The Ceremonial Stone Monuments and the Ajaw as a Symbolic Temporal Being

The stone monuments had a particular religious-political status and role in the recording of time of the Long Count calendar for the classic Maya. Stelae and stone discs are associated with the emergence of complex societies and with aristocratic symbols and ceremonies. At many sites the stelae and stone disc display a political role manifesting and justifying the power of the established order. It seems therefore reasonable to claim that these public monuments functioned as political propaganda for the ruling elite.

As aforementioned, Stuart (1996) has recognised that many stone monuments were erected as time-markers. But stones could also symbolise and embody time units. This is noticeable by the various designations of stone monuments recorded in the accompanied inscription. For example a stela from Lagunita, Campeche contains the phrase “6 Ajaw ascended”. This expression outlines not only that the stone of the inscription was erected but also simultaneously symbolically refer to the “period-ending date” of 6 Ajaw. Stones, indicating time stations and named after the “period-ending” notation in the Long Count calendar, were then not only markers of time but were also material embodied time-periods (Stuart 1995: 400-401). We remember that stelae and stone discs could be named “X Ajaw Tun” (Stuart 1996: 149-151). For example, Stela A and Stela C of Quirigua and the lord are both denominated “6 Ajaw”, which refers to the Long Count position of 6 Ajaw 13 K’anasiiy (Stuart 1996: 165-168). Stuart has therefore championed the hypothesis that the stela was embodying or being an extension of the depicted individual (Stuart 1996: 158-165). Sources from the colonial period outline that time deities, ajaw of the k’atun, were inaugurated as a ruler. Stuart asserts therefore that “... that these visual displays based on the uses of the term ahaw show rulers as “temporal beings” that were rulers of the time periods they commemorated through their monuments” (Stuart 1995: 165). If this theory, proposed by Stuart, is correct it signifies that the ajaw could not only embody physically the stone monument but also, as stone monuments commonly symbolised time units, time itself.

There was an “intimated identification between monumental stone portraits with the “selves” of royal persons” where the stelae were active participants in the ceremonial landscape” (Stuart 1996: 149; 165). Houston and Stuart translate the collocation u baah, which is followed by the name of the subject on many portraits, as “the self of ... or “the body of ...” This term, “the body; person; self of”, in inscribed portrait depictions, signifies a correspondence between the depiction and the depicted (Stuart 1996: 160- 165).[1] The stone monument is identified with the illustrated person where both share the same appellation: “Ajaw”. The association of the stone monuments with the self of the individual is connected to the belief that the regent embodied the passage of time, which was a “. fundamental to the cosmological underpinnings of divine kingship” (Stuart 1995: 165; 1996: 166). But stelae could also be without a depiction. Furthermore, many stelae portray not only one but a variety of individuals (Stuart 1996: 165). How can the stone monument embody or be an extension of an individual when it illustrates various people? Stone monuments were in many instances given individual names. The name could be followed by the expression u k’uhulk’aba’ or only u k’aba’and lakam tun in the inscriptions (Stuart 1998: 379-380; Le Fort 2000: 187, note 4). But the name of the stone was not necessarily the same as the person who was pictured and described on the same monument. Stela B, Copan (B1-B13) provides an example of a different identity of the stela and the described human being. The lord Waxa- klajun UBaah K’awiil is portrayed on or rather constitutes the sculpture of Stela B, Copan. The idea of an embodiment of the stela appears therefore to be justified. But the inscription reveals that the stela is represented (u baah) with the name: ? Witz Ajaw and that Waxaklajun Ubaah K’awiil impersonates a deity (u baah a’n) called K’awiil-?-?-Nu-K’awiil. The stela has therefore an individual designation divergent from the individual it portrays. Identity between stone monuments as symbol for a time interval of the Long Count calendar and the ajaw cannot be definitely established.

  • [1] Cf. the linguistic and epigraphic argument for this interpretation by Stuart andHouston (1998).
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