Monday, September 21, 2009

Truth and Lies

Glyph of Pacal’s name

One of the most pernicious ideas that still has some influence on the study of Mayan Hieroglyphs is the notion that the History recorded in the Glyphs are lies and propaganda. This notion seems to be especially popular among the archeologists and not very popular among the epigraphers, (interpreters of the glyphs).1 This debate is based on the idea that not just were the inscriptions of the Mayan Kings one sided propaganda but that they were deliberate lies and rewriting of history for political purposes. In the twentieth century we have become familiar with lies and propaganda by the state so at first this does not seem like such an outrageous notion. But it is an outrageous notion in the manner in which it is put forward, and it usually has been framed so that those who propose it have thrown the onus of "proof" upon the epigraphers. This is an outrageous notion.

The onus is on those who propose that the inscriptions are lies to show that the inscriptions are false. Before I go into the alleged "evidence", I would like explain why I consider this to be an outrageous notion. The lies that I’m referring to are the birth, accession and death dates also the lists and names of various rulers mentioned in inscriptions. What the "doubters" are proposing is that none of this information can be trusted and that it is often a complete propaganda lie. What is interesting is that the Mayan monumental inscriptions are the only one’s I know of that are subject to such a level of distrust. Egyptian Hieroglyphic texts of the Pharaohs are not subject to this level of distrust, neither are Shang Oracle bones, Hittite texts, Roman, inscriptions, etc. Generally birth dates, reign lengths, accession dates, etc., are considered reliable. Even Rameses (II), the Great whose inscriptions including the monumental ones about the Battle of Kadesh, in which Rameses’ claims he won the battle, when he lost, is considered reliable in terms of his reign dates, birth etc.. The Mayan Royals are being accused of a level of falsehood and mendacity unparalleled in any other ancient society we know of. The deliberate creation of outrageous thoroughly false data about age, birth and accession to the throne. Not even modern Totalitarian states have lied to that extent. As will be shown below the arguments used to distrust the Mayan monumental inscriptions could be applied to virtually any ancient society. For example how safe are the various Babylonian, Assyrian, Sumerian King lists from such "distrust"?

Another effect is that if this distrust is warranted then all the historical information in all Mayan inscriptions would have to be thrown out as fatally unreliable. Nothing could be trusted in the inscriptions; the "history" in the inscriptions would have to be regarded as "useful fictions" created for political purposes. This may appear to be a straw man I’m creating to knock down but that is in effect what the "doubters" are suggesting.

The "doubters" argument is based on the following points. These points will be discussed in relation to the Palenque Royal inscriptions.

1, The inscriptions at Palenque contain obviously made up and fanciful figures. For example the figure of U-Kix-Chan is recorded in a Royal inscription at Palenque as being born on March, 11 933 B.C.E. and ascending the throne on Mar. 28, 967 B.C.E.

2, The dates of accession contain large gaps of time between them. For example the gap of over 4 years between the death of Chaacal I and the accession of Kan-Xul I. Gaps also occur at other Mayan sites. The implication is one of possible or probable usurpation.

3, The great ages recorded for many Mayan Kings upon death and/or accession. For example Chan-Bahlum of Palenque was 66 when he died, 48 upon accession to the throne. Pacal himself was 80 when he died. Pacal’s son Kan-Xul II was 57 years old at accession. These figures are considered unbelievable given what we know about Mayan life expectancy during this period. We cannot be expected to believe the Mayan’s were ruled by a "Gerontocracy".2

4, Mayan Rulers put on their monuments what they wanted their future nobles to believe. No evidence provided, deduced from the public nature of the monuments.

5, Mayan Rulers had ample chance to fake dates to justify usurpation, also in many cases there is a lack of contemporaneous documents. For example the birth and accession of Pacal.

6, Studies of the bones found in the tomb of Pacal reveal that they are the bones of a man who died in his at most in his mid fifties. Thus Pacal could not have been 80 when he died and therefore his birth and accession dates are political lies. Alberto Ruz has stated he believes the man in the temple was about 40 years old when he died.3

7, Given the hard "Scientific" facts about the age of the body in the Temple of the Inscriptions the Glyphic evidence must be in error and give way.

Evaluating this 'evidence" and argument is problematic in that it is so hard to take seriously. The good points are drowned in a sea of bad argument. To start with points 6 and 7. The dates for both Pacal’s accession and birth and death are exact right down to the day. The principles of calculating Mayan dates and converting them to modern dates have been massively tested and are endlessly checked. The same is true of the interpretation and analysis of the Glyphs. That cannot be said for the analysis of bones to determine age. The age at death given for Pacal varies from 40 to 55. Hardly exact. There is in fact much discussion of this in the literature about whether or not old people generally have "young" bones. Further exactly how the anthropologists determined the age of the bones has not been published. 50 years after analysis!4

Tomb of Pacal

In 1984-1986 an analysis was conducted of the bones of those interred in a crypt in a Church at Spitalfields in east London. The dates of birth and death were known of the remains. Different methods of bone analysis, etc. were used to evaluate / determine when the people died and then compared to their actual date of death. The results indicated that:

All the methods applied to the Spitalfields skeletons tended to underestimate the age of the old, and overestimate the age of the young, a result that reflects the bias inherent in cemetery material composed of individuals who died of natural causes. Those who die young have presumably failed to achieve their potential and already have “old bones,” while those who live to a great age are survivors and have “young” bones at death.5

In fact this entire edifice of conjecture is based on the argument that Pacal was far too young at the time of his death to be telling the truth about his birth and accession. So the dates were frauds. From this supposed "fact" was erected, like an inverted pyramid the whole argument about Mayan historical texts being mendacious lies. A rather slender basis for such a sweeping conclusion.

Regarding points 4 & 5. The simple fact that Mayan could have faked evidence is not proof, evidence of fraudulent records. That such lies could benefit Mayan rulers is also no evidence of fraud. The lack of contemporaneous inscriptions for some rulers does not prove that in all such cases later records are fraudulent. In the case of European history certain historical figures would disappear with such an attitude towards the documentary record. For example Alfred the Great, or Hugh Capet, (founder of the Capetian Dynasty of France).

Regarding the puzzling gaps. The "doubter’s" do not seem to notice that the gaps vary in time period from a few months to several years. After making the valid point that these gaps are puzzling and require explanation they are used to impeach the credibility of the whole record. The problem is why did Mayan royalty record those gaps at all. If Mayan royalty was willing to fake birthdays, ages, days of accession to the throne, why not simply erase those puzzling gaps rather than record them? It is very likely that the longer gaps indicate succession problems but the very fact that such gaps were recorded is not an indication that the record is fraudulent. Once again far too broad conclusions are being drawn on limited evidence.

A possibility not mentioned in the literature is that the accession date is the equivalent of enthronement so that frequently it was postponed for reasons involving having it on an astrologically etc., auspicious day and not because of political disputes.

Puzzling features also include the fact that Mayan inscriptions include bad news, such as Kings captured and the sack of cities. In fact inscriptions at Palenque mention the city being sacked. At Tikal a King is described as dying of wounds. These inscriptions would seem to record bad things happening to the cities and their rulers. The doubters can’t have it both ways if the "good" news is lies then so is the bad news.6

Regarding point 1. The fact that U-Kix-Chan is probably legendary is no more proof that the rest of the list is fraudulent anymore than the claim of the House of Tudor that they were related to King Arthur. To say nothing of the claims of other European Noble and Royal families.

Regarding point 3. The "Doubters" are very selective in what reigns they select to make the King’s lists look ridiculous. For example the lists at Palenque do not just include the ages mentioned in point 3 put also the following. Ages. Kuk-Balam acceded age 33, died age 37. Butz-Aj acceded age 27, died age 40. Ahkal Mo-Nahb II acceded age 41 died age 47. Kan Balam I acceded age 47 died age 57. These dates are certainly more "realistic". Given the vagaries of the human life span before modern times such a wide variety of life spans are to be expected. This supports the overall validity of the list.7

Concerning the life span of Pacal and his son it is to be expected that if Pacal reigned for a long time, (67 years) that his successor would be at least middle aged. And since Pacal’s first son, Chan Bahlum II died apparently without surviving children or grandchildren, his younger brother Kan-Hok succeeded him. Since the lists with very few exceptions list only rulers it is not surprising that any children who did not live so long would not be listed. Alberto Ruz’s comment about a Gerontocracy seems only to apply to Pacal and two of his sons, and by what seems to be deliberate perversity in ignoring much of the rest of the King lists.8

Temple of the Inscriptions, Palenque

The great ages recorded should not occasion surprise in that it is perfectly reasonable to expect members of the Mayan elite to have on average significantly longer life spans than ordinary Maya so comparison with the apparent fact that the life expectancy of ordinary Maya was significantly less than the life spans recorded for the elite is hardly much in terms of proof that the inscriptions are lies.

This argument has been characterized with some justification in my opinion to result from the fact that few of the "dirt" archeologists can read the inscriptions or in fact have any knowledge of any Mayan language. If the inscriptions can be dismissed as "propaganda" and "lies" then the archeologist doesn’t have to learn the inscriptions or Mayan. Certainly the analogy with Greece or Egyptology etc., is striking. It would be hard to take seriously any "Egyptologist" who could not read the hieroglyphs, or a Classicist who could not read Latin or Greek. But if you dismiss the inscriptions you can avoid learning Mayan Glyphs and language.9

In 1999 at Palenque an inscription called the K'an Tok Tablet was discovered. This inscription records the investiture of a series of officials by the rulers of Palenque over a 300 year period. The list records such things as Lady Incal overseeing the "tying of the headband" on a man named Janahb Sotz. This record of prosaic activities of the rulers of Palenque strongly supports the idea that the King lists are in fact historical and not lies. Overall in the last few years the accumulation of evidence has virtually completely discredited the doubters.10

The above may appear to be a low blow but in my opinion the proper onus is on those who propose that the inscriptions are mendacious lies to prove that that is so.

Finally it is infuriating that the doubters would like to be able to pick and choose what is "true" and is not "true" and the criteria seems to be entirely subjective. It is concluded that the Mayan inscriptions are about as reliable has other similar inscriptions elsewhere in the world and their reliability should be judged in a similar fashion and not rejected by a cynical nihilism.

To conclude:

We can confidently say that K’inich Janab Pakal did die when he was 80, if only because the contemporaneous records of Maya history, anchored so firmly in the mechanisms of the Maya calendar, leave little doubt. His birth and death dates are immovable, and they come from inscriptions that were composed during his lifetime or soon thereafter. Despite what others have argued, we cannot believe that any Maya king could have manipulated the structure of contemporary history to exaggerate his own age. Pakal was notable for being 80 years old, and Maya historians at Palenque seem to have taken some pride in mentioning his advanced age whenever possible, especially using the title “the Five-score Year Lord”.11

Palace, Palenque

1, Marcus, Joyce, Royal Family, Royal Texts, in Mesoamerican Elites, Ed. Z. Chase & Arlen Chase, University of Oklahoma Press, London, 1992 & Mesoamerican Writing Systems: Propaganda, Myth, and History in Four Ancient Civilizations, Princeton University Press, Princeton NJ., 1992.

2, Ruz, Alberto, Gerontocracy at Palenque?, in Social Process in Maya Prehistory, Ed. N. Hammond, Academic Press, London, 1977. see also Footnote 1.

3, IBID.

4, Schele, Linda, & Mathews, Peter, The Code of Kings, Touchstone Books, New York, 1998, pp. 342-344. See also Renfrew, Colin, & Bahn, Paul, Archaeology, Second Edition, Thames and Hudson, London, 1996, p. 408, Stuart, David, & George Stuart, Palenque, Thames and Hudson, London, 2008, pp. 180-182.

5, Renfrew, p. 408.

6, Martin, Simon, & Grube, Nikolai, Chronicle of the Maya Kings and Queens, Second Edition, Thames and Hudson, 2008, pp, 30-31, 158-161.

7, Stuart, David, pp. 244-247.

8, Lists are, two in Pacal's tomb in the Temple of the Inscriptions and one in the Temple at the Top. One list is in Kan B'alam's Temple of the Cross. See Schele, Linda, & Freidal, David, A Forest of Kings, William Morrow & Company Inc., New York, 1990, Chapter 9, pp 217-261.

9, See Coe, Michael D., Breaking the Maya Code, Thames and Hudson, London, 1992.

10, Skidmore, Joel, A New Palenque Ruler, at Mesoweb, Here

11, Stuart, David, p. 182.

Pierre Cloutier

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