Dating Tikal’s Mendez Causeway

In an earlier post on Maya Decipherment I speculated that the lengthy text of Tikal’s Temple of the Inscriptions (or Temple VI, dedicated in 766 AD) refers in part to an early building episode of the temple, as well as to the initial construction of the Mendez Causeway — the ceremonial road leading to the Temple of the Inscriptions from Tikal’s central “downtown.” The specific dates from that text are: 5 Kib 9 Keh (November 11, 527) – “stone-building/-fashioning” 4 Ix 7 K’ank’in (December 19, 527) – “road-striking”

To quote my earlier post:

I suspect that these historical episodes in 527 AD involve the construction and dedication of an early temple dedicated to White Owl Jaguar. The final episode in this string of related dates says it is the jatz’ bih-tuun, “the road-striking,” or “the pavement striking.” This is an odd phrase found also at Naranjo (on Altar 2), where Nikolai Grube has suggested it refers to the construction of architectural spaces. One wonders of it could be more specifically referencing the building of causeways (bih-tuun, “road of stone”), an attractive interpretation given that Temple of the Inscriptions lies at the end of a very long and important ceremonial road, the Mendez Causeway. Archaeological probing in and around the complex would be needed to make sure, but I suspect that the events of 527 are key episodes in the architectural history of the Temple of the Inscriptions.

Not long ago, during December’s Maya Field Workshop at Tikal, I came upon this interesting tidbit on the Mendez Causeway from William Coe’s guidebook to the site:

“With a length of about three-fifths of a mile and an average width of 200 feet, this causeway originates at the east side of the East Plaza (behind Temple I) and runs almost straight to the Temple of the Inscriptions. Close to the East Plaza the Late Classic causeway with its parapets overlies an earlier causeway without side parapets. The latter may be Early Classic” (Coe 1967:87).

So, there is indeed as early phase of the Mendez Causeway. It seems natural to wonder if this dates to 527, with the overlying later version corresponding to refurbishment of the causeway and temple some 240 years later.

Reference Cited:

Coe, WIlliam R. 1967. Tikal: A Handbook of the Ancient Maya Ruins. The University Museum, Philadelphia.

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