Research Contribution 10

A Catalog of Non-Maya Glyphs at Chichen Itza


In 2010, I began to compile an inventory of non-Maya glyphs from Chichen Itza that led to a “Preliminary Catalog,” which I presented in PowerPoint format at two professional meetings, the Congreso de Mayistas, held in Merida in 2011, and the Investigaciones Arqueológicas in Guatemala City. Since that time, I have distributed digital copies freely to whoever showed an interest. In addition, I drafted and submitted a chapter on the topic for an upcoming volume on Mesoamerican writing systems edited by, among others, Erik Velásquez García of the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México (UNAM).

As part of the compilation process, I spent many happy hours on Peter Schmidt’s front porch at his home in Merida, where he generously shared his remarkable collection of field drawings by project illustrator Guillermo Couoh of Santa Elena, Yucatan. Peter allowed me to photograph the drawings, which added considerably to the preliminary catalog and thus earned him a co-authorship. For the current version, Meghan Rubenstein is listed as co-author due to the vast number of hours and tremendous design expertise she lent to this project.

We present here raw data to be taken into account in future writings and considerations regarding a Western Mesoamerican presence in the heart of Maya Yucatan. We expect this contribution to make a difference in the ongoing and seemingly never-ending wrangle over foreign influence at Chichen Itza. Writing is so linked to language and ethnicity that 230 examples of a non-Maya script found on buildings throughout the site—from the North Temple of the Great Ball Court to the Principal Group of the Southwest two kilometers away—in a style reminiscent of Western Mesoamerican writing traditions but not identifiable to any specific one, must find a place in the exchange of viewpoints.

In my forthcoming UNAM publication, I conclude that the glyphs are the writing of Chichen Itza, created by and for the tenth and eleventh-century occupants of that site, not the writing of someplace else. But here is not the place to dispute or debate, only to present the data that should serve, it seems to me, as the starting point for, or as essential elements in, future academic expositions.

The current catalog is a work in progress with many more examples forthcoming as work continues. Already, in 2021, I became aware of a dozen additional examples of non-Maya glyphs on a recently discovered stone monument from the Initial Series Group, data that cannot yet be published due to proprietary rights held by the discoverers. We hope to add these and others to future iterations of this catalog.

A word about nomenclature. To name each glyph, we use an acronym for the building or architectural complex where the glyph occurs followed by the pillar or column number and the side on which it is carved (E, N, W, or S), or if on a panel of figures, the figure designation. The only drawback to this scheme is that if two identical glyphs appear in separate buildings, the two identical glyphs will end up having separate identifiers. However, this only happens in two cases, GBCNT 1 is the same glyph as LTJ B13 and GBCNT 2 is the same glyph as LTJ B14. Other than these two cases, there are no clear examples of repetition (although there are multiple felines and canines).

Pillars vs. columns. Peter Schmidt always insisted that pillars are square and columns are round, so I have followed that taxonomic distinction in the catalog, even where it conflicts with Carnegie Institution usage. It does create some awkwardness, for example when an entire “colonnade” (Carnegie nomenclature, a term based on the word for column) consists entirely of quadrangular pillars. But I have chosen to stick with “pillars are square, columns are round” partly out of respect for Dr. Schmidt, and partly simply to maintain consistency in terminology.

In one case,  however, I have gone against what Peter would have wanted. He never liked the name High Priest’s Grave and insisted I use El Osario for that remarkable structure known prosaically as 3C1 in the Carnegie system. Peter reminded us that 3C1 was never used as a grave for a high priest, that the only interment found there was secondary and not particularly high status, but since I have used the English names for all the other structures and complexes as assigned by Carnegie (Carnegie in one lone case for some reason used Spanish Mercado for the Mercado), I decided to stick with the English High Priest’s Grave for 3C1.

Merle Greene Robertson’s rubbings play a significant role in this catalog, in many cases revealing important details within a particular glyph that project illustrators missed. I pulled these examples from the multi-disk set of CDs of her rubbings that she made available to the public in the early 1990s. I wish to acknowledge her contribution here. And while on the topic of acknowledgements, I also want to thank Dr. Francis Robicsek, who just passed away in 2020 at 94 years of age, for his meticulous care, and presumably great personal expense, in reproducing Alfred Maudslay’s Archaeology in Biologia Centrali-Americana, creating for us a resource of immeasurable worth.

With these preliminary words having now been said, Meghan Rubenstein and I are happy to present to you, our readers of Contributions to Mesoamerican Studies, the most comprehensive to date (although still incomplete) catalog of non-Maya glyphs at Chichen Itza, Yucatan.

Bruce Love
June 13, 2021
Juniper Hills, California

Suggested citation: Love, Bruce and Meghan Rubenstein. “A Catalog of Non-Maya Glyphs at Chichen Itza” Contributions to Mesoamerican Studies, June 17, 2021.

Downloadable PDF: A Catalog of Non-Maya Glyphs at Chichen Itza, assembled by Bruce Love and Meghan Rubenstein