step VII) and the T116 ni syllable (only present on K791). Since both T23 and T116 can serve as verbal affixes, it should not be automatically assumed that they represent a final n(V), and attempting to read "Stone-in-Hand" as ton  "penis" in Yucatec) makes little sense in any of the known contexts. Instead, the author proposes that a phonetic complement representing the final consonant is not present in the examples currently available to us. This does not mean, however, that all attempts at decipherment are limited to speculation. The iconography associated with the "Stone-in-Hand" glyph illuminates the glyph’s probable semantic meaning, and there is a word in the Mayan languages that fits all the available evidence.

It was recognized by Nikolai Grube and Werner Nahm in their 1994 essay  "A Census of Xibalba," in the fourth volume of The Maya Vase Book, that the iconography associated with the "Stone-in-Hand" glyph suggested a meaning of taking something in hand, or grasping something. Mok Chi, on K2284 and K3924, the "star-jaguar"; on K2284, and God A1, on K5070 and the Altar Vase, all are depicted holding various objects. This interpretation alone, however, does not explain the glyph’s use on the two before mentioned monumental contexts. On Caracol Stela 21, "Stone-in-Hand" in A3b just precedes k’ak’; hoy, part of the house dedication statements. On Yaxchilán HS 2 Step VII glyph Q1, it is the verb referring to Bird Jaguar IV’s action at the Ox Ahal Eb (Three-Conquest-Ballcourt) while impersonating the Water Lily Serpent. Therefore, from the known iconography associated with the "Stone-in-Hand" glyph, its probable meanings include: grasping or taking something in hand; setting a fire during house dedication; and participating in the ritual ballgame.

In the Barrera Vasquez dictionary, the word tok  is given three separate definitions: 1) quema o quemar;  2) [tomar, quitar, arrebatar, usurpar, robar, privar]; tomar por fuerza casas y cosas muebles;  3) defender o librar. These definitions, taken together, do an excellent job of describing what is depicted in the scenes associated with the "Stone-in-Hand" glyph. If the "Stone-in-Hand" glyph is accepted as tok, then the first definition is represented on Caracol Stela 21.  The second definition is represented on the ceramic scenes mentioned earlier. A particularly interesting example is K4546, in which the Hero Twins are shown shooting the Cosmic Bird out of the World Tree. Here, an animal head(?) infixed with a kin sign precedes the "Stone-in-Hand" collocation. Given the proposed decipherment, the name phrase would read kin tok:al  Hun Ahaw; "sun-taker"; or "sun-usurper"; Hun Ahaw. Those familiar with the Popol Vuh myth cannot help but recognize that this is exactly what is being depicted. Upon firing his blowgun, Hun Ahaw is taking the "false sun"; the Cosmic Bird, out of the sky. Finally, the third use of tok  is probably being represented on the Yaxchilán step. Since the Maya ballgame was in fact dramatized ritual warfare (Freidel et al. 1993, 355), Bird Jaguar IV is in fact "defending" the court, in a military sense and otherwise, versus his captive opponent.

Now let us turn our attention to an earlier decipherment of the "Stone-in-Hand" glyph proposed by Nikolai Grube and Werner Nahm in the before mentioned essay "A Census of Xibalba." Grube and Nahm suggested, based on K2068, that the "Stone-in-Hand" glyph might have a value of ham. This is because here the main sign is prefixed by T181, ha and postfixed by T74 ma, which interpreted as phonetic complements, produces ha.m(a). However, the interpretation of these glyphs as phonetic complements then requires a reading of the glyph in context as a verb. On K2068, this collocation appears in the nominal portion of the Primary Standard Sequence. Perhaps a better explanation for this would be to interpret the T181, ha as the male agentive prefix and the T74, ma postfix as functioning like the Cholti usitative suffix -ma, "used with actions performed as part of an occupation" (Fought 1984, 55). The collocation would then read, meaning "he that takes by force or burns (as an occupation)." Perhaps this was the occupational title of the person for whom the vase was commissioned.

From an examination of available evidence regarding the "Stone-in-Hand" glyph, it most likely has the value of the Yucatec Mayan word tok. Although absolute confirmation will have to wait until an example containing a phonetic complement suffix comes to light, tok  can serve as a working decipherment, and it does so very well.

Sources Cited

Barrera Vasquez, Alfredo, et al.

Diccionario Maya Cordemex, Maya-Espanol, Espanol-Maya. México: Ediciones Cordemex. Mérida, Yucatán

Freidel, David, Linda Schele, and Joy Parker

Maya Cosmos: William Morrow. New York

Fought, John

Cholti Maya: A Sketch. In Supplement to the Handbook of Middle American Indians  edited by Munro S. Edmonson, pp. 43-55. University of Texas Press. Austin

Grube, Nikolai, and Werner Nahm

A Census of Xibalba: A Complete Inventory of Way  Characters on Maya Ceramics. In The Maya Vase Book  Vol.4, eds. Barbara Kerr and Justin Kerr, pp. 686-715. Kerr Associates. New York

Timothy Knowlton

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