A Sun God Image from Dos Pilas, Guatemala


In 1990, my friend Dr. Oswaldo Chichilla Mazariegos oversaw exploratory excavations at a small elite architectural compound at Dos Pilas known as Group N5-6 (Chinchilla Mazariegos 1990).  In the course of his excavations he discovered several beautifully carved blocks in the interior chamber of Structure N5-21, the largest of the buildings in the group.  These included sculpted masonry “legs” for a bench or throne, each depicting kneeling humans figures with duck-bills with their hand aloft. These were clearly once Wind God supports for the bench. Also found by Chinchilla were four carved stones that must have formed one of the two upper side panels of the same bench-throne, depicting a seated K’inich Ajaw, or Sun God (see figure). Here I present my drawing of the sculpture, based on a field drawing I  made from the original stones in 1990 while working as part of Vanderbilt University’s Proyecto Arqueológico Regional Petexbatun. This drawing has not been published before now.

K’inich Ajaw is shown seated within or in front of a nice example of a solar cartouche, adorned with bony serpent or centipede heads at its corners (only one is visible, at upper left). All in all, it is one of the finest portraits of the Sun God I know from Classic Maya sculpture. He has k’in glyphs on each arm and leg, as well as on his forehead. In his left hand the Sun God holds the head of an animal, probably a deer.  Although missing a few details, this is almost surely an example of a particular deer that appears elsewhere in Maya iconography, showing a footprint design over its eye. The “footprint deer,” as I call it, is nearly always paired with a certain old-looking human god in both iconography and in inscriptions, and I suspect the latter was depicted on the whatever image must have accompanied this Sun God on the N5-21 bench.  Their meanings remain obscure, but there’s good reason to think the two have some sort of opposed or complementary meanings, perhaps associated with solar phenomena.

I hope I will be able to track down my drawings of the two Wind God supports of the throne and post them sometime in the future.

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Chinchilla Mazariegos, Oswaldo. 1990. Operación DP14: Investigaciones en el Grupo N5-6. In Proyecto Arqueológico Regional Petexbatun, informe preliminar no. 2, segunda temporada, 1990, edited by Arthur A. Demarest and Stephen D. Houston. Nashville: Department of Anthropology, Vanderbilt University.

UPDATE (April 14, 2009): As Oswaldo mentions in his recent comment (see below), photographs of this sun god carving were published in two European exhibit catalogues, and his own drawing appeared in an article he published in 2006. Thanks to Oswaldo for the information (and of course for finding the sculpture!).

6 thoughts on “A Sun God Image from Dos Pilas, Guatemala

  1. Jeremy April 12, 2009 / 10:28 PM

    Hi Dr. Stuart,

    Thanks for posting this amazing image of the Sun God. I can’t wait to see your drawing of the Wind God supports! I was wondering if these Wind Gods are representing Sky Bearers. Many colonial accounts state that the Sky Bearers and Pauahtuns were Wind Gods as well. Another thought is that these Wind Gods are somehow helping the Sun to rise. The Florentine Codex describes Ehecatl helping the Sun to rise by blowing on it.


    Jeremy Coltman

  2. Oswaldo Chinchilla April 14, 2009 / 2:39 PM

    There was a lot of excitement at the Dos Pilas camp when the beautiful sculptured blocks came out from the rubble. Everyone visited my excavation for the first time! Alas, no glyphs turned out among the remains of the bench that was torn apart by the squatters that occupied the structure late in the site’s history.

    The carved blocks were later put together by Mr. Rodolfo Yaquián, and the Sun God has been on display at the National Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology in Guatemala city. There are very good photographs in the catalogs of the exhibition “El País del Quetzal” that traveled to Madrid and Vienna. These are the references:

    “El País del Quetzal: Guatemala Maya e Hispana.” Madrid: Sociedad Estatal para la Acción Cultural Exterior, 2002, page 303.

    “Guatemala, Land des Quetzal: Von den Maya zur spanischen Welt.” Kunsthistorisches Museum, Wien, 2002, page 241.

    I also published my own rendering of the carving (with slight variations from Dave’s) in the following paper:

    Chinchilla Mazariegos, Oswaldo
    2006 The Stars of the Palenque Sarcophagus. “Res: Anthropology and Aesthetics” 49/50:40-58.

    • David Stuart April 14, 2009 / 3:13 PM

      Many thanks for the information and references, Oswaldo. These are far more accessible to people than the old project informe from 1990! Also, I wasn’t aware of the good photos published in those exhibit catalogs you mention, and will track them down.

  3. Yuriy Polyukhovych April 17, 2009 / 8:34 AM

    I was wondering where it came from. Joel Palka told me in Chicago 2 years ago when it had been excavated. I saw photo of it in mentioned by Oswaldo album. Very beautiful carving!

  4. Stephen Houston April 25, 2009 / 1:54 PM

    For what it’s worth, when I mapped this group in ’86 — a pretty grim field season, throughout the rainy period in one of the wettest parts of the Peten — I soon recognized its extraordinary quality, both in masonry and quality of preservation. Most features were in good state of repair. At that time, I also found blocks with circular reliefs (once with painted glyphs?) that defined the stairway of the eastern mound where the destroyed throne was found (see lower right hand of p. 29, with reliefs in Fig. 2-5, both in my volume on Dos Pilas epigraphy). Given Oswaldo’s interests in glyphs, I thought this would be a good place for him to dig, which he did in 1990, when I was involved with the later Petexbatun Project. And so it proved to be. As I remember, the horizontal throne was missing — or had been made of wood? I also recall that Oswaldo excavated for a tomb in this structure — unfound at the time, but it may still be there, by analogy with the Lady of Cancuen’s tomb under the now-destroyed or damaged “death bench” in Structure L4-41. The group, as with so much of Dos Pilas, needs additional excavation.

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