Slate’s language blog, Lexicon Valley, recently featured a funny and even sort of educational post by Taylor Jones (“the author of www.languagejones.com and a jazz musician and composer”) called “What Do the Glyphs at Chipotle Mean? They’re Mayan—Sort of.” Jones “went to a Chipotle in Philadelphia, looked at the wall, and realized their design was more than just decoration”; having an interest in Mayan, he “did some research and found that the wood and metal sculptures at many (or maybe all) Chipotle locations were provided by a company named Mayatek Inc.”
In order to get more information, I wrote an email to Dr. Marc Zender, one of the leading scholars on Maya glyphs and author of The Book on the subject, asking if he could tell me whether the bas relief decoration at this Chipotle was imitating some known work or complete gibberish (email title: “a frivolous question”). To my surprise, he responded, and the answer is that it’s a little of both. He told me that the artist for Chipotle intended to copy a well-known collection of stucco glyphs from Palenque’s Temple 18.
He explained: “The text was commissioned by the early 8th-century king K’inich Ahkal Mo’ Nahb, and had fallen from the rear wall of a temple in antiquity. The stuccos were then recovered piecemeal by several different archaeological projects between the 1920s and 1950s. Primarily because their original order couldn’t be determined, but also because most of them couldn’t be read at that time, the curators at Palenque’s archaeological site museum unfortunately ended up mounting them in (unreversible) cement, placing similar signs next to one another and creating a nonsensical text. ”
He went on to explain that “the Chipotle artist has also picked glyphs at random from this collection and has made his best attempt to copy them. It’s not a bad effort in some places, but note the ‘bird with wings’ the artist has created in the bottom rightmost glyph, as well as some missing or invented details in a few other places.” […]
Then, Dr. Zender made my day. “Just for the fun of it,” He translated the glyph blocks from Chipotle[…]
What fun! And you’ll find Zender’s translations at the link.