The Captives on Piedras Negras, Panel 12


Panel 12 from Piedras Negras is a key record of Early Classic political relations in the Usumacinta region. Its figural scene, framed by rows and columns of incised glyphs, shows a standing ruler facing three bound and kneeling captives, with a fourth prisoner shown set off from the rest behind the royal warrior. As we’ve known for many years based on an observation first made by Linda Schele, the first (front) captive is identified in nearby caption as “‘Knot-eye Jaguar,’ the Yaxchilan Lord.” This is surely the ninth king of Yaxchilan who ruled at the Period Ending and continued on the throne for about one more decade, until the accession of K’inich Tatbu Jol on (these dates become important a bit later). The middle captive on Panel 12 looks to be from the kingdom affiliated with the ruins known today as Santa Elena, and presumably much of its surrounding region along the nearby lower Río San Pedro. Little is known of the history of Santa Elena, but this prisoner’s name looks very similar to one we know from its later inscriptions, possibly re-used by several rulers.

The third (left-most) prisoner on Panel 12 has thus far gone unidentified, but I’ve an idea who he might be, based on observations of the original panel made earlier this year. The emblem glyph is highly eroded, but its shape and features suggest it might be LAKAM-TUUN-ni-AJAW, for Lakamtuun Ajaw, “the Lakamtuun Lord.” This past March I presented evidence at the UT Maya Meetings suggesting that Lakamtuun was a kingdom or political region located on the banks of the modern Río Lacantun, a major tributary of the upper Usumacinta, and perhaps near the ruins of known as El Palma. The Classic kingdom of Lakamtuun was politically important, cited at Yaxchilan, Seibal, and Itzan, and now maybe Piedras Negras.

The personal name of the Panel 12 mystery captive, recorded before the murky emblem glyph and after U-BAAH, is also suggestive. The components look to be a ?-CHAN AHK with the initial sign resembling one known to represent a downward facing snake, but lacking a firm reading. In the comparison presented in the accompanying image, one can see what looks to be the very same name written in Lintel 35 of Yaxchilan: ?-CHAN-a-ku LAMAK-TUUN-AJAW. He is cited there as a foreign lord who oversaw a subsiduary noble with political connections with the tenth Yaxchilan king, K’inich Tatbu Jol.

So, Panel 12 looks as if it shows a Piedras Negras king with three subservient rulers from neighboring kingdoms, each located along a major rivers of the western lowlands: the Río Usumacinta (Yaxchilan), the Río San Pedro Martir (Santa Elena), and the Río Lacantun (Lakamtuun). I doubt this geographical spread is a coincidence, for it may have been used to bolster Piedras Negras’s message political influence, of not control, over a vast territory to its north and south.

My sense is that the scene of Panel 12 is largely performative and symbolic of such political dominance, not to be taken too literally as evidence of long-distance taking of royal prisoners. Yaxchilan’s Lintel 35 suggests that the Lakamtuun ruler (if that’s who he is) was still reigning a few years after Panel 12’s carving and dedication. Likewise Knot-eye Jaguar of Yaxchilan seems to have ruled locally for several more years, though still perhaps as a vassal of Piedras Negras. This is not as strange as it might seem, since we know that later Maya kings represented subject rulers as bound prisoners, even though the subservient lords continued to rule for many years. Jaguar Claw of Seibal, in “power” yet shown early-on as a prisoner at Dos Pilas and Aguateca, is a good case for comparison.

It looks as if the Piedras Negras king consolidated political authority up and down the Usumacinta drainage, north and south, around the Period Ending I find the timing of great interest, for it so happens that several polities of the western area first “get going” on or around this date. It is the first known Period Ending celebrated in texts at Piedras Negras, Yaxchilan, and Tonina, and it is featured prominently in the “deep history” recorded on Piedras Negras Altar 1. Moreover, is also the opening date of the vast panorama of history recorded in the three tablets of Palenque’s Temple of the Inscriptions, which highlights K’inich Janab Pakal’s victories over (no coincidence, this) Santa Elena. In sum, It seems was a seminal period in defining the geo-politics of the western Maya lowlands for the Classic Period.

6 thoughts on “The Captives on Piedras Negras, Panel 12

  1. bruisinraincloud August 23, 2007 / 12:43 AM

    WOW! I just stumbled here by clicking ‘next blog’ & I want you to know that I WILL BE BACK!

    thanks for sharing!

  2. Vincent January 7, 2009 / 12:13 AM

    Dr. Stuart,

    Not to be presumptious but do you happen to have a higher res picture of this panel? I’m currently working on a paper on respresentations of Maya captives and would be interested to get a closer look at the faces of the captives… Many thanks in advance for your time and consideration.

    All the best!

  3. David Stuart January 12, 2009 / 6:18 PM

    Hi Vincent,

    There captives’ faces are completely gone on Panel 12, unfortunately. The stone has been published a number of times, though, so I am sure you can track down something more detailed than my murky web-photo. Perhaps in Martin and Grube’s Chronicle of Maya Kings and Queens, or Morley’s Inscriptions of Peten.

  4. Mark Pitts October 13, 2009 / 1:15 AM


    Would it be okay to use the photo of Panel 12 for an educational project (completely non-profit)?

    If so, to whom would I give credit for the photo?

    Mark Pitts
    The Aid and Education Project, Inc.

    • David Stuart October 13, 2009 / 2:32 AM

      Sure. Photo is by David Stuart. It’s not the best, but hope it will do.

  5. Harry Graham November 10, 2009 / 11:12 PM

    thank you for providing these fascinating details – i’ve been reading about the arrival and influence of Siyah K’ak’, (Fire is Born) in the Petén in 378 – how widespread are the recorded accounts of these events and the possible influence/control of Teotihuacan in the wider mayan sphere?