Yaxchilan, Hieroglyphic Stairway 1
NOMENCLATURE The six steps of the stairway are numbered here from top to bottom in Roman numerals I to VI. The blocks within each step are numbered from the left or northern end:I-1, I-2, etc. However, since the inscription runs from block to block as a continuous text uninterrupted by framing borders, and since in many instances part of a particular glyph is carved on one block with the rest of it on the next, the glyphs cannot be assigned letter designations on a block-by-block basis; instead these designations must be applied in a single series for the whole of each step, notwithstanding the uncertainties of doing so in badly weathered passages.
The conventional labeling of glyph blocks, with letters applied horizontally and numerals vertically, would have involved the use of double and triple primes for this inscription, To avoid such clumsy designations, the glyphblocks on these steps, as well as those of H5.5, are numbered rather than lettered. In an example of evidently poor planning, the sculptors of this inscription were obliged to introduce a double row of glyphs toward its end. In order to preserve the proper reading order, numerals have been applied to pairs of columns in this section. In accordance with Morley's practice, the left and right columns of such pairs can be distinguished by the addition of the letters a and b to the glyph-block number and the upper and lower halves by the addition of u.h. and l.h. Reference to such a glyph may therefore take this form: YAX:HS.1,83b,l.h.
LOCATION The lower steps of the stairway were discovered by Maler, the upper steps remaining obscured by debris until cleared by members of the Carnegie Institution expedition of 1931. The stairway is part of Structure 5, a platform of some size constructed on the river bank, with its rear overlooking the seasonally submerged "masonry pier" and its front forming the central element of the northeastern side of the largest plaza at Yaxchilan. The Hieroglyphic Stairway provides access to the platform from this plaza.
CONDITION Most of the 111 blocks forming this stairway remain in position, or have been only slightly disturbed. One block (VI-2) has fallen forward and now lies beneath the roots of a tree. A few are broken into several pieces, and many have had one or two pieces broken from them. (Some of these we were able to restore to their original position for photography.) Unfortunately, the general condition of the sculptured risers is deplorable, much of the stone having become very soft.
MATERIAL Limestone. Three of the blocks (1-9, IV-7, and V-13) are set with their bedding planes vertical and perpendicular to the plane of the risers.
DIMENSIONS Step I is 13.55 m long; the lengths of the others lie between 13.75 and 13.90 m. The widths of the treads, ascending from Step VI to Step II, are 0.90, 1.00, 0.80, 0.65, and 0.65 m.
CARVED AREAS Risers only. Study of the large cartouches, especially that on Block I-17, raises the possibility that they may have been carved over the original text.
PHOTOGRAPHS The entire stairway was photographed by Graham step by step in 1970, and again with better lighting in 1980. Unfortunately, some of the latter series were ruined during development. The published photographs are taken from both series.
DRAWINGS Graham, based on field drawings corrected by artificial light.