Saturday, March 23, 2013

A Revision to the Birth date of K'an Chitam of Tikal

On a recent trip to Tikal I had some time to look over a few of the monuments in the stela museum at the visitor's center. One of the most intriguing monuments available for viewing is Stela 40, discovered in 1996 (Valdés, Fahsen, and Muñoz Cosme 1997). This monument was dedicated in A.D. 468 (, 6 Ahau 8 Zodz) and was a monument clearly modeled after the more famous Stela 31. The front of Stela 40 (Figure 1) portrays the king, K'an Chitam, while the sides portray his parents, Sihyaj Chan K'awiil II and Lady Ahiin. The rear of the stela (Figure 2) contains a long hieroglyphic text, but sadly the inscription is quite eroded and the lower section of the monument is broken away and missing. This damage has left many questions about the inscription, although there are three dates that clearly serve as anchors to the narrative of the text, one in each of the double columns.

Fig. 1: Drawing of Tikal Stela 40 front by Fernando Luin
Fig. 2: Drawing of Stela 40 back by Fernando Luin

The first date is found at the beginning of the text, from Glyphs A1 through B10, and consists of the Initial Series dedicatory date of the monument:, 6 Ahau G9 8 Zodz, which corresponds to June 17, 468 in the 584283 GMT correlation. The third date is the accession date of K'an Chitam. It has been read as ( 4 Caban 15 Xul (Valdés, Fahsen, and Muñoz Cosme 1997:45, Grube and Martin 2000:II-39). However, the proper G# for this date is G6, while G1 is recorded. The interior details of the tzolkin for this date are totally eroded so it is also possible that this accession date is actually ( 3 Eb 15 Xul. Each of these possibilities entails one error, either an additional dot for the tzolkin coefficient or a completely erroneous G#, and while one may suspect that it was more likely for the ancient Maya to mess up the less-common G# than the ultra-important tzolkin, it has to be noted that the earlier date would place the accession date of K'an Chitam only half a year after the date within Burial 48 (, 4 Oc).

Figure 3: Rough sketch of Glyphs C10-C13 from Tikal 40 by the author.

What most caught my attention on this last trip to Tikal, however, was the Distance Number that preceded the date in the central double-column on the back of Stela 40 (Figure 3). The date is eroded but easily reconstructable as ( 8 Ahau G2 18 Zodz (July 6, 434). The Distance Number that precedes this date must lead from an earlier date, which is missing due to damage at both the top of the C-D double column, and as well as at the bottom of the monument. However, double column A-B refers in its entirety to the events of the dedicatory Period Ending date of the monument, and we can reconstruct a single missing date, Date 2. The remaining text above the Distance Number in double column C-D includes the names and titles of both Sihyaj Chan K'awiil II and Lady Ahiin, who are shown on the sides of the stela in positions indicating their parentage of K'an Chitam. Given their prominent mention in relation to the event of Date 2 it is a reasonable assumption that this event was K'an Chitam's birth. This appears to be the reasoning that underlies Martin and Grube's suggested birth date for K'an Chitam in Chronicle of the Maya Kings and Queens (Martin and Grube 2008:37). The date they suggest is, 8 Imix 14 Zac and this date is derived by subtracting the Distance Number in Glyphs C10-C11 from Date 3, the clear ( 8 Ahau 18 Zodz date. The Distance Number is written with bar-and-dot numerals attached to head variant glyphs for the periods of time. The coefficients of these glyphs are clearly 19, 15, and 18. The heads for the periods of time these numbers are associated with, however, are quite eroded and in Luin's original drawing are not easily identified.

Martin and Grube's proposed birth date assumes that the Distance Number here is read in normal order; that is, beginning with the smallest period and proceeding to the larger ones: kins, uinals, and tuns. The Distance Number they thus view as 18.15.19 (Grube and Martin 2000:II-38). However, examining the actual monument I noticed that the head in Glyph C10 is quite clearly the head variant of the tun glyph. This head is a long-beaked bird with a skeletal lower jaw and this beak can quite easily be seen in my attached sketch (Figure 3). The head variant in Glyph C11 also works much better, in my opinion, as the head of a monkey with a headdress, which is the standard head variant for kins. It should be noted that while Distance Numbers normally read in ascending order, the reverse is not unknown, and in examples such as on the alfardas of Palenque's Cross Group temples, the descending order Distance Numbers seem to add prominence and emphasis to the calendrics.

If I am reading this Distance Number correctly, then, the earlier date, which should correspond to the birth date of K'an Chitam, must be, 13 Ik 0 Ceh, or November 30, 414. This is only a year earlier than the proposal of Grube and Martin, and makes K'an Chitam a 19 year old when he first assumed power as a junior lord, rather than an 18 year old. K'an Chitam would have been born when his father had only been on the throne of Tikal for 3 years. Sihyaj Chan K'awiil II must have been quite a young man upon his accession, given his 44 year-long reign, but he could not have been a boy if he was already fathering children only a few years after assuming power. Thus, this information from Stela 40 provides insights into the age of Sihyaj Chan K'awiil II, even when his birth date remains unknown. It is clear that Stela 40 well deserves a more detailed re-examination and there is every reason to believe that such a reanalysis could provide a lot of new information about this fascinating period of Tikal's history.


I would like to thank Mat Saunders, Jamaal Crawford and crew for transportation from Tikal, as well as Marc Zender for checking the monument to make sure my eyes weren't deceiving me.


Grube, Nikolai, and Simon Martin
2000     Tikal and Its Neighbors. In Notebook for the XXIVth Maya Hieroglyphic Forum at Texas, March 2000, pages II-1 - II-78. The University of Texas at Austin.

Martin, Simon, and Nikolai Grube
2008     Chronicle of the Maya Kings and Queens. Thames & Hudson, New York.

Valdés, Juan Antonio, Federico Fahsen, and Gaspar Muñoz Cosme
1997     Estela 40 de Tikal: Hallazgo y lectura. Instituto de Antropología e Historia de Guatemala, Agencia Española de Cooperación Internacional, Guatemala City.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

The Gangnam Style "Maya Apocalypse"

Over the next couple of days the famous "Gangnam Style" video by Korean rapper Psy is about to reach over 1,000,000,000 views, the first video on youtube to reach such a milestone. So long as the much ballyhooed "Maya Apocalypse"doesn't pan out, that is. 

The end of the world as predicted by the Maya calendar is upon us, or so we are lead to believe by countless articles, news reports, documentaries, and social media messages. Like many Mayanists, I have been deluged by friends, family, and reporters, asking for my opinion on the end of the world as we know it. They ask a lot of questions, and I am happy to answer them, but too many of the questions are based facts that are ... well, simply not factual. I have long ago given up trying to persuade the public that there is no basis for pretty much anything said about 2012. No, the Maya didn't predict the end of the world, nor does their calendar end on December 21, 2012, and it doesn't even "start over" as some of my Mayanist colleagues are fond of stating. There are inscriptions that prove that the Maya calendar keeps going until at least A.D. 4772, and no reason to think it stops even then.

How, then, did this craze about 2012 and the end of the world come about? To me as an anthropologist, this is the most fascinating aspect of this whole phenomenon. Over 40 years ago my archaeological grandfather, Michael Coe, described the end of the 13th baktun as the Maya version of "Armageddon". Michael Coe never meant to predict the modern nonsense of 2012, but New Agers and pseudoscientists latched onto his phrasing and ran with it. They fed off of each other's crazed ravings, and cloaked their New Age beliefs in Maya words and concepts, most often terribly bastardized and misunderstood. We westerners have an insatiable appetite for scaring ourselves with tales about an impending Apocalypse and every generation is insistent that they are living in the End Times. The difference about the 2012 phenomenon has been that it is the first major apocalyptic scare that has swept across the western world that has ostensibly been based off of prophecies from a culture outside of the Judaeo-Christian European tradition.

I think therein lies a lot of its appeal and why it has spread so quickly. Not only does it tie into our particularly western need to obsess about the end of the world, but it comes from a foreign, indigenous culture. Few people other than the descendants of the ancient Maya speak Mayan languages today, and there are very few of us Mayanists who actually understand the ancient Maya calendar, as much as it is understood today by anyone. Therefore, the 2012ers can say almost anything and not fear that they are going to be contradicted, and by attributing their claims about the end of the world to ancient Maya prophecies they gain the cultural cachet of presenting their own delusional ravings as ancient, indigenous wisdom. If one of our own started predicting the end of the world, as Harold Camping did last year, that person would be either, at best, ignored, and at worst, savagely mocked. The western world, however, has come increasingly to buy into the noble savage idea of foreign, indigenous cultures. We fully expect traditional cultures and peoples that were conquered and colonized to be absolutely brimming with ancient wisdom and knowledge; knowledge that is always applicable and directed towards ourselves. Sadly, with us westerners, even our New Agers are hopelessly egocentric and tend to think that all indigenous cultural wisdom and prophecies are ultimately about us. At the same time that supporting foreign cultures has become fashionable and politically correct, these foreign cultures, by their very foreignness and the attendant language and cultural barriers, allow us to project onto them our own beliefs and desires.

And this brings us back to the Gangnam Style video. By now almost everyone with internet access has seen the video, and while one can credit the song with some of its popularity, it is hardly a marvel of lyrical or melodious creation. Heck, the overwhelming majority of people who have watched the video (and keep watching it again and again) can't understand a word of the Korean lyrics and have no real understanding of the cultural message that is being conveyed about Seoul's posh Gangnam district and the lifestyle of its inhabitants. And while one can credit the hilarious dance stylings of Psy for the viral nature of the video, would such a video have been as popular if it was an American artist performing those dances? I doubt it, and I think that the video's popularity is in no small part reflective of the general perception by most westerners for Korean and Japanese pop culture is silly, crazy, and incomprehensible. And, I think the social pressures that compel nearly all of us into at least checking out "viral" material played no small part in this video's popularity. If everyone else is watching it, most of us are going to be more than a little curious, and thus we lend our passive support to whatever is trending in popularity at the time.

I thus see some interesting parallels between the popularity of Psy's Gangnam Style video and the 2012 "Maya Apocalypse" phenomenon. Not only have both become enormously popular topics in the late months of 2012, but both are examples of items of foreign cultural content being appropriated and popularized by westerners, most of whom know next to nothing about the original cultural material. And, most importantly, both were popularized and spread virally by the internet. The popularity of Psy's video is inconceivable without the internet, and the same can be said about all the hype about 2012, a point that I am not alone in making. The internet has allowed the proliferation of not only real data about the ancient and modern Maya, but it also allows for the dissemination of pseudoscience and nonsense, and sadly the latter is in far greater abundance. Both the Gangnam Style video and the 2012 phenomenon illustrate how a single, global internet culture is now emerging, where people from every ethnic, linguistic, and national background are now familiar with and share the same viral topics. The 2012 phenomenon may have run its course, but it is the harbinger of things to come, where the internet will spread not only popular videos, no matter which culture originally produces them, but will also spread across borders cultural information and misinformation, in at best equal amounts. There never was a Maya prophesy about 2012 but it doesn't take a seer to recognize the new world that we have created, one that brings with it a plague of misinformation that will spread virally across the globe.

If anyone is interested in the truth about 2012, I cannot do better than to recommend the books 2012: Science & Prophecy of the Ancient Maya by Mark Van Stone and  Order of Days by David Stuart. And, if you want to participate in pushing Psy's Gangnam Style video over the billion views mark and playing your part in the new, viral world, just click here. It's not like you haven't watched it a copious amount of times already, and let's admit it, after reading this far you're probably already pretending to ride that horse and singing the only words from those lyrics you think you know.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

"Olmec" burial found in Puebla

One of the great problems of Mesoamerican archaeology is the lack of osteological remains from the Olmec civilization. The environment of the Olmec heartland, the steamy and wet Gulf Coastal plains of southern Veracruz and western Tabasco states in Mexico, has destroyed almost all traces of bone from the archaeological sites in this region. This week Mexican authorities have reported on the discovery of a burial that was found underneath the Casa del Mendrugo and that dates apparently to the Early Preclassic period, roughly 1500 - 1200 B.C. The burial included the remains of two individuals, one a woman and the second possibly a man. The woman's remains were better preserved and indicate she was around 55 years old at the time of her death. Archaeologist Arnulfo Allende found 35 objects with these bodies, including 26 ceramic vessels as well as at least 3 mirrors (two essentially complete) and figurines and pectoral jewelry made of greenstone. (Images of some of these objects, as well some of the skeletal material, can be seen HERE.) A DNA study from one of the teeth in this burial is planned, to test the ethnicity of the individual, although the fact that osteological remains from the Olmec heartland are so few would make any test of these bones as being of immigrant Olmecs exceedingly difficult. Furthermore, determining ethnicity from remains more than 3000 years ago is questionable, given the intervening cultural changes and genetic transmission between groups over that span of time.

Monday, December 12, 2011

On the Supposed Reference to December 21, 2012 on a Brick Found at Comalcalco

On November 24, 2011 the Instituto Nacional de Antropología e Historia (INAH) of Mexico revealed, in a communiqué regarding the Mesa Redonda of Palenque that occurred in late November, the existence of a second reference to the infamous December 21, 2012 date. 

This second putative inscription mentioning the 2012 date is written on a brick found at the site of Comalcalco, Tabasco. [Click HERE for a drawing of the brick in question.] Mark Stevenson, of the Associated Press, subsequently released a short news report on this new revelation, entitled “Mexico acknowledges 2nd Mayan reference to 2012”:

Stevenson’s report has exploded across the internet, with editors giving the story ever more sensationalistic titles. The Huffington Post ran the story as “Mayan 2012 Prophesy: Mexico Finds Second Reference Among Ruins”: while msnbc went with  “Mexico adds yet another brick to the 2012 Maya legend”. ABC News went even more hyperbolic, with “Apocalypse 2012 Back On? Second Inscription Uncovered” and even had a video report on the subject on their Good Morning America program, in which they had John Major Jenkins speaking but identified as David Stuart.

Some of these reports have tried to run images of the Comalcalco brick in question, but to date I have only seen images popping up of bricks that have no inscriptions on them at all, or of the Aztec calendar stone, which has nothing whatsoever to do with the 2012 date at all.

Apart from revealing that news editors these days are woefully informed of not only Maya archaeology and epigraphy, but simple English grammar and the need to check stories and images before publishing them, the popularity of this report demonstrates what widespread interest the 2012 meme has generated in contemporary society. Not unpredictably, this story has been picked up with glee by the 2012ers themselves, those pseudoscientists and their believers who insist that December 21, 2012 was an epochal event for the Maya, and which has meaning and importance for not only ancient or modern Maya, but also for all of us in the modern world.

Mayan experts keen to debunk 2012 doomsday theories used to point out how strange it was that the Mayans never mentioned the specific date of (their equivalent to) Dec 21, 2012, not anywhere. The only way we knew of it is by determining when their Long Count would finish, and start again. Then a few years ago some scholars let us in on a secret, the date is inscribed upon Tortuguero Monument 6 ... Given that there was just one mention, experts assured us that Dec 21 2012 was not an important date for the Mayans. But what about two mentions? Making the news this week, the National Institute of Anthropology and History have let it be known that a second reference exists ... Which begs the question, how many more are there, kept secret? 
Not unsurprisingly, there is no conspiracy, although, since 2012ers often run in the same company as conspiracy theorists, it is not surprising that they choose to see one here. Neither is there any second reference to December 21, 2012 in this Comalcalco brick. Given how much traction this misinformation has received, it is worthwhile exposing the reality of what this inscription says and why some think it may refer to the 2012 date. In addition, I think revealing how this story came to explode across the media in late November provides a cautionary tale to epigraphers and archaeologists as to why we must be very careful with our comments on issues as popular and sensitive as the 2012 meme, and also instructive to non-experts as to how epigraphic work is carried out, and why, although this information may have seemed hidden from them, there was no conspiracy to keep genuine data on the 2012 date from the general public.

The media circus over an apparent reference to December 21, 2012 on the Comalcalco brick actually goes back a year and a half, when on July 6, 2010, INAH published a news report on a course on Classic Maya religion and mythology, taught by Mexican epigrapher Carlos Pallán Gayol at the Escuela Nacional de Antropología e Historia (ENAH). In the article Pallán Gayol is cited as saying “Conforme la correlación GMT + 2 (Goodman-Martínez-Thompson, más dos días) que utilizan los epigrafistas para convertir las fechas mayas al calendario gregoriano, la fecha exacta sería el 23 de diciembre de 2012 y no el día 21. Ésta se halla registrada en el Monumento 6 de Tortuguero y en un fragmento encontrado en Comalcalco, ambas zonas arqueológicas de Tabasco y relativamente cercanas entre sí”.

Pallán’s source for the idea that the Comalcalco brick may refer to the 2012 date was Erik Boot, who in January of 2010 had prepared a short contribution for an exhibition on 2012 and the Maya being prepared at the Museum Volkenkunde, in the Netherlands. This unpublished work was circulated amongst a number of fellow epigraphers, and would ultimately be cited in Sven Gronemeyer and Barbara MacLeod’s “What Could Happen in 2012” paper, published online in the Wayeb Notes series (Wayeb Note 34).

The original INAH report spread around Mexican websites and within days came to the attention of a number of posters on the Aztlan webserverOn July 7, 2010 Thiago Cavalcanti posted links to the INAH report published on the website of the Diario de Yucatan and on July 8 he followed up with a question on whether anyone else knew anything about the 2012 date on the Comalcalco brickJohn Major Jenkins, a prominent proponent of the 2012 meme, then replied on July 9, revealing Erik Boot as the ultimate source for this idea.

Jenkins' reply is worth quoting in full:

In answer to your query, Maya scholar Erik Boot noted last December that an incised brick from Comalcalco probably contains a 4 Ahau 3 Kankin tzolkin-haab combo. The accompanying inscription states "it will be completed" which lends credence to this being a reference to the future 2012 period ending. Sven Gronemeyer, in his study of Tortuguero, writes that Comalcalco may have become the successor to Tortuguero; another fragment at Comalcalco mentions Bahlam Ajaw, the 7th-century king of Tortuguero who is the protagonist of TRT Monument 6, which contains the 2012 date.   

The probable 2012 reference from Comalcalco was first illustrated in Neil Steede, 1984, Catálogo preliminar de los tabiques de Comalcalco. Cárdenas: Centro de Investigación Precolombina, p. 40.

Steede did not recognize it as such back in 1984; I found an image of it online in the context of a different discussion, which I have reposted here:

Now, all those "only one 2012 date reference" statements will have to be revised.

John Major Jenkins

It should be noted that both in the original INAH press report and Jenkins’ reply to Aztlan the idea that the Comalcalco brick carries a 2012 reference are taken almost as a given. While Jenkins does admit that Boot merely noted that the brick “probably” contains a reference to the 2012 date, his final sentence “all those “only one 2012 date reference” statements will have to be revised” is anything but nuanced.

Jenkins’ note came to the attention of epigrapher Marc Zender, who has conducted archaeological work at Comalcalco with Miriam Judith Gallegos and Ricardo Armijo Torres, and he has examined the original brick in question in detail. Given that no other epigrapher has more familiarity with this text, it is worth quoting Zender’s response in full as well, as he demonstrates that the Comalcalco brick simply cannot be said to bear a reference to December 21, 2012.

Hi all,

I don't post here very often, but I wanted to follow up
on John's recent discussion (copied below) of the text on
an inscribed brick from Comalcalco.  It was thoughtful of
him to bring up Erik's recent suggestion that this contains
a reference to the 2012 date, but I'm afraid this is
unlikely to be the case.  For reference, here's the link
where John has usefully posted a drawing of the text:

Unfortunately, it's pretty clear that the month sign cannot be K'ank'in.  Granted, there's a well-known "dog" variant of this month that Erik must have had in mind when he made his suggestion late last year (see for example the Chinikiha Throne, B1 and PNG Altar 2, D2), but this never has the infixed AK'AB "darkness" elements which appear just below the ear of this sign.  As I've argued elsewhere, this is a trait of nocturnal animals in Maya art and writing (e.g., jaguar, bat, rodents, fireflies and other insects, etc). As a result, only Zodz (anciently Suutz' "bat") and Xul (anciently Tzikin or perhaps Chikin, some kind of rodent) emerge as feasible candidates, with the latter offering the most likely identification.

Second, I'm afraid the verb isn't "completion" and it isn't cast into the future.  Rather, the verb appears in block 3 and seems to be made of up the two syllables hu and li, spelling the incompletive intransitive verb hul-i-Ø "he arrives".

The fourth glyph block, interpreted by Erik as the verb tzu2-jo-ma (tzuhtz-j-oom-Ø "it will have ended") is admittedly not terribly clear, but the final element is most likely K'AHK', and certainly not the -ma demanded by the future ending.  (It's also more likely that the sign above it is cha rather than jo, but it's very rapidly executed and hard to make out.)  More importantly, the syntax requires this glyph block to provide either the name of the subject  (i.e., the individual arriving, present tense) or a toponym (i.e., the place being arrived at), so it can hardly be another verb.

Given other dates known from the inscriptions of Comalcalco, I'd say a placement at 4 Ahau 3 Xul (10 May, 769) is most likely, but the text is too rapidly executed (I've seen the original, and it really does look like this) and too thoroughly decontextualized for this to be more than a suggestion.   To the extent that we can read it, then, I think the most reasonable interpretations are either "He arrives at Tzutz? ... K'ahk' on 4 Ahau 3 Xul" or "Tzutz? ... K'ahk' arrives on 4 Ahau 3 Xul".

On July 20, 2010 Michael Ruggeri, a frequent poster to Aztlan, forwarded a letter from Erik Boot (not a member of the Aztlan webserver), in which Boot revealed his own actual thoughts on the subject and the history of the dissemination of his idea, prior to its actual publication.

It is most unfortunate that Boot’s idea was leaked to the press before their actual publication date, and especially that the original INAH publication did not cite him properly for his idea. This emphasizes the need for epigraphers and archaeologists to be careful when talking to the press as the popular media are not in the same business as us, and will jump at sound bites and sensational titles, often not caring about nuances or citations. I learned this lesson the hard way myself, and with the popularity of the 2012 meme, and especially the possibility of a second reference to this date, we epigraphers must be very careful. The media circus attendant to the "revelation" of this putative second 2012 reference at Comalcalco attests well enough to that fact.

While epigraphers must be wary of the press running away with a story they manifestly do not understand (and few reporters seem to have much interest in actually understanding such an esoteric subject), epigraphers must also be careful about rushing to press with preliminary analyses that will be sure to generate such a media circus. In his reply to Aztlan, Boot criticized Zender for having commented without having seen the original claim or any of the caveats that went along with it. However, it is unclear that this is really an issue, given that Zender’s critique was of the basic idea that the Comalcalco brick refers to the date 4 Ahau 3 Kankin and that the associated text includes a completion verb. Zender’s critique shows quite clearly why this inscription provides no evidence at all that this constitutes a second reference to December 21, 2012, and reading Boot’s original writeup on this does not change my estimation of this argument. While Boot criticizes Zender for not doing proper science by commenting without having seen Boot’s original writeup, Boot admits in his letter that he has never seen the original brick, and it is clear from his own writings that he never discussed his ideas with Zender, the epigrapher at Comalcalco, and the one man who would be most knowledgeable on the subject. Nor, apparently, did Boot ask Zender for pictures of the brick before writing up and submitting his article for publication. To use Boot’s own words, “this is not the way one practices science”.

The field of epigraphy is quite competitive, and publications are the bread and butter of our profession. Every epigrapher wants to make certain that he or she gets proper credit for their own ideas, and so there is an understandable rush to presses sometimes, especially when many of these deadlines are not of our own choosing. Ideally, epigraphers with new interpretations of inscriptions, especially sensationalistic claims such as those involving the subject of 2012, should run their ideas by those who work professionally at the sites where these inscriptions are found. This should be all the more the case when the epigrapher is working with eroded or problematic texts and has no access to the original pieces, or even to photographs of them. 

The field of epigraphy is held in not inconsiderable suspicion by many archaeologists and this is to no small degree a product of the fact that many published epigraphic ideas have been overturned by later scholarship. This is no different a case than we see in archaeology, and it is important to note that healthy debate and a difference of opinion are things of which the field of epigraphy should be proud, not ashamed. However, we should avoid providing unnecessary fuel for the pseudoscientific hijacking of the Maya and their cosmology. Thankfully, the 2012 meme has only one more year to run its course before it will hopefully and mercifully come to an end; unlike the Maya calendar itself. 

Thursday, September 22, 2011

New Queen's Tomb Found at Nakum

National Geographic is reporting a new royal tomb found at the site of Nakum, in the Petén district of northern Guatemala. The Nakum Archaeological Project is led by Jarosław Źrałka and Wiesław Koszkul of the Jagiellonian University of Kraków, Poland, and they have just published (along with Bernard Hermes and Simon Martin) a report on a previous royal tomb found in 2006 the same building, Structure 15 (Antiquity Vol. 85, No. 329). The first tomb dates to the Late Classic period, although the deceased was buried with an Early Classic jade plaque. This second tomb dates to the Early Classic period and most interestingly is that of a woman, making this one of only a handful of queenly burials discovered in the Maya area. 

Monday, May 30, 2011

Maps of Francia and other Medieval Miscellanea

In researching the Fall of Rome and early medieval Europe I have come across some interesting websites. Regnum Francorum Online is a website that presents in cartographic form information on the Kingdom of Francia, the predecessor of France ruled over by the Merovingians and Carolingians. If you want to follow the routes of Charlemagne or Carloman or find out how much land was owned by the crown or various monasteries and church establishments, this is a very handy website.

Another excellent set of maps, with ancient place-names, can be found on the Digital Atlas of Roman and Medieval Civilization. And, if you want to check out original documents (mostly in Latin) about the early history of the Germanic peoples, you can check out the digital version of the Monumenta Germaniae Historica. I am reading Gregory of Tours at the moment, the Penguin Classics edition, and this definitely helps in figuring out what the ancient names of these cities were. I much prefer Arvernum to Clermont-Ferrand, at least when I am considering the pre-Medieval city.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

The Deification of Constantine

Photo by Jean-Christophe Benoist, courtesy of Wikipedia.

1674 years ago today the Emperor Constantine the Great died; May 22, A.D. 337. Constantine is famous for being the first Christian emperor and beginning the Christianization of the Roman Empire. What is ironic is that after his death the Senate of Rome actually deified him. The Senate of ancient Rome did this not infrequently, whenever they felt an emperor had been extraordinarily beneficial to Rome. However, given Constantine's promotion of his new religion, one has to view this move as misguided at best and deluded at worst. Given Harold Camping's spectacular failure at prophecy yesterday I wonder what kinds of rationalization and special pleading his followers will engage in to maintain their faith in the face of such an embarrassment.

In the meantime, check out the amazing work at Byzantium 1200, where the buildings of Constantinople have been recreated through the wonders of modern computer graphics and you can see what this, one of the greatest cities of antiquity, would have looked like ca. A.D. 1200.