Blinking snake

The Lunar Supplementary Series

Constellation band

Many of the monuments from the Maya area contain glyphs that fall into what is known as the “Lunar Supplementary Series,” components of which have been understood for a very long time. Morley, Teeple, Thompson, Andrews, Schele, Grube and Fahsen are among the more well-known students.

The commonly-used designations for the glyphs in this series, however, are a bit of a puzzle. These designations use letters of the alphabet, and are, in general, read in reverse order—with a few zingers. Schele, Grube and Fahsen (1992) explain it this way:

Epigraphers have been studying the supplementary series for almost a century. Morley (1916) completed the first extensive study of the lunar series. He collected eighty examples, arranged them in a chart with each text placed in a horizontal row and all similar parts compared in vertical columns. Since Morley saw more regularity in the columns to the right of his charts than in those to the left, he assigned alphabetic designations (A-G) going from right to left on the charts. Because of his strange assumption, the alphabetic order of the supplementary series reverses the reading order of the glyphs. Glyphs G and F are read first, Glyph A last. He used X as the designation of a variable glyph that occurred between his Glyph C and D. E. Wyllys Andrews IV (1938) added Glyphs Z and Y to the series as designations for a pair of glyphs Morley had included in the original charts, but not labelled. Andrews retained the reversed alphabetic order so that Z is read before Y.

So, let’s see if I’ve got this right. Morley initially observed that between the day (veintena) and the haab day glyphs was a series of optional glyphs to which he gave the letters A-F; for convenience, he added the letter X, and then assigned the letters starting with the last glyph in this optional series:

(Initial Series Introductory Glyph)
Long Count
G Glyph
F Glyph
E Glyph
D Glyph
C Glyph
X Glyph
B Glyph
A Glyph
Haab Day
Haab Month

Remember that not all inscriptions contain all of the supplementary series, and some don't contain any. The G glyphs are very common, with F glyphs often being incorporated into them; E and D glyphs are not as common, and you will usually not see both in an inscription even though the "rules" of the Mayan Calendar say you should. A glyphs are less common than the D and E glyphs, but not by much, and B glyphs are usually seen with A glyphs. X glyphs are much less common, by a large percentage.

Later, E. Wyllys Andrews added two glyphs, the Y and the Z (again, for convenience, not in that order); so what we’ve got now (when all the glyphs in the supplementary series are present) is:

ISIG Initial Series Introductory Glyph
G G9 The Nine Lords of the Underworld
F Glyph F Jester Headband verb
Z Glyph Z 5 Seven Lords of the Earth
Y Glyph Y Seven Lords of the Earth
E Glyph E Lunar Age
D Glyph D Lunar Age
C Glyph C 3 Lunar Semester
X Glyph X 2 Lunar Semester
B Glyph B God B Elbow
A Glyph A Length of Lunation

If you are not confused by now, you should be ;-).

You can click on the glyphs to go to the page describing that component of the supplementary series.


dot Morley, Sylvanus Griswold, “The Supplementary Series in the Maya Inscriptions,” in Anthropological Essays, Holmes Anniversary Volume. Presented to William Henry Holmes in Honor of his Seventieth Birthday, December 1, 1916 by His Friends and Collaborers:366-398, James William Bryant Press, Washington DC, 1916.
dot Morley, Sylvanus Griswold, An Introduction to the Study of the Maya Hieroglyphs, Dover, 1975 (Republication from 1915).
dot Thompson, J. Eric S., Maya Hieroglyphic Writing: An Introduction, Third edition, University of Oklahoma Press, 1971 (first edition 1950).
dot Thompson, J. Eric S., “Maya Chronology: Glyph G of the Lunar Series,” in American Anthropologist 31:233, 1929.
dot Schele, Linda, Nikolai Grube and Federico Fahsen, “The Lunar Series in Classic Maya Inscriptions: New Observation and Interpretations,” in Texas Notes on Precolumbian Art, Writing and Culture, No. 29, October 1992.
dot Teeple, John E., “Maya Inscriptions(1): Glyphs C, D and E of the Supplementary Series,” in American Anthropologist 27:108-115, 1925.
dot Teeple, John E., “Maya Astronomy,” Contributions to American Archaeology No. 2, Carnegie Institution of Washington, Pub. 403:29-115. Washington DC, 1930.
dot Andrews, E. Wyllys, “Glyph X of the Supplementary Series of the Maya Inscriptions,” in American Anthropologist, 36:345-354, 1934.

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