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The Apotheosis of Janaab' Pakal

Science, History, and Religion at Classic Maya Palenque

By Gerardo Aldana

Publication Year: 2010

"This book represents a major step in looking at the intellectual development of Maya astronomy in a particular historical context and reflects the emerging new understainding of Maya science."—Stephen McCluskey, ISIS

The Apotheosis of Janaab' Pakal takes up anew the riddles within a number of Maya hieroglyphic inscriptions first recognized by Floyd Lounsbury. Gerardo Aldana unpacks these mathematical riddles using an approach grounded in a reading of the texts made possible by recent advances in decipherment. Using a history of science methodology, he expands upon (and sometimes questions) the foundational work of archaeoastronomers. Aldana follows three lines of investigation: a reading of the hieroglyphic inscriptions of the Classic period (a.d. 250-900), mathematical analysis to recover Classic Maya astronomical practice, and a historiography of Maya astronomy. Quoted hieroglyphs appear throughout the text for cross-examination. Aldana reveals the social and political context of Maya astronomy by explicating the science and calendrical calculations found in the tablets of the Temple of Inscriptions and the Cross Group from the city of Palenque. He offers a compelling interpretation of an 819-day count, demonstrating its utility as an astronumerological tool that Maya scribes used to simplify complex calculations. During troubled times in Palenque, Aldana contends, Kan Balam II devised a means to preserve the legitimacy of his ruling dynasty. He celebrated a re-creation of the city as a contemporary analogue of a mythical Creation on three levels: monumental construction for a public audience, artistic patronage for an elite audience, and a secret mathematical astronomical language only for rulers-elect. Discussing all of these efforts, Aldana focuses on the recovery of the secret language and its historical context.

Published by: University Press of Colorado

Series: Mesoamerican Worlds Series


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pp. vii


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pp. ix-xi

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pp. xiii-xv

The study of Mesoamerican worlds has been enormously enriched by breakthroughs in decipherment of Maya writing during the last thirty years. As our understanding of Maya writing has advanced, giving us insight into the imaginations and rituals of Maya scribes and priests, public and published debates about...

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pp. xvii-xxii

Classic Maya culture is best known in popular imaginationfor its purported “collapse” or for its equally enigmatic astronomical acumen. Both cases contribute substantially to modern mythology concerning native cultures of the Western Hemisphere....

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pp. xxiii-xxiv

In this book, I have adopted the orthography standardized by the Academia de Lenguas Mayas de Guatemala (ALMG). For the most part, this orthography has the effect of treating the alphabet as though it were Spanish...

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pp. xxv-xxvi

Most of the contemporary names of Classic Maya cities were given to them by later indigenous inhabitants of the region or by the scholars who have come upon their ruins. In a number of cases, epigraphers have been able to read the original names of these cities...

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pp. xxvii-xxxi

Contrary to popular belief, the Maya may not have “invented zero.” Rather, the Maya borrowed their numeral and calendric systems from the earlier Isthmusian tradition (Epi-Olmec), which left several examples of the basic components....

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Hieroglyphic Script

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pp. xxxiii-xxxiv

I should also note here certain conventions that have come from the decipherment of the hieroglyphs (glyphs). First of all, Maya scribes generally ordered texts as pairs of columns in which the reading order is top to bottom and left to right....

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pp. 1-22

Just before dawn, a Maya king sat ready with his troops, awaiting the sighting of Venus as morning star before consenting to engage his enemy in warfare—or so a number of studies would have us believe. According to conventional interpretations, Chak Ek’ (the Maya name for Venus) would have to....

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1: New Life at B’aakal

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pp. 23-44

Janaab’ Pakal was born into the noble class amidst political turmoil. In the Classic Maya calendar, he “touched the earth” on 8 Ajaw 13 Pop, just over a year after the accession of the ninth1 ruler of Palenque, Aj Ne’Ohl Mat (see Table 1.1)....

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2: Recovering Maya Astronomy

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pp. 45-74

The study of Maya astronomy and calendrics by cMd scholars has a much longer history than is usually treated in the Mayanist literature. Most references begin with the groundbreaking work of Ernst F

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3: Constructing Portals

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pp. 75-110

Approximately 150 years after the death of Janaab’ Pakal, at the end of the Classic period, the city of Palenque was abandoned. Its structures lay dormant for several centuries thereafter, slowly reclaimed by the forest. Interest in the ruins remained local until the end of the eighteenth century when representatives...

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4: Errors and Identities

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pp. 111-130

As mentioned previously, twentieth-century Mayanists Floyd Lounsbury, Linda Schele, and Peter Mathews focused much of their early attention on working out the dates associated with the first rulers of the Palenque dynasty....

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5: The Public Face of Re-Creation

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pp. 131-154

We have already seen one motivation for the tablets in the Temple of Inscriptions, commissioned as they were to adorn the temple atop the funerary monument of a great leader. Yet within the texts of the Temple of Inscriptions’ third tablet we have also noted a telling anomaly—one that reveals a different sort of motivation...

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6: Re-Creation Through K’awiilian Astronomy

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pp. 155-184

The inscriptions from Kan B’ahlam’s Triad Group have been mined by modern scholarship for several different purposes. During the early eighteenth century, they were reproduced as evidence of a glorious “lost” civilization. During the twentieth century, John Teeple was able to...

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7: Zuyuathan: Secret Knowledge and the Maintenance of Power

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pp. 185-196

I have noted that this book constitutes an elite history of a short time period at Classic Maya Palenque. The attempt has not been to retrieve life as it was experienced by all inhabitants of the ancient city. Rather, the goal has been to retrieve a noble perspective...

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pp. 197-202

As noted at the end of the last chapter, Kan B’ahlam II was able to patronize a calendric invention and convert it into a tool that served the state as a demonstration of the intellectual resources available to the ancient Maya ajaw-tahk in their quests for political legitimation....


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pp. 203-206


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pp. 207-226


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pp. 227-234

E-ISBN-13: 9781607320722
E-ISBN-10: 160732072X
Print-ISBN-13: 9781607320715
Print-ISBN-10: 1607320711

Page Count: 264
Illustrations: 4 b/w photos, 17 line art illustrations, 2 maps, 15 tables
Publication Year: 2010

Series Title: Mesoamerican Worlds Series