May 18 2016

May 17, 2016 - 8pm, Presentation

The Crown Was Held Above Him’: Revisiting a Classic Maya Coronation Ceremony

with Dr. Marc Zender, Tulane University

Ever since Stuart's decipherment of the hand-holding-celt sign as K’AL in the 1990s, epigraphers have grappled with the sign's meaning. Coupled with Stuart and Houston's demonstrations that the BAAH ‘gopher’ sign often functioned as a rebus for ‘head’ or even ‘self’, many epigraphers have come to translate a common Classic Mayan coronation phrase as k’ahlaj sakhuun tubaah, literally ‘the white headband is tied on his head’. This paper reconsiders this phrase in the light of new evidence drawn from epigraphic, linguistic, iconographic, and ethnohistoric sources.

First, a widespread sense of ‘hold’ is also attested in the Ch'olan languages for k’al, and perhaps better fits the iconic origins of the hand-holding-celt sign. Second, Mayan languages commonly derive locatives from body parts, strongly suggesting that a form like t-u-baah, although literally meaning ‘at/on his head’ actually came to signify ‘above him’. Third, occasional depictions of coronation scenes appear to show a priestly attendant literally ‘holding’ a royal crown above the head of the acceding king, rather than tying or placing it on his head. Taken together, the evidence suggests that this phrase may have codified a key moment in the coronation ceremony where a priestly attendant held the crown aloft, perhaps for an adoring public to observe from a distance. As will be seen, intriguing comparisons can be drawn with coronation ceremonies from other cultures, particularly those of the Late Postclassic Aztec.


The Institute of Maya Studies is now a community partner with Miami Dade College – Kendall Campus, Miami, FL. This program will take place in K-413 (in Building K-4, Room 13). Check out the campus map for the location of Building K-4 on or, call the Maya Hotline (305-279-8110) for directions.

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Copyright 2012 May 18 2016 - Dr Marc Zender. The Institute of Maya Studies is a 501(c)(3) not-for-profit organization. Your charitable contributions are tax-deductible to the extent permitted by law.
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