A Stela from Pajaral, Guatemala

Few people visit the interesting ruins of Pajaral, El Petén, Guatemala, located, not far from Laguna San Diego, to the west of Lake Petén Itzá, and in the general vicinity of another important and related site, Zapote Bobal. Ian Graham paid a brief initial visit to Pajaral in the 1970s, and several archaeologists from IDAEH and the Proyecto La Joyanca surveyed briefly around the ruins staring about eight years ago. I had an opportunity to visit there over the course of two days in 2001, recording fragments of sculpture that had been revealed earlier by my colleagues Veronique Breuil and Salvador López, both then of the Proyecto La Joyanca, and they kindly provided me the chance to photograph and record a number of these new monuments, including this Early Classic stela (still un-numbered).

Only the base of the stela exists today, showing the feet of a standing ruler above a large rectangular panel, depicting the face of a witz, or mountain. The two hieroglyphs near the feet are surely the name of this local king, readable as Yajawte’ K’inich. Interestingly, this same name was used by a much later Pajaral king shown on another stela (dating to we recorded that same season. The Yajawte’ K’inich name appears at other sites as well, including with at least one ruler at the neighboring Ik’ polity, centered at nearby Lake Peten Itzá.

Perhaps the most interesting aspect of this monument fragment is the witz design below, with its two snakes eminating from the mouth, and passing through the BIH earspools. This appears elsewhere in Early Classic iconography, and Karl Taube has rightly equated this with the och bih (“road-enter”) expression for death. I suspect that it reinforces the common notion in Mesoamerican thinking that hill and mountains are abodes of deceased ancestors. To me, the most striking detail of the witz mask are the jaguar ears seen above the earspools, marking this place — that is, Pajaral — as “Jaguar Hill,” or Hixwitz.

Before 2001 we had known of the Maya kingdom called Hixwitz from mentions at other sites (Yaxchilan, Piedras Negras, Itzimte), but it was the discovery of this and two other monuments at Pajaral and nearby Zapote Bobal that finally nailed its location, once and for all. Pajaral and Zapote Bobal were evidently served as captitals of Hixwitz, perhaps at different times during the Classic period. The large isolated hill at Pajaral, with its huge staircase and acropolis on top, is very likely the original “Jaguar Hill.”