The Queen’s Tomb at El Peru

The discovery of a major royal tomb at El Peru hit the news yesterday. Congratulations to the project and all the team members.

Details and the official announcement of the find can be found here, on the Washington University in St. Louis website.

As Stanley Guenter has shown, the name inscribed on the alabaster container found in the burial is the same as that of the woman depicted on El Peru Stela 34, now in the Cleveland Art Museum, dedicated in A.D. 692. She was originally from Calakmul, marrying into the El Peru dynasty as the spouse of the local ruler K’inich B’ahlam. The hieroglyphic term that labels the snail-shaped object or its contents (yu-ha?-b’a) is unique, and remains difficult to decipher at present.

Alabaster vessel from the tomb, in the form of a snail shell. (Photo: El Peru Waka Regional Archaeological Project)
El Peru, Stela 34, with the portrait of “Lady K’abel” from Calakmul. Her name glyph appears in the text panel below her ceremonial shield, and also in one of the small cartouches in her feather headdress. (Cleveland Art Museum.)

10 thoughts on “The Queen’s Tomb at El Peru

  1. Kermit Frazier October 5, 2012 / 2:07 AM

    Amazing. I realise it is clearly a snail shell, but my first impression was that of a human heart. I wonder about the symbolism?

  2. John Major Jenkins October 5, 2012 / 4:23 PM

    It’s fascinating that Lady K’abel is identified (Wikipedia) as the daughter of Yuknoom Yich’aak, who commissioned the Block V “2012 inscription” at La Corona. on Block V. As you pointed out, Yuknoom used the period-ending as a numerological linking-agent connecting himself (as the “13-Katun king”) to the 13-Baktun period ending in 2012. Stela 34, depicted above, has some interesting iconography dancing around Lady K’abel. Also interesting that it was dedicated on (D3-C4). Has a thorough decipherment & interpretation of El Peru Stela 34 been published anywhere? The moon goddess allusion is intriguing, considering the moon’s position on

  3. Yuriy Polyukhovych October 5, 2012 / 7:04 PM

    Hello David! Are you sure that the second sign is /ha/ but not a /chu/? It seems to be the same thing as on K4022 where we have /u-chu-ba/. In the case of El Peru alabaster vase it is possessed. What do you think? Best, Yuriy

    • Stuart, David S October 5, 2012 / 8:10 PM

      Hi Yuriy, of course I’m not sure of the /ha/, which is why I put a question mark by it. I’ve considered /chu/ but it does lack the little inserted element we usually find in the upper right. I’d be happy with either option. I do suspect it will turn out to be a possessed noun beginning with u-, so parallel to the y-otoot u-may phrase we find on tobacco bottles. -Dave

      Sent from my iPhone

  4. David Stuart October 7, 2012 / 11:27 AM

    In many media sources this royal woman from Calakmul is described a “warrior queen,” but there’s no evidence at all for describing her as such, and no ancient title actually means that. I’m guessing that this interpretation comes from her use of the title we now read as kaloomte’, but which many decades ago Heinrich Berlin read “batab,” a military title for rulers used in contact-period Yucatan. We epigraphers dismissed the batab reading back in the early 1980s, but it seems to have died a very slow death, at least in terms of the semantics. A number of very high-ranking men and women in Classic Maya history are called kaloomte’ or ixkaloomte’, but we can’t simply call this a “warrior” title. Functionally, it was a term of great high status, often (but not always) tied to the Kaan(al) royal court.

  5. karenbassie October 7, 2012 / 6:50 PM

    I would concur with your comment about the Kaloomte’, but I think that the office is certainly related to the Tlaloc war cult.
    Like other Mesoamerican deities, Tlaloc had a number of avatars including owl, jaguar, serpent (18 Ub’aah Chan) and Black Witch moth manifestations. The texts referring to the arrival of the Kaloomte Sihyah K’ahk’ indicate that he brought Tlaloc effigies with him. Although the so-called Tlaloc appears to be related to lightning in some of his portraits at Teotihuacan and certainly in his appearances in Postclassic Central Mexico, his manifestations in the Maya region were specifically identified with obsidian and obsidian darts and spears. As noted by Karl, obsidian is identified with meteors all across Mesoamerica. In contrast, the Chahk thunderbolt gods were identified with flint axes; it is a nice dichotomy.
    Maya rulers are frequently shown dressed in the costumes of both these gods. As an example, Kan Joy Chitam of Palenque is illustrated in the guise of a Chahk, and he swings the flint axe of Chahk on the DO panel. On the T17 Tablet, his brother Kan Bahlam of Palenque is shown capturing a Tonina lord while dressed as the jaguar form of Tlaloc and he holds a spear embedded with obsidian chips. On the Palenque-style panel that Donald Hales pieced together year ago, Kan Bahlam is named as a Kaloomte and he is decked out in Tlaloc imagery. The secondary figure on the left hands him a Tlaloc headdress.
    On Dos Pilas Stela 2 and Aguateca Stela 2, Ruler 3 (who was a Kaloomte) is illustrated carrying an incense bag decorated with a Tlaloc motif. He wears a Tlaloc mask indicating that he has taken on the guise of that deity and his clothing is decorated with the serpent and jaguar manifestation of Tlaloc that have obsidian eccentrics hanging from their mouths. Ruler 3 also carries the obsidian spear and spearthrower that was thought to be a manifestation of this deity.
    The historical figures named as Kaloomte’ are intimately connected to Tlaloc imagery, and I have argued in a forthcoming volume on the Ch’ol Maya that these Kaloomte’ were priests and priestesses of Tlaloc.
    There are literary hundreds of images of Maya rulers holding the K’awiil thunderbolt or the obsidian meteor weapons of Tlaloc. Their ability to harness and embody the power of these deities gave them the spiritual strength to overcome their enemies and protect their communities. And I find it rather interesting that in highland Chiapas, community leaders, patron gods and ancestors are thought to use their thunderbolt and meteor co-essences to defend their communities as well.
    The Dallas Altar records the arrival at La Corona of three women who were daughters of Calakmul kings and who were sent to the lesser site of La Corona to become the wives of La Corona kings. The last of these Calakmul women was Lady Ti’ Kanal Ajaw and the narrative states that she was a Kaloomte’. The base of the palanquin is decorated with the k’an cross associated with Tlaloc, and she wears a Tlaloc headdress. Above her stands an imposing 18 Ub’aah Chan effigy in jaguar form. The implication of this scene is that Lady Ti’ Kanal Ajaw brought this effigy with her from Calakmul. This suggests that among the many skills that Lady Ti’ Kanal Ajaw brought to La Corona it was her role as a Tlaloc priestess that was deemed most important to illustrate. The Calakmul king must have been handsomely compensated for his priestess daughter. A similar marriage transaction happened between Yaxchilán and Calakmul since the Kaloomte’ Lady Ik Skull, who was the wife of the Yaxchilán ruler Shield Jaguar III, was originally from Calakmul.

  6. Stanley Guenter October 11, 2012 / 4:26 AM

    I am currently working with Olivia Navarro Farr and David Freidel to publish this text and the other tomb objects. The second sign in the second glyph on the alabaster vessel. I have considered the /ha/ and /chu/ and other signs in that series, but pointed out to Olivia, Freidel and the rest of our team that the sign is lacking the diagnostic elements that all of those other signs invariably have. Either this is a new sign entirely or it is underspelled in exactly the part that would permit a reading. Unfortunately, there is little left inside the vessel other than cinnabar, but the hole is very small, and there was less space in the cavity than even in the tobacco “poison” flasks.

    As for the warrior queen, I think this is due to the popular imagination misunderstanding specific readings. I have long argued that the kaloomte’ title means essentially “warlord”, since the head variant is that of Chahk with the axe, and is exemplified on a couple of Codex-style vessels where this rain/storm god is shown viciously attacking a stone house with his axe and thunderstones. On Quirigua Stela U the kaloomte’ title is shown in a unique variant, which consists of just the hand-holding axe and the TE’ logogram. So, whatever the original root, the meaning I think is quite clear. This is a title that references the bellicose storm god, and “warlord”, I think, is an appropriate, if rough, gloss. (I think the title would have fit somewhere between our own titles warlord and emperor, as the title seems to always be higher than ajaw.) That said, I don’t think this is a title that should be translated as “warrior” as I see little reason to believe that the person holding the title actually was directly axing people and/or places. I think the title is progressively debased over the course of the Classic period and Lady K’abel (whose name, I should point out , remains but a nickname) held the title simply due to her descent from the kaloomte’ of Calakmul. Although the bones indicate she would have been a formidable opponent in lucha libre, I would be most skeptical of her having ever fought in person on the field of battle.

  7. karenbassie October 11, 2012 / 6:39 PM

    I think that there is a more nuanced interpretation of the kaloomte’ title that was advanced by Elisabeth Wagner and Eric Boot. They noted that the Early Classic form of the kal sign is composed of the stone sign and the wood sign, and that the pairing of these two signs refers to an axe. The head variant of this kal sign is a Chahk holding the ax, but it doesn’t necessarily mean that the Kaloomte’ was an ax wielding thunderbolt god.
    The Kaloomte lords and ladies wear Tlaloc costumes and are decked out in costumes loaded with obsidian symbols. Evidence that Tlaloc was categorized as a kind of Chaak deity is seen on Yaxchilán Lintel 25 which illustrates the conjuring of a Tlaloc and a female dressed as Tlaloc. The accompanying text indicates that the conjured being is a deity called Aj K’ahk’ (he of fire) O’ Chaak signifying Tlaloc’s identification with the Maya thunderbolt gods and the fire that they produce.
    There is a hieroglyphic text in Copán Structure 10L-26 that indicates that the Maya categorized Tlaloc as a K’awiil deity, that is, as a Chaak thunderbolt god. As Dave has noted the text has standard Maya script paired with Teotihuacán-inspired hieroglyphs. In the Maya style text, the word k’awiil in the name of the Copán ruler Waxaklajuun Ubah K’awiil is represented by a typical GII-God K portrait glyph with fire (k’ak’) emanating from a torch in his forehead. In the parallel Teotihuacán-style text, the word k’awiil is represented by the Tlaloc god with a torch in his forehead. In many examples of K’awiil, one of his legs and feet are portrayed as a lightning serpent. However, in the Copan example, the Tlaloc deity has an 18 Ubaah Chan serpent instead. As Karl has noted, the 18 Ubaah Chan is a meteor serpent. Across Mesoamerica, meteors are identified as omens of war and death, a highly appropriate manifestation for the Tlaloc war god. And obsidian is thought to be the remains of meteors. Also as Karl noted, meteors appear to have been categorized by the Maya as a type of thunderbolt, both flash across the sky and both are associated with fire.

  8. David Stuart October 11, 2012 / 7:20 PM

    These are all interesting comments. Sometime soon I’ll try to post my own take on kaloomte’, reviewing the evidence for my original reading and bringing in some new clues as well. It’s something that’s never been put together in one place before, and I still encounter a number of misunderstandings about the spellings and forms of the signs involved.
    A case in point: The KAL logogram shows a stone and skull together, without the wood. The TE’ element one sometimes finds in Early Classic variants is actually the TE’ of the larger KAL-ma-TE’ spelling.
    Anyway, for now I’ll just mention that I hesitate a bit to translate the title as “warlord.” It certainly may function as something akin to that, given the historical uses of the title in the Early Classic especially (here I’m thinking of Sihyaj K’ahk’, etc.). But as a rule I like to tease out meanings and translations with a firm etymology in hand, which I think is still a bit murky in the case of kal-oom-te (“tree-splitter” or “plant-maker” being two possibilities).
    This gets back to my discomfort with the “woman warrior” meme that’s been circulating with the El Peru find. I agree that the use of the title with Lady “K’abel” derives from her Calakmul origins, and not from her personal military prowess. In that context, translating her ixkaloomte’ title as “Lady Warlord” or something so overtly militaristic skirts over some important nuances that I suspect are there.

  9. Juan Carlos June 11, 2013 / 5:35 PM

    Interesantísimos comentarios y opiniones. Yo era uno de los que llamaron a K´abel simplemente guerrera, pero ahora veo mi grave error. Es probable que la posición de sacerdotisa de Tlaloc pueda ser apoyada por varias de las ofrendas que acompañaban al ajuar funerario. Uno de ellos es el que D. Freidel ha identificado como un Dios muy poderoso que lleva un hacha en su brazo izquierdo y tiene una protuberante barriga, además de otros objetos adivinatorios como el gran espejo de pirita y pizarra. Sin duda hay mucho más que decir sobre este personaje que sin duda fue una persona con grandes habilidades políticas y/o religiosas en un contexto difícil, probablemente, en el esfuerzo de mantener cierto poder en esta zona maya