Bradford Graves


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"Tunkan - the stone God - is the oldest spirit, we think, because he is the hardest. He stands for

creation, you know, like the male part. Hard, upright, piercing - like the lance

and arrow heads fashioned from it in the old days."

-Lame Deer

"The future doesn't exist, or if it does exist, it is the obsolete in reverse. The

future is always going backwards. Our future tends to be prehistoric."

-Robert Smithson

The first quote above explains the positions stone plays in the creation of the

world. It was there, as stone is here with us today due to its being the most

permanent material in nature's world.

The second quote was made by one of our foremost contemporary artists.

His work will be discussed in a separate section, but his importance here is on 'beginnings.' How we

began seems of utmost importance to us. We seem to yearn our way back to beginnings. Smithon's

work seems to be a reflection on this yearning to re-enter that process -- (the process being nature's

very relaxed way of realtering her materials) -- and his statement on the future, on first reading, tends

to sound negative, but in fact is a positive re-positioning on man within the realm of nature's process.

"The world was created by God the ruler, he who was hidden within the stone, hidden within the night,

was born, where there was neither heaven nor earth. Then he came out of the stone and fell into the

second stone. Then it was he declared his divinity." 14

Thus begins the creation of the world as found in the book "Chilam Balam of Chumayel." The prophet

Balam was the last and greatest prophet of the Mayan people. The book was completed in the year

1782, long after the end of the Mayan civilization, but fortunately contains very little European material

and is based upon prophecies and the history of the Mayan people by the prophet Balam, who lived

during the last decades of the fifteenth century, and probably the beginnings of

the sixteenth century. He came into prominence by foretelling of the coming of

strangers from the east who would establish a new religion.

The books were written in the Mayan language, but in the European script. They

contain chronicles, fragmentary historical narratives, rituals, prophecies,

native catechisms, mythological accounts of the creation of the world;

almanacs and medical treatises.

Here in this section I want to concentrate on the account of the creation of the

world. The creation began with God falling and entering between a series of

stones. "He loosened himself from his stone and declared his divinity." 15

Why is he created out of a stone? I can only believe it refers to Lame Deer's

statement that stone is the hardest and most durable of materials. An interesting point in Lame Deer's

statement is the name of the stone God" "Tunkan." Lame Deer, a north American Indian, living at the

turn of the century, uses a name that has its beginnings with the Mayans. The word in Mayan for a

precious stone is "tun", while the word for ordinary stone is "tunich." The term was also used in the

measuring of time. Tun is the name of the Mayan time period of 365 days.

"...where there was neither time nor space..." The key word is 'where.' 'When' is not spoken of, thus

the creation is placed beyond time -- now when time was not or outside of time. To the Mayans, the

"first time" was outside material creation, so that God had to descent to the "second time" before he

could declare his divinity. Are we referring to stone (tun), time (tun), or both?

God continued creating the heavens and earth from stones. Hebones, the only son of God, was born

upon the stone of his father, and man was born of stone when moisture fell upon it. It is interesting that

God, at the first heaven, has a stone in one hand and in the other his 'kabahil', the Mayan potter's

wheel. The stone in his one hand at this first heaven was the one used to create the planets "which he

held in his grasp when he created them," 16 while in the other the potter's wheel on which were "hung

the four changing winds." 17

God was free but the forces governing the universe and represented by lesser Gods were subject to

the laws of time.

Freedom was relative. The planets could turn only on the whim of god's grasp. The potter's wheel was

the perpetual moving outward to the four points of the created world and inward to a still hub.

The balance must be kept between time and space and it is the duty of the four changing winds to maintain it.

As with all matters of time, there is a beginning and an end. The Mayans felt that the universe would end when creation would return to its

beginnings. Thus, creation ends with Smithson's statement "the future is always going backwards."

Robert Smithson did a work in the Yucatan, ancient home of the Mayans, and while traveling by air from Bonampak to a small village, he wrote, as

if with a full understanding of the Chilam Balam creation, "The immense horizon contracted its endless rings. Lower and lower into the vortex of

Agua Azul, into the calm infernal center, and into the flaming spiral of Xuihtecuhtle." 18 Running through the whole universe, extending from the

fire place in the land of the dead, through the fire in the homes of earth, straight through to the pole of the heavens, was the strange spindle of the

fire God Xuihtecuhtle, taking souls to their final absorption and leading souls into the earth. It as he who presided at every moment of fertilization

and at every birth. Yet, there was no temple for him anywhere on earth because he had no permanent place in the material world, only "a flaming


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14. Roys, Ralph L. The Book of Chilam Balam of Chumayel. University of Oklahoma Press. Norman: 1967.p. 111

17. Ibid


A Legacy Carved in Stone



Taking the Side of Things

Omphalos and Lapis Manalis



The Stones of Camus

Twentieth Century Stone Sculpture

Richardson 's Original Monster Rock


Robert Smithson

The Moon Gets its Rocks off on Earth

In Praise of Limestone

Essay by Laura Welikson








Brad's Writings 

Selected Essays


John (Fire) Lame Deer