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Ajaw or Ahau ('Lord') has three significations in the pre-Columbian Maya civilization. It may represent a political title attested from Mayan epigraphic inscriptions, or it may designate the concluding, 20th named day of the divinatory calendar (tzolk'in), on which a king's k'atun-ending rituals would fall. It symbolizes the Sun God as cosmic lord (the word ahau literally means lord).
The word is known from several Mayan languages both those in pre-Columbian use (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.
Meaning as "lord"
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 k'uhul ajaw 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 archaeological site of K'o, associated with the Classic Maya city of Holmul located in modern-day Guatemala, boasts what may be the royal tomb of the earliest known Mayan ruler. This tomb has been dated to 350-300 BC, and it contains the earliest evidence of the institution of ajaw in the Maya Lowlands.
- John Tomasic and Steven Bozarth (2011), New Data from a Preclassic Tomb at K'o, Guatemala. Kansas.academia.edu
- Kettunen, Harri; 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; Peter Mathews; 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". In J. W. Powell (ed.). Sixteenth Annual Report of the Bureau of American Ethnology to the Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution, 1894–1895. Project Gutenberg. 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