Posted by: Johan Normark | April 7, 2009

Sacbeob 2: Glyphs

As mentioned in my latest post on causeways, the most commonly used term for them is the contemporary Yucatec word sakbe (sacbe, sakbeh, zac be) which is translated as “white road”. This word consists of two parts: sak (white, clean, neat, fiction and artificial) and be (road, street, path, trail, course, route, transit, destiny and employment) (Barrera 1941:76; Keller 2001; Romero 2000:13, 93).

The hieroglyphic compound for road is bih. The bih glyph can be found both as syllables (bi-hi), as a logograph (BIH), or as a combination of a logograph and a syllable (BIH-hi). One version of the bih glyph is in the shape of a footprint. In several Mexican codices, outside the Maya area, footprints indicate travelling (Miller and Taube 1993:113). The footprint version exists, for example, on page 39a of the Dresden Codex in which the logograms SAK-BIH are placed on the ground in front of a deity (Stuart 2006:1-2). The glyph may relate to the surface upon which the deity is walking. Bih is also found in the form of the quincunx pattern, which resembles number 5 on a dice. This pattern is quite common and old in the iconography. It can be found on Late Formative earplug assemblages at the temple masks at Cerros (Freidel and Schele 1988a, 1988b). It is believed that the pattern resembles the four corners of the world and its center point.

BIH

BIH

It should be noticed that hieroglyphic inscriptions similar to the word sakbe have been found on six inscribed stones associated with the Coba-Yaxuna causeway (Villa Rojas 1934). This glyphic compound is SAK-BIH-hi, transliterated as sakbih and this word is spelt and pronounced in the Ch’olti’an (“Classic Maya”) way. The word is also known from the Hieroglyphic Stairway at Copan, but probably with a cosmological meaning. Chante’ sakbih, means “the four white roads” (Stuart 2006:1-2). Other hieroglyphic examples of “road” can be found in the Dresden codex where the phrase “on the road” is spelled ta-bih, which is another Ch’olti’an-spelling (Houston, personal communication 2002).

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