Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Mayan Animal Hieroglyphic Glyphs of Mollusks

Fasciolaria gigantea. Representations of this marine shell are found in several places in the codices. It is the only large Fusus-like species on the western coast of the Gulf of Mexico, and, indeed, is the largest known American shell. It is therefore not strange that it should have attracted the attention of the Mayas and found a place in their writings. Several figures are shown that represent Fasciolaria  figs. 1-9). One in the Codex Vaticanus 3773 (fig. 3) in common with those shown in Pl. 1, figs. 2, 6, 9, has the spire represented by segments of successively smaller size. The species of Fasciolaria occurring on the Yucatan and adjacent coasts is characterized by numerous prominent bosses or projections on its later whorls, and these, too, appear in conventionalized form in most of the representations. In Pl. 1, fig. 2, the second whorl, and in figs. 6, 9, the third whorl is shown with three stout tubercles in side view, corresponding to those found in this region of the shell. Figs. 7, 8 (Pl. 1) are glyphs representing the same species, but as in fig. 4, the spire is omitted, though the knobs are present. Round spots of color are evidently intended by the markings on the shells shown in figs. 3, 5, 6 (Pl. 1).[2 Fig. 5, showshere de like the head of a serpent.
The Mollusca in the codices are not always associated with the water although this is usually the case. God N (fig. 1) sitting with the shell around his body is represented as in the rain and the shells in figs. 4, 6, appear under water. The snail (Maya, šot) is considered by the Nahuas as the symbol of birth and death. The first idea is well brought out in, fig. 2, where the human figure is emerging from a shell. The same idea among the Mayas is seen in  fig. 1, where god N is coming from a shell. As god N is usually associated with the end of the year, we may have here the complementary idea of death associated with the shell. The same meaning is brought out in the Bologna Codex (fig. 3) where the shell is decorated with flint points, the symbol of death. As the tortoise is often identified with the summer solstice, as previously pointed out, so the snail is associated with the winter solstice.
Förstemann’s identification of the head-dress of god D (Dresden 5c), god A (Dresden 9c, 13a), and god E (Dresden 11c) as representing snails is not clear. Stempell (1908, p. 739) also follows the same course thinking that the knob-like prominences represent the stalked eyes of snails. This seems quite unlikely as such representations are usually short and occur in too widely dissimilar connections. Moreover, there are sometimes three of these instead of but a single pair (Dresden 14a). A similar attempt has been made by Brinton to identify the head-dress of the death god (god A) as the snail. The head-dress in Dresden 13a and 13b associated with god A looks far more like the head and upper jaw of some mammal.
Oliva. A univalve shell frequently represented is of an oval shape, pointed at each end, with a longitudinal lip and a short spire at one extremity. This is doubtless a species ofOliva, a marine shell. Mr. Charles W. Johnson informs us that O. reticulata is the species occurring on the Yucatan shores, while O. splendidula is found in other parts of the Gulf of Mexico. Representations of this shell are shown in Pl. 1, figs. 10-12. In figs. 10, 11, the lip and spire are apparent but in fig. 12 the lip[298] only is seen as a white fissure against the general dark background. An earthenware vessel representing a tapir (Pl. 28, fig. 1) shows a string of Oliva shells about the animal’s neck and similar strings very often decorate the belts worn by the personages represented on the stelae of Copan.
The shell in the codices is found in most cases to represent zero in the Maya numerical calculations. Just as a bar has the meaning five, and a dot one, so the shell often has the signification of zero. This is seen especially in the numeration by position in the codices (Pl. 1, figs. 7, 8, 10-14).
Other Mollusca. In addition to the species just described at least two or three others occur in the Nuttall Codex, but so conventionalized that it is out of the question to hazard a guess at their identity. One ( figs. 16, 17) is a bivalve with long pointed shell, another (figs. 18-20) is rounder with conventionalized scroll-like markings. Figs. 21, 22  may be a side view of the closed bivalve shown in figs. 16, 17, or possibly a species of cowry. In like manner, fig. 13 is probably a side view of the mollusc shown in fig. 14, for it is seen that in each case the figure showing the two opened valves has a bipartite extended foot, whereas that of the single valve is simple. This doubling of the single median foot of the bivalve may be an artistic necessity for the sake of balance, or perhaps represents both foot and siphon at the same end. Figs. 23, 24  seem to represent molluscs still further reduced and conventionalized. These molluscs from the Nuttall Codex (figs. 15-24) are almost all found represented in the blue water, whereas those which stand for zero in the Maya codices have no immediate association with either water or rain.