Writing with heads: animated logographs and syllabograms in Maya writing

  • Nikolai Grube
Keywords: Maya hieroglyphic writing, Maya epigraphy, personifications, animation


One aspect of Maya hieroglyphic writing that continues to fascinate us is its pronounced figurativeness, which finds its greatest expression in head variants of signs and in full figure glyphs. For a more systematic understanding of these personified signs, it is necessary to divide them into two groups. The first class are “essential personifi cations”. These are logograms that render names of anthropomorphic or zoomorphic beings by depicting their heads or other important parts of their bodies. The second class of personified signs are “unspecific personifications”, where there is no natural relationship between sign and meaning. These are most, syllabic signs. The animation of syllabic signs occurs especially in dedication texts. The study of the use and distribution of personified signs helps us to understand the relation between image, anima, and agency in Maya hieroglyphic writing.


Chase, Arlen and Diane Z. Chase (eds.) 2014 Ancient Social Integration in a Maya Neighborhood: Investigation of Adjacent Residential Complexes near Caracol’s Epicenter: Caracol Archaeological Project Investigations for 2014: A Continuation of the 2012 and 2013 Research Focus. Report Prepared for the Belize Institute of Archaeology, University of Central Florida, Orlando.

Coe, Michael D. 1973 The Maya Scribe and His World. The Grolier Club, New York.

de la Iglesia, Martin, Franziska Diehr, Uwe Sikora, Sven Gronemeyer,Maximilian Behnert-Brodhun, Christian Prager and Nikolai Grube 2021 The Code of Maya Kings and Queens: Encoding and Markup of Maya Hieroglyphic Writing. Journal of the Text Encoding Initiative Issue 14 | 2021Selected Papers from the 2019 TEI Conference. https://journals.openedition.org/jtei/3336 https://doi.org/10.4000/jtei.3336

Diehr, Franziska, Maximilian Brodhun, Sven Gronemeyer, Katja Diederichs, Christian Prager, Elisabeth Wagner and Nikolai Grube 2017 Modellierung eines digitalen Zeichenkatalogs für die Hieroglyphen des Klassischen Maya: Ein neues Konzept zur Klassifikation von Schriftzeichen sowie der qualitativen Bewertung und Einstufung von Entzifferungshypothesen. In INFORMATIK 2017: Lecture Notes in Informatics (LNI), edited by Maximilian Eibl and Martin Gaedke: 1185-1196. Gesellschaft für Informatik, Bonn.

Gibson, Eric C., Leslie C. Shaw, and Daniel R. Finamore 1986 Early Evidence of Maya Hieroglyphic Writing at Kichpanha, Belize. Center for Archaeological Research, Working Papers in Archaeology, No. 2. The University of Texas at San Antonio.

Grube, Nikolai 1990 Die Entwicklung der Maya-Schrift. Grundlagen zur Erforschung des Wandels der Mayaschrift von der Protoklassik bis zur spanischen Eroberung (= Acta Mesoamericana, Bd. 3), Berlin: Verlag von Flemming.

Grube, Nikolai 1994 Observations on the History of Maya Hieroglyphic Writing. In Seventh Palenque Round Table, 1989, edited by Marle Greene Robertson and Virginia M. Fields: 177-186. The Pre-Columbian Art Research Institute, San Francisco.

Grube, Nikolai 2021 „Ein Bild sagt mehr als tausend Worte“: Logographme in der Maya-Schrift. In: Der Text und seine Kulturen, herausgegeben von Andreas Kablitz, Christoph Markschies und Peter Strohschneider. DeGruyter, Berlin. (in press)

Houston, Stephen D. 2004 Writing in Early Mesoamerica. In The First writing: Script Invention as History and Process, edited by Stephen D. Houston: 274-312. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.

Houston, Stephen D. 2012 Maya Writing: Modified, Transformed. In: The Shape of Script: How and Why Writing Systems Change, edited by Stephen D. Houston: 187-208. School for Advanced Research Press, Santa Fe.

Houston, Stephen D. 2014 The Life Within. Classic Maya and the Matter of Permanence. Yale University Press, New Haven.

Houston, Stephen D. and Andréas Stauder 2020 „What is a Hieroglyph?“, in: L’Homme 233(1), S. 9–44.

Houston, Stephen D., and David Stuart 1996 Of Gods, Glyphs, and Kings: Divinity and Rulership Among the Classic Maya. Antiquity 79: 289-312.

Kettunen, Harri, and Marc Zender 2019 On the Graphic and Lexical Origins of Maya Syllabograms. In Tiempo detenido, un tiempo suficiente: Ensayos y narraciones mesoamericanistas en homenaje a Alfonso Lacadena García Gallo. Edited by Harri Kettunen, María Josefa Iglesias Ponce de León, Felix Kupprat, Gaspar Muñoz Cosme, Verónica Amellali Vázquez López, and

Cristina Vidal Lorenzo. Wayeb Publication Series, Vol. 1.

Kováč, Milan, Eva Jobbová and Guido Krempel 2016 The Legacy of an Early Maya King: Text, Imagery and Ritual Contexts of a Late Preclassic Cache from structure H-XVI Sub, Uaxactun. Mexicon XXXVIII (1): 9-29.

Martin, Simon, and Nikolai Grube 1994 Evidence for Macro-Political organization among Classic Maya Lowland States. www.mesoweb.com/articles/Martin/Macro-Politics.pdf

Martin, Simon, Alexandre Tokovinine, Elodie Treffel, and Vilma Fialko 2017 La Estela 46 de Naranjo Sa’al, Peten, Guatemala: hallazgo y texto jeroglífico. In XXX Simposio de Investigaciones Arqueológicas en Guatemala, 2016, edited by Bárbara Arroyo, Luis Méndez Salinas, and Gloria Ajú Álvarez, v. 2, pp. 669-684. Ministerio de Cultura y Deportes; Instituto de Antropología e Historia; Asociación Tikal, Guatemala

Miller, Mary, and Simon Martin 2004 Courtly Art of the Ancient Maya. Thames and Hudson, London and New York.

Moot, Dana 2021 Smoking Monkeys, Drunken Jaguars: A Formal Study of El Zotz-Style Ceramics. Unpublished MA thesis, California State University, Chico.

Prager, Christian M., and Gronemeyer, Sven 2018 Neue Ergebnisse in der Erforschung der Graphemik und Graphetik des Klassischen Maya. In Ägyptologische “Binsen”-Weisheiten III: Formen und Funktionen von Zeichenliste und Paläographie, edited by Gülden, Svenja A., van der Moezel, Kyra V. J., and Verhoeven-van Elsbergen, Ursula, pp. 135–181. Franz Steiner Verlag, Stuttgart.

Riese, Berthold 1989 The Inscription on the Sculptured Bench of the House of the Bacabs. In The House of the Bacabs, Copan, Honduras, edited by David L. Webster, pp. 82-88. Dumbarton Oaks, Washington, D.C.

Saturno, William, David Stuart, and Boris Beltran 2006 Early Maya Writing at San Bartolo, Guatemala. Science 311: 1281-1283.

Schele, Linda

Maya Glyphs: The Verbs. University of Texas Press, Austin.

Schele, Linda and Mary Ellen Miller 1986 The Blood of Kings. Dynasty and Ritual in Maya Art. Kimbell Art Museum, Fort Worth.

Spinden, Herbert 1913 A Study of Maya Art: Its Subject Matter and Historical Development. Memoirs of the Peabody Museum of American Archaeology and Ethnology 6. Harvard University, Cambridge.

Stuart, David 1992 Hieroglyphs and Archaeology at Copan. Ancient Mesoamerica 3(1):169-184.

Thompson, John Eric S. 1950 Maya Hieroglyphic Writing: An Introduction. Carnegie Institution of Washington Pub. 589. Washington, D.C.

Zender, Marc 2019 The Classic Mayan Causative. The PARI Journal 20(2):28-40.

How to Cite
Grube, N. (2022). Writing with heads: animated logographs and syllabograms in Maya writing. Estudios Latinoamericanos, 41, 165-180. https://doi.org/10.36447/Estudios2021.v41.art9