You can imagine that deciphering symbols of a foreign and often dead language, carved in stone thousand years ago isn’t an easy task. One problem you get is being able to read the symbols on weathered steles. The next problem is seeing what the glyph depicts, which can be sometimes easy with fixed expressions and sometimes very hard with abstract glyphs that stand for syllables. Then again we find glyphs depicting easy to see things, like animals. What however, if you can’t find out, what animal is shown?
There is an article over at mesoweb, that deals exactly with that in detail. However, don’t yet have a look at it, since I want you to find out, what it deals with.
As I said, some animals are relatively easy to find out, even though there is more than one way of depicting it. Guess what the following glyph shows:
Yes, that’s pretty obvious: a jaguar.
Now guess this one:
Definitely a fox, though I don’t know, if I typed one of his noises phonetically correct
Let’s switch to the waterside:
Correct, a fish!
What about this one:
Now it gets odd… I can’t think of the characteristic noise of a turtle. Anyway, it’s depicting a turtle.
At this place, it’s a good moment to give credits to the great Harri Kettunen and Christophe Helmke for their wonderful Handbook to Maya Hieroglyphs, from which the upper ones were taken.
Now we come to the object of the mentioned article, another animal. Try to find out, what this glyph depicts:
There have been some guesses about this sign. It has been interpreted as a gopher, a jaguar, a dog and even a rabbit. However, the markings above the eyes have always been a part in the puzzle, that nobody could really explain. By having a look at the context, the deciphering showed a special sounds of the word, probably close to ejmech (Ch’ol) or ee’muuch (Yucatec). The later means “Quadrupedal animal the size of a domestic dog, black in color. It is carnivorous and lives in caves.” Any clue yet?
Here’s the real thing:
The puzzle is solved. But why do we keep finding raccoons in Mayan writing? The reason is simple: It was a constant annoyance in the daily life, namely when it was about the food.
e ehmach uxuhch’i ka nar, we can read in a Ch’orti’ text – the raccoon steals our maize
We can read of raccoon traps and raccoons killed by farmers, which is the reason, why it’s present in the ancient writing, but never in music, for example. It was a daily struggle and annoyance. However, because of the typical sound of the glyph, it can also mean something different when used with other glyphs. It stands for the verb “to descend” or “to go down” and is often used, when a god does something on earth. For example, the following glyphs say “the god comes down from the sky”. See if you can find our hidden raccoon glyph.
Yes, it’s the left part of the glyph in the upper right. In order to read more about that interesting example of deciphering glyphs, please have a look at the article of Marc Zender, from which the last two glyphs were also taken.