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Ajaw or Ahau (pronounced IPA-esp [aχa:f] and written "ajaaw") ('Lord') is (a) a political title attested from the epigraphic inscriptions of the pre-Columbian Maya civilization; and (b) the designation of the concluding, 20th named day of the divinatory calendar (tzolk'in), on which a king's k'atun-ending rituals used to fall.
Ajaw, with a meaning variously rendered as "lord", "ruler", "king" or "leader", denoted any of the leading class of nobles in a particular polity and was not limited to a single individual. Since the ajaw performed religious activities, it also designated a member of the Maya priesthood. The variant k'uhul ajaw ("divine lord") indicates a sovereign leader of a polity, although the extent of the territory and influence controlled by an ajaw varied considerably, and could also be applied to persons who in theory recognised the overlordship of another person, dynasty or state. The title was also given to women, though generally prefixed with the sign Ix ("woman") to indicate their gender.
The word comes from the Mayan languages, and is known from several of these languages in use at the time (such as in Classic Maya), as well as in their contemporary descendant languages (in which there may be observed some slight variations). "Ajaw" is the modernised orthography in the standard revision of Mayan orthography, put forward in 1994 by the Guatemalan Academia de Lenguas Mayas, and now widely adopted by Mayanist scholars. Before this standardisation, it was more commonly written as "Ahau", following the orthography of 16th-century Yucatec Maya in Spanish transcriptions (now Yukatek in the modernised style). In the Maya hieroglyphics writing system, the representation of the word ajaw could be as either a logogram, or spelled-out syllabically. In either case quite a few glyphic variants are known. Not surprisingly, a picture of the king sometimes substitutes for the more abstract day sign.
- Kettunen, Harri; and Christophe Helmke (2005). Introduction to Maya Hieroglyphs (PDF). Wayeb and Leiden University. Archived from the original on 17 June 2007. Retrieved 2007-05-08.
- Montgomery, John; with revisions by Peter Mathews and Christophe Helmke (2002–2007). "Dictionary of Maya Hieroglyphs" (online version). Maya Hieroglyphic writing: Dictionaries. Foundation for the Advancement of Mesoamerican Studies, Inc (FAMSI). Archived from the original on 7 June 2007. Retrieved 2007-05-08.
- Osborne, Deborah (1994–95). "The History of the Transcription of the Mayan Languages" (PDF). Amerindia, Revue d'Ethnolinguistique amérindienne. 19-20: 435–442. ISSN 0221-8852. Retrieved 2007-05-08.
- Thomas, Cyrus (1897). "Day Symbols of the Maya Year" (Project Gutenberg EBook online reproduction). In J. W. Powell (ed.). Sixteenth Annual Report of the Bureau of American Ethnology to the Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution, 1894–1895. Washington DC: Bureau of American Ethnology, Smithsonian Institution; U.S. Government Printing Office. pp. 199–266. OCLC 14963920.
- 'AJAW', sound file and syllabic glyph example at John Montgomery's Dictionary of Maya Hieroglyphs, published online at FAMSI