Reunited?: Yaxha’s Stelae 1 and 2

Maler's photographs of Yaxha Stelae 1 and 2, as presented in his 1908 report.

Years ago while perusing Teobert Maler’s 1908 report on the ruins of Yaxha, Petén, Guatemala, I took extra notice of his photographic plate showing Stela 1 and 2 (see above).  To me, Stela 1 looked like the top portion of a monument depicting an elaborate royal headdress. Stela 2, a taller stone similar in style, was missing much of its upper half. Naturally — and probably others have noticed this — it seemed a good possibility that these were one and the same monument. The two stones were found next to one another, and the relative scales of the two pieces as recorded by Maler would lend support to the idea (the photographs above were published at different scales).

Yaxha Stela 1 with reunited top

Maler indicated that Stela 1 was erected into an ancient floor slightly behind Stela 2 — no doubt the reason behind their separate numeration. He did not see the imagery on Stela 1 as a headdress, nor was he of course aware that the ancient Maya often re-erected old monuments or parts of them, sometimes centuries after they were originally carved. Yaxha Stela 1 (as the reunited pieces should now be called) is likely to be an example of a monument broken in ancient times, with its pieces later re-set into the plaza floor, perhaps in the Terminal Classic or Post-Classic. It must be said that I have no direct knowledge of any physical archaeological evidence that would support or reject this notion, so it might be interesting to someday confirm on-site with a minor excavation.

Stela 1 was originally paired with Stela 4, each monument flanking the main stairway of structure on the east side of Plaza C, a so-called “E Group.”

Stela 1 is an Early Classic monument, late fourth-century in style. It shows a ruler standing and facting to the right, cradling a ceremonial bar in one arm and holding a deity head or glyph in his upraised hand. His elaborate headdress (assuming these are parts of the same monument) incorporates glyphic elements, no doubt for a personal name. Prominent among these is the head of the rain deity Chahk. A small text caption next to the headdress has three incised glyphs: U-BAAH / YAX-a / AJAW, for u baah Yaxha’ Ajaw, “(it is) the image of the Yaxha’ Lord.” In the basal register we find a larger hieroglyphic text that seems to specify a location for the portrait. These three glyphs read: YAX-TI’-K’UK’-HA’ / YAX-a / CHAN-CH’E’N, “(at) Yaxti’ K’uk’ha’, (in) Yaxha’, (in) the mundo (literally ‘sky-and-cave’).” The first of these, Yaxti’ K’uk’ha’, may name a ritual space within the large Yaxha site — perhaps, one might suppose, Plaza C itself.


Maler, Teobert. 1908. Explorations in the Department of Peten, Guatemala, and Adjacent Regions: Topoxte, Yaxha, Benque Viejo, Naranjo. Memoirs of the Peabody Museum of American Archaeology and Ethnology, Vol. IV, No. 2. Peabody Museum, Cambridge.

8 thoughts on “Reunited?: Yaxha’s Stelae 1 and 2

  1. Stanley Guenter December 8, 2009 / 8:58 PM

    Very interesting observation, David! Do you know if the width of the two pieces also corresponds? Given how well the two fragments fit together in your composite image, I suspect so. I am curious as to your reading of TI’ as the second sign in the basal text, however. Do you see something particular in the glyph to indicate TI’? I ask because I’ve always seen that glyph as greatly resembling the way WITZ was drawn in that time period such as on Tikal Stela 31 and in the murals of Rio Azul.

    • David Stuart December 9, 2009 / 3:46 PM

      Hi Stan. On the sizes of the two stones, Maler does give width measurements in his report, though I don’t have access to that right now (as I sit in a Starbucks to escape the cold Austin morning). But I did check his figures a few days ago and they seemed to agree with this idea that Stela 1 is Stela 2’s top.

      About the TI’ sign, I think it’s clearest in Maler’s original photo (less contrasty than the published image) which I’ll email to you separately. To me it looks like the “lips” variant that sometimes incorporates T128 in later examples. It lacks the internal details of WITZ.

  2. Stanley Guenter December 11, 2009 / 9:38 PM

    Thanks for the information and image, Dave. You’re definitely right that the internal details of this sign don’t appear to be very clear. I’ll check out the original Maler photo and as I’m headed to Yaxha in a couple of months, I’ll definitely check up on this glyph. Cheers,


  3. Bob December 14, 2009 / 11:17 AM

    Dave, is it possible that the Maya would have translated YAX-TI’-K’UK’-HA’ / YAX-a / CHAN-CH’E’N less literally, to mean something like “above and below the Earth”?


    • David Stuart December 14, 2009 / 4:21 PM

      Well, the final part of this phrase, chan ch’e’n, certainly conveys the idea of “above and below the earth.” One variation on the term is chan kab ch’e’n, literally “sky, ground, and cave.” I believe the collective sense of these is something akin to a Maya understanding of “universe” or mundo, the latter obviously being a Spanish word, though sometimes included in modern Mayan religious speech to convey a similar notion.

      • Bob December 14, 2009 / 6:40 PM

        Thanks Dave, much appreciated. It sort of seemed like the kind of thing a ruler might put out as propaganda. Something akin to “He rules all things above and below”.


  4. David December 20, 2009 / 5:02 PM

    Considering that Yaxha had family ties with Tikal, and your description of Yaxha Stella 1, it brings to mind Stella 31 from Tikal. Stella 31 was dedicated to the Tikal king named Stormy Sky, Siyaj Chan K’awiil II, who died on 3 February 456.