Maya inscriptions of the Classic Period (250-950 AD) are highly multimodal and complex compositions of picture and text, as a minimum employing four media of communication: (1) the composition, (2) gestures, (3) pictorial signs, (4) written signs, and originally also (5) colour, which was applied both to the image and text to make them more comprehensible (Hamann 2017). The composition includes not only the spatial distribution of graphic and linguistic elements in the available space, but also the interaction of text and image – how they complement and influence each other’s reading, e.g. how the reversed reading order changes the interpretation of text and iconography (Palka 2002; Tedlock 2010). Gestures are highly conventionalized and meaningful, therefore in my approach they are excepted from iconography into a separate modality; their general performative function is quite clear, even though sometimes the nuances of meaning are lost (Ancona-Ha, Perez de Lara, and Stone 2000; Miller 1983). Pictorial signs balance on the borderline between iconography and text and seem to move freely between them (Stone and Zender 2011, 10–11), which results from and in written signs having a pictorial origin (Macri and Looper 2003, 4; Houston 2004, 284; Stone and Zender 2011, 11).

This project investigates peculiarities of multimodality of Classic Maya inscriptions, in particular, the interaction of different modalities, the category boundaries of modalities, as well as performativity aspects of both texts and images.



  • Ancona-Ha, Patricia, Jorge Perez de Lara, and Mark Van Stone. 2000. ‘Some Observations on Hand Gestures in Maya Art’. In The Maya Vase Book: A Corpus of Rollout Photographs of Maya Vases, Volume 6, edited by Barbara Kerr and Justin Kerr. New York: Kerr Associates.
  • Hamann, Agnieszka. 2017. ‘Tz’ib ’write/Paint’. Multimodality in Maya Glyphic Texts’. Visible Language 51.1, 38-57.
  • Houston, Stephen D. 2004. ‘Writing in Early Mesoamerica’. In The First Writing: Script Invention as History and Process, edited by Stephen D Houston, 274–309. Cambridge University Press.
  • Macri, Martha J., and Matthew G. Looper. 2003. The New Catalog of Maya Hieroglyphs, Volume One: The Classic Period Inscriptions. Reprint edition. Norman Okla.: University of Oklahoma Press.
  • Miller, Virginia E. 1983. ‘A Reexamination of the Maya Gesture of Submission’. Journal of Latin American Lore.
  • Palka, Joel W. 2002. ‘Left/Right Symbolism and the Body in Ancient Maya Iconography and Culture’. Latin American Antiquity 13 (4): 419–43.
  • Stone, Andrea, and Marc Zender. 2011. Reading Maya Art: A Hieroglyphic Guide to Ancient Maya Painting and Sculpture. London: Thames & Hudson.
  • Tedlock, Dennis. 2010. 2000 Years of Mayan Literature: With New Translations and Interpretations by the Author. Berkeley: Univ. of California Press.