Dirk Koedam


The characteristic signs for natural numbers and zero that pre-Hispanic Maya scribes used to depict counting facts must have been developed based on daily life experience, although for several of them their origins remain unclear. One such case is the sculptured, three-sided or partially visible quatrefoil glyph, catalogued as affix T173. This glyph had several textual functions, but its scribal variations were most frequently used as a positional zero. In several cases of T173’s use, its syllabic reading has been recognized as mi, which can be translated into “lacking”. Yucatec Mayas kept stingless, meliponine bees for honey and wax production and trade, and the cultural value of this practice reveals itself through the worshipping of several bee and beekeeping gods. In species of the genus Melipona, queens are constantly produced. Worker bees eliminate superfluous and useless queens all year round, commonly by biting off their heads. These worker-controlled killings of excess queens allow colonies to perpetuate themselves but occasionally lead to irreversible colony loss, which would seriously undermine honey harvests. Beheaded queen bee figures in the Madrid Codex demonstrate that Mayan beekeepers knew from experience how the deaths of residing queen bees affected their beekeeping businesses. Here I propose that Maya artists sculpted beheaded queen bees and used them, among other things, as zero placeholders in counting, namely T173. If this rationale is correct, the presence of this glyph on Classic period monuments reinforces the idea that Maya beekeeping has a long-standing tradition and was more widespread than is generally acknowledged. In its zero position, glyph T173 may originally have embodied a pre-existing concept of “nothing” or “void” from beekeeping: a vacant beehive due to the permanent loss of the queen caste. Additionally, the effect of other aspects of adult lifecycles of Melipona queens on colony development could explain other textual applications of glyph T173.


Classic Maya civilization; T173; stingless beekeeping; Melipona beecheii; queen bee decapitation; vacant hive

Texto completo:

Koedam 2018 (English)


AYALA, R. Revisión de las abejas sin aguijon de México (Hymenoptera: Apidae: Meliponini). Folia Entomológica Mexicana 106: 1-123, 1999.

BLUME, A. Maya concepts of zero. Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society 155(1): 51-88, 2011.

BRINTON, D.G. A primer of Mayan hieroglyphs. Series in Philology, Literature and Archaeology 3(2): 9-152, 1894.

CAPPAS E SOUSA, J.P. Os Maias e a meliponicultura. O Apicultor 3: 15-17, 1995.

CAPPAS E SOUSA, J.P. A meliponicultura Maia (O jaguar abelha e os deuses Maias). O Apicultor 4: 17-19, 1996.

COE, M.D.; BENSON E.P. Three Maya Relief Panels at Dumbarton Oaks. Studies in Pre-Columbian Art and Archaeology 2: 1-36, 1966.

COHN, D. Xunan Kab: The stingless bees of the Yucatan: preserving meliponiculture in Mayan communities, 1. American Bee Journal 145: 656-660, 2005.

CORTOPASSI-LAURINO, M. et al. Global meliponiculture: challenges and opportunities. Apidologie 37: 275-292, 2006.

CRANE, E.; GRAHAM, A.J. Bee hives of the ancient world 2. Bee World 66: 148-170, 1985.

GONZÁLEZ-ACERETO, J.A. Cría y manejo de abejas nativas sin aguijón en México. Universidad Autónoma de Yucatán, Yucatán, México, 2008. 177 p.

GRAHAM, I.; MATHEWS. P. Corpus of Maya Hieroglyphic Inscriptions, Toniná. Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology, Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1996.

GRUBE, N.; NAHM, W. A sign for the syllable mi. Research reports on ancient Maya writing 33: 15-26, 1990.

HUBER, P. Notice sur la mélipone domestique, abeille domestique mexicaine. Mémoires de la Société de Physique et d'Histoire Naturelle de Genévé 8(1): 1-26, 1839.

IFRAH, G. From one to zero: a universal history of numbers. Viking Penguin Inc., New York. 1985. 503 p.

IMPERATRIZ-FONSECA, V.L.; ZUCCHI, R. Virgin queens in stingless bee (Apidae, Meliponinae) colonies: a review. Apidologie 26: 231-244, 1995.

JONG, H.DE; SOMMEIJER, M.J. Transferencia de colonias y control de pestes em Melipona beecheii. Apitec 42: 13-15, 2004.

JONG, H.J.DE. The land of corn and honey: the keeping of stingless bees (meliponiculture) in the ethno-ecological environment of Yucatan (Mexico) and El Salvador. Doctoral Dissertation, Utrecht University, Utrecht, the Netherlands. 1999. 423 p.

KAPLAN, R. The nothing that is: A natural history of zero. Oxford University Press, New York, 2000. 240 p.

KARADIMAS, D. La métamorphose de Yurupari : flûtes, trompes et reproduction rituelle dans le Nord-Ouest amazonien. Journal de la Société des Américanistes 94(1): 127-169, 2008.

KAUFMAN, T. (with J. Justeson) A preliminary Mayan etymological dictionary. 2003. 1535 p. Available at: . Accessed on: 11 Aug. 2017.

KENT, R.B. Mesoamerican stingless beekeeping. Journal of Cultural Geography 4: 14-28, 1984.

KOEDAM, D.; AGUILAR MONGE, I.; SOMMEIJER, M.J. Social interactions of gynes and their longevity in queenright colonies of Melipona favosa (Apidae: Meliponinae). Netherlands Journal of Zoology: 45: 480-494, 1995.

LANDA, D.DE. Yucatan before and after the conquest. Translated by W. Gates, with notes, original Spanish text first written in 1566. 2.ed. Dover Publications Inc., New York, 1937. 142 p.

MARTÍNEZ, G.C.E. Ah Muzen Cab, el dios Maya de las abejas. Apicultores de Yucatán 1: 5-6, 1938.

MAUDSLAY, A.P. Biologia Centrali-Americana; or, contributions to the knowledge of the fauna e flora of Mexico and Central America. In: Godman, F.D.; Salvin, O. Archaeology. Porter, Dulau & Co., London. p. 1899-1902.

MICHENER, C.D. The social behavior of the bees: a comparative study. Belknap University Press Harvard University Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1974. 404 p.

MORLEY, S.G. An introduction to the study of the Maya hieroglyphs. Smithsonian Institution Bureau of American Ethnology Bulletin 57: 1-284, 1915.

OVIEDO Y VALDÉS, G.F.DE. Historia general y natural de las Indias, islas y tierra-firme del Mar Océano. In: J. A. DE LOS RIOS, Real Academia de la Historia, Madrid Original edition from 1535. 3(2), 1851-1853.

POSEY, D.A. Folk apiculture of the Kayapó Indians of Brazil. Biotropica 15(2): 154-158, 1983.

PRAGER, C.M. A study of the classic Maya hieroglyphic inscriptions of Pusilha, Toledo district, Belize. Indiana, 30: 247-282, 2013.

ROUBIK, D.W. Ecology and natural history of tropical bees. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 1989. 514 p.

SAKAGAMI, S.F. Stingless bees. In: Hermann, H.R. Social insects. Academic Press, New York, 1982. Vol. III, p. 361-424.

SCHWARZ, H.F. Stingless bees (Meliponidae) of the western hemisphere. Bulletin of the American Museum of Natural History 90: 1-546, 1948.

SILVA, D.L.N.; ZUCCHI, R.; KERR, W.E. Biological and behavioural aspects of the reproduction in some species of Melipona (Hymenoptera, Apidae, Meliponinae). Animal Behaviour 20: 123-132, 1972.

SLAA, E.J. Population dynamics of a stingless bee community in the seasonal dry lowlands of Costa Rica. Insectes Sociaux: 53: 70-79, 2006.

SNODGRASS, R.E. The anatomy of the honey bee. Bureau of Entomology, U.S. Department of Agriculture, Washington, 1910. Technical Series 18, 162 p.

STUART, D. Some working notes on the text of Tikal Stela 31. 2011. 9 p. Available at: . Accessed on June 27, 2016.

THOMPSON, J.E.S. Maya hieroglyphic writing, Introduction. Carnegie Institution of Washington, Washington D. C., 1950. n. 589. 347 p.

THOMPSON, J.E.S. A catalog of Maya hieroglyphs. University of Oklahoma Press, Norman, Oklahoma, 1962. 458 p.

TOZZER, A.M.; ALLEN, G.M. Animal figures in the Maya codices. Papers of the Peabody Musum of American Archaeology and Ethnology 4: 275-372, 1910.

VAIL, G. A commentary on the bee almanacs in Codex Madrid. In: Sosa C.V. Códices y documentos sobre México, Primer Simposio, Serie Historia, Instituto Nacional de Antropología e Historia, Córdoba, México, 1994. p. 37-68.

VAIL, G. Pre-hispanic Maya religion: conceptions of divinity in the Postclassic Maya codices. Ancient Mesoamerica 11: 123-147, 2000.

VILLANUEVA, G.R.; ROUBIK, D.W.; COLLI-UCÁN, W. Extinction of Melipona beecheii and traditional beekeeping in the Yucatán peninsula. Bee World 86(2): 35-41, 2005.

WEAVER, N.; WEAVER, E.C. Beekeeping with the stingless bee Melipona beecheii, by the Yucatecan Maya. Bee World 62(1): 7-19, 1981.

WENSELEERS, T. et al. Queen execution and caste conflict in the stingless bee Melipona beecheii. Ethology 110: 725-736, 2004.

WILLE, A. Las abejas jicotes del genero Melipona (Apidae, Meliponinae) de Costa Rica. Revista de Biología Tropical 24: 123-147, 1976.

WILSON, E.O. The insect societies. Belknap Press, Harvard University Press, 1971. 548 p.



  • Não há apontamentos.

Direitos autorais 2018 Ethnoscientia

ISSN 2448-1998