Posted by: Johan Normark | October 27, 2012

K’utz Chman, the chiefly king who made the transition between the Olmec Empire and the Mayans…

When media reports about archaeological discoveries things tend to get misunderstood. As an example of this let’s take the tomb of “K’utz Chman” found at Tak’alik Ab’aj, launched as the oldest known royal Maya tomb. The headline on mail online is illuminating: ‘He was the big chief’: Grave of ancient king who laid foundations for Mayan civilisation in 700 B.C. unearthed by archaeologists. First of all, a chief is not a king by traditional anthropological definitions. Chiefs rule chiefdoms and kings rule kingdoms. However, that old categorization is heavily generalized and we simply do not know what kind of office the buried person had. The “vulture” found in the tomb is in later Classic period inscriptions sometimes part of the ajaw glyph, the title of the ruling stratum. The headline quote from Orrego also says “he” but there are apparently no preserved bones in the tomb so the gender of the person is based on assumption unless there is additional data not presented in the link above. Unless there are iconographic and/or epigraphic evidence from elsewhere at the site that indicates that the buried person was a man, we cannot assume that the person buried in it was a man. Some of the wealthiest tombs from the Maya area have been those of royal women…

However, the most problematic statement in the headline (and in the text itself) is that it was a grave of a king who laid foundations for Maya civilization. There are no such people. This is not the Adam (or Eve) of Maya civilization. This is “Culture Area” thinking that has been out of fashion for the past four or five decades (although it is quite common in Mesoamerican archaeology and in fringe archaeology). The author of the article also mentions the “Olmec Empire”. No, there never was such an empire.

And finally, the comment section is seldom worth reading. Here we, of course, find “alternative interpretations” of aliens , 2012, and the like.

Update: Rosemary Joyce has written about the civilization issue.


  1. In the article by Rosemary Joyce

    that you linked to in the “update”, she says that the only article worth reading on this new find is

    I liked it, but then I’m just a layman.

    I sympathize with archaeologists when I read sensationalist fluff like the Mail Online article. It must be annoying to see careless reporters misrepresent the results of years of meticulous field work and analysis.

    • Indeed it is but I guess this is a problem in most academic disciplines. I am sure the mistakes are even worse in reports on physics or astronomy. Today I saw an article about a gigantic storm on Saturn but the image accompanying the text showed a solar flare, not quite the same…

      • Yes, and add to that the “space storm” headlines… It’s as much of a space storm as Gudrun was (or Sandy, for that matter). The bottom line being that media gets science wrong all the time. Sometimes it’s just funny, sometimes they’re spreading outright and quite frankly, inexcusable disinformation. Now, I understand that not all journalists can be expected to sport high scientific literacy, but then they should also refrain from these sensationalistic takes on similar things. Ironically, this phenomenon is a great contributor to the fires that the tin foil crowd is keeping – and they are the ones telling us that we are being duped by the establishment…

      • Cranks don’t recognize that they are cranks. They are mislead by their own lack of critical reasoning.

  2. K’utz Chman :-can be reconstructed using Sanskrit dhAtu to mean khu, cl. i. A. khavate, to sound, ja, mf(o)n. (\/jan) birth – khu ja – mercury `- and ultimately a venerated place – Nothing to do with dead bodies and tombs. Perhaps they were planted for kid archaeologists of the future to find post columbus..

    • Kid archaeologists… Lol. I suggest you skip your Sanskrit interpretations of the Maya. K’utz Chman is a nick-name given by the archaeologists (it is not a real name, this is a quite common practice…). The name means “Ancestor Vulture” in modern Mam. Yes, so much for your understanding of Maya language(s) by using Sanscrit…

      • MAM – Because of Spanish colonial policy, which enforced a harsh penalty upon the written use of indigenous languages, the language can vary widely from village to village. Due the lack of a standardized written dialect throughout the colonial era, different villages developed regional accents which evolved into full differentiated dialects, even though the villages may only be a few miles apart from each other.

        The poor people will say it means whatever archeologists want them to mean it.

      • Tak’alik Ab’aj means stones/sculptures left from the times of our ancestors.

      • I’ll repeat. It is a nick-name based on one of the finds that is believed to depict a vulture. Nick-names are often given when we do not know the name of the individual, such as Ah-Kakaw, which we now know is Jasaw Chan K’awiil (not quite the same).

        It was also during the Colonial era when the languages became standardized since they were united under a larger political and economic system than they had before. The Spaniards translated the Bible into Maya languages. Due to the creation of dictionaries standardization began. Quite the opposite of what you say…

  3. Monument 14, described by Orrego Corzo and Schieber de Lavarreda 2001, in their work pp. 788, 798.a sculpture of a squatting human figure[134] looks like a head to me. Suggest being equipped with Alan Chrissensen, Kauffman and Monier Williams Sanskrit English dictionaries and grammar works to understand Maya.

    • Good luck with that. Send your research to some epigraphers instead of me.


%d bloggers like this: