Ajaw: A Linguistic Index of Culture In A Maya Hieroglyph




McKinney, Kevin J.

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Much can be learned about how the Maya understood kingship by investigating how the Maya used the word for king, ajaw, in their inscriptions. This work endeavors to undertake this goal by reviewing the available literature on the topic of kingship and its representative ajaw glyph. In addition to this review, a study was conducted to look at the various representations of ajaw present at three different Maya sites. It looked at inscriptions from three Maya sites, Tikal, Copan, and Palenque, and examined them for ajaw signs. These signs were then coded and categorized based on site, monument, date and graphical characteristics. From this preliminary investigation, four main categories, or allographs, were identified. The [calendrical], [Non-Calendrical], [Headband], and [Affix] ajaw allographs each have identifying characteristics that make its function within the Maya writing system unique. However, each of these allographs shares either graphical or semantic characteristics as evidence of their relationship. The literature review suggests that the ajaw morpheme was borrowed from the neighboring Mixe-Zoquean speakers to the west of the Maya heartland during the Early or Middle Formative periods. It also suggested strong relationships between kingship and agriculture, cave rituals, and the lineage ties between the king and his mythical ancestor, the Maize God. These findings from the literature were supported by a multi-approach analysis of ajaw. First, historical linguistic reconstructions of possible loaned words from proto-Mixean were evaluated. Then a detailed breakdown of each allograph was conducted based on its structure, its common position within inscriptions, and the literal meaning of the allograph in context. Finally, the signs were broken down iconographically and an analysis was conducted on the constituent elements of each sign. Interesting patterns appeared that indicated that the [Affix] ajaw began as a specific elite title that seemed to merge with the more common semantic value of ajaw over time. On the other hand, the [Non-Calendrical] ajaw appears to have began as a title associated with elite toponyms or lineage markers. Over time it began to drift into several different grammatical categories within the writing system, but each of these categories still shares associations with kin relationships and responsibilities associated with lineages.



Mayan, Mixean, Mixe-Zoquean, Ajaw, Ahaw, Ahau, Kingship, Lord, King, Mesoamerica, Olmec


McKinney, K. J. (2011). <i>Ajaw: A linguistic index of culture in a Maya hieroglyph</i> (Unpublished thesis). Texas State University-San Marcos, San Marcos, Texas.


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