The past three decades have seen a transformation in our understanding of the history of the southern Maya lowlands. A wealth of new data has allowed us to track the political fortunes of individual polities, revealing much about the distribution of power across an ancient landscape and how it changed through time. These impressive advances in the south, however, stand in stark contrast to the situation in the north, where knowledge of this sort remains very meager.
The inscriptions of the northern Maya lowlands are restricted in both their number and their thematic range: showing the usual emphasis on calendrical rituals and building dedications, but very little in the way of historical events and site interactions. Northern sites also suffer from poor preservation—the limestone of this region seems particularly prone to erosion—and many have suffered considerable later disturbance to their monuments. To assess the macro-political realities of this zone we can often do no more than draw inferences from the imposing scale and sculptural splendor of sites such as Coba, Edzna, Xcalumkin, Oxkintok, Santa Rosa Xtampak, Ek Balam, Uxmal, and Chichen Itza, taking them to be the counterparts of better-known southern players such as Tikal, Calakmul, Piedras Negras, Palenque, Naranjo, and Copan.
Such is the vacuum of information that the epigraphic evidence we do possess acquires a disproportionate significance, and every addition is a valuable gain. Such an addition comes, I believe, in a short text on Coba Stela 6 (Figure 1).
Figure 1. Coba Stela 6 (drawing by Ian Graham, Corpus of Maya Hieroglyphic Inscriptions, Harvard University)
Like those in the south, Coba stelae often show images of prisoners, their wrists bound or their arms tied behind their backs. However important they are as individuals, these unfortunates are the symbolic reductions, the pars pro toto embodiments, of military triumphs against rival polities. The seated captive at lower left on Stela 6 is in relatively good condition and accompanied by a two-glyph caption (Figure 2a, b). The first of these signs is not especially clear, but the second shows the number “7” followed by a human head with a couple of internal lines.
Figure 2a, b. Detail of Coba Stela 6 showing a captive and his caption at H1-H2 (photograph and drawing by Ian Graham, Corpus of Maya Hieroglyphic Inscriptions, Peabody Museum, Harvard University).
This same combination can be found at Oxkintok, some 230 km due west of Coba, where it serves as an important political title (García Campillo 1992:196, Fig.13, 1994) (Figure 3a, b). At least 10 examples can be identified there (Graña-Behrens 2006:117), a number of them associated with baahkab status and the exalted rank of kaloomte’. Such contexts suggest that it represents a “problematic” emblem glyph: one that lacks the standard k’uhul x ajaw structure but serves much the same role (ibid.; see Houston 1986). It appears not only on monuments but on a few Chochola-style ceramics naming Oxkintok lords (García Campillo 1992). In most cases the numeral “7” is clear, though it is replaced on one occasion by its head variant, the Jaguar God of the Underworld (Lacadena García-Gallo 1992) (Figure 3c). In well-preserved examples the head has the curved internal lines and cheek spot we find in XIB “(young) man.” That spot is divided by one or two lines, possibly a diagnostic feature, and the whole head can be replaced by a simpler form showing the spot alone, a unique convention if xib is indeed the target term (Figure 3d).
Figure 3. The “7 Title” at Oxkintok: (a) Hieroglyphic Stairway 2, Step 1 (from Graña-Behrens 2002:Table 108; (b) Structure MA-11 Stucco Text (from García Campillo 1992:Fig.12); (c) Ballcourt Ring, Side B pU (drawing by the author); (d) Chochola-style vessel K4931 (drawing by the author)
On this evidence we have very good reason to think that the captive hails from Oxkintok. Indeed, it seems highly probable that he was the ruler of that distant site. The timing of the conflict presumably fell sometime between the two dates recorded on Coba Stela 6, 613 and 623 CE, when Coba and Oxkintok were two of the most important centers in the region. It would be many years before Ek Balam, Uxmal, and Chichen Itza rose to supersede them. It is interesting that the only other recognizable inter-polity conflict in the north also involves Coba, although this time it was on the losing side. Edzna Stela 19, from 692, shows a captive whose lengthy name-phrase concludes with a-ja ko-ba or “Coba person” (Grube 2003:360; Pallan Gayol 2012:97). That title precludes the possibility that this was a captured king and he must instead have been a noble or military specialist. Edzna, almost 280 km west of Coba and 110 km south of Oxkintok, was another thriving center of the seventh century and a fitting adversary. While Coba clearly engaged with these northern neighbors, it retained a distinctive character, not least in its ceramic complex (e.g. Esparza Olguín 2016:Fig.2.11, 2.12-2.15). Indeed, a number of features suggest that it was just as closely connected to the “Peten” culture of the south.
We can take it that these violent encounters reflect jockeying for power between important regional centers, but isolated captures don’t shed much light on the particular context in which they take place. Who was the aggressor? Where did the clash take place? What were its ramifications? Without a miraculous haul of new texts it is unlikely that we will never know the history of the northern Maya lowlands to any meaningful extent. By necessity, therefore, we will have to continue to give weight to quantitative and qualitative assessments. Here the extraordinary 98 km causeway linking Coba to Yaxuna, explicitly described as a SAK bi-hi “white road” (Stuart 2006), is a compelling argument for the huge power of the Coba kings. Much like Calakmul and Tikal, Coba was surely the architect of its own hegemonic “imperium”—one maintained or enhanced by military conflict with rival polities right across the peninsula.
Esparza Olguín, Octavio Q. 2016. “Los monumentos esculpidos de Cobá, Quintana Roo. Un estudio desde las perspectivas epigráfica y arqueológica.” PhD thesis, Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, Mexico City.
García Campillo, José Miguel. 1992. Informe Epigráfico sobre Oxkintok y la cerámica Chochola. In Oxkintok 4, Misión Arqueológica de España en México, Proyecto Oxkintok Año 1990, edited by Miguel Rivera Dorado, 185–200. Ministerio de Cultura, Madrid.
—.1994. Comentario General sobre la Epigrafía en Oxkintok. In VII Simposio de investigactiones arqueologicas en Guatemala, 1993, edited by Juan Pedro Laporte and Héctor Escobedo, 711-725. Museo Nacional de Arqueología y Etnología, Ministerio de Cultura y Deportes, Guatemala.
Graña-Behrens, Daniel. 2002. “Die Maya-Inschriften aus Nordwestyukatan, Mexiko.” PhD dissertation, University of Bonn.
—.2006. Emblem Glyphs and Political Organization in Northwestern Yucatan in the Classic Period (A.D. 300-1000). Ancient Mesoamerica 17:105-123.
Grube, Nikolai. 2003. Hieroglyphic Inscriptions from Northwest Yucatan: An Update of Recent Research. In Escondido en la Selva: Arqueología en el Norte de Yucatán, edited by Hanns J. Prem, 339-370. Instituto Nacional de Antropología e Historia and University of Bonn, Mexico City and Bonn.
Houston, Stephen D. 1986. Problematic Emblem Glyphs: Examples from Altar de Sacrificios, El Chorro, Río Azul, and Xultun. Research Reports on Ancient Maya Writing 3. Center for Maya Research, Washington, D.C.
Lacadena García-Gallo, Alfonso. 1992. El anillo jeroglífico del juego de pelota de Oxkintok. In Oxkintok 4, Misión Arqueológica de España en México, Proyecto Oxkintok Año 1990, edited by Miguel Rivera Dorado, 177–184. Ministerio de Cultura, Madrid.
Pallán Gayol, Carlos. 2012. A Glimpse from Edzna’s Hieroglyphics: Middle, Late and Terminal Processes of Cultural Interaction Between the Southern, Northern and Western Lowlands. In “Maya Political Relations and Strategies: Proceedings of the 14th European Maya Conference”, edited by Jarosław Źrałka, Wiesław Koszkul, and Beata Golinska. Contributions to New World Archaeology 4:89-110.
Stuart, David. 2006. The Inscribed Markers of the Coba-Yaxuna Causeway and the Glyph for Sakbih. Mesoweb: <www.mesoweb.com/stuart/notes/Sacbe.pdf>
by Simon Martin (University of Pennsylvania Museum)
Twenty years ago, I wrote a commentary on an intriguing set of codex-style vessels known as the Dynastic Vases (Martin 1997). Twelve in number, each of these cylindrical pots is painted with the same list of kings from the kaanul “Snake[-Place]” dynasty, supplying names, titles, and dates for their elevation to power. The length of the sequence varies from vessel to vessel depending on its size, with the fullest version of 19 rulers appearing on the example labeled K6751 in the Kerr Archive (www.mayavase.com) and now to be found in the collection of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (Figure 1). At least seven of their names match those seen on carved monuments, offering clear potential to draw alignments between the two sources. Indeed, beginning with a “founder” figure, the Dynastic Vases hold out the prospect of unlocking the entire early sequence of this important kingdom, constituting a record as important as the Temple of Cross Tablet has been for understanding the royal line of Palenque, or Altar Q and the Temple 26 Hieroglyphic Stairway for the sequence at Copan.
Figure 1. Roll-out image of K6751 (photograph by Justin Kerr).
As the earliest researchers to work on the Dynastic Vases realized, the chronology of the text, consisting only of Calendar Round dates without a tie to the Long Count, is flawed (Robicsek and Hales 1981:157-159). Day- and month-names are consistent, but variations in their coefficients produce a number of impossible combinations—some arising from the inventions of modern restorers, but others plainly the work of ancient scribes. Not only do coefficients for the same date vary from one vase to the next, they even differ on vases decorated by the same painter (for the identification of four such painters see Martin 1997:849-850). Corrections can be attempted, but the true value always remains in doubt. All this made it impossible to pin down an “original” error-free scheme in 1997— but the difficulties ran even deeper. Where we knew of accession dates for the kings on monuments they did not correspond to those on the vessels. Indeed, dates conflicted to such a degree in some cases that they could not be placed at any point within their respective reigns. Even worse, the kings on the vases did not appear in anything like their expected order, with two attested Snake rulers from the Early Classic missing altogether. Incomplete, scrambled, and adrift in time, there seemed to be no possibility of reconciling the painted and carved versions. There was little choice but to project the list into a deeply archaic, or even legendary, past that far predated the historical one. Of the familiar names seen on the vessels not one of them would be a character we knew, all instead forebears from which later kings took their names.
Yet, despite two decades of pessimism on the matter, I am now sure that the Dynastic Vase sequence is a historical one, and that the timeframe covered by those 19 reigns falls within the Early Classic period. This paper explains how this change of heart came about, and why the painted king list is still a long way from giving up all its secrets.
* * *
There was always one feature on K6751 that kept a potential link to the historical kings alive. Towards the end of the text, filling the positions M2-M4, there is a Distance Number that counts forward a little over 104 years to the date 2 Akbal 11 Uo (Martin 1997:862-863). This count can only realistically connect the accession of Ruler 19 on 9 Imix 9 Yaxkin (K5-L5)—an event expressed, like all others, as (u)-CH’AM[K’AWIIL]-wa uch’amaw k’awiil “he takes/receives K’awiil”—to a new event given at N4. There we find what appears to be OCH-HA’[bi]-hiochha’bih “water (and) road-enters”—a conjoined form of the metaphors for death we otherwise see as ochbih or ochha’. Yet this verb has no subject. Where we would expect to find one we encounter the common term yu-k’i-biyuk’ib “his drinking vessel,” followed by a personal name. If someone dies who is it? The long DN presumably rules out Ruler 19, meaning that the deceased person either goes unstated, is meant to be a reference to the vessel as a tomb offering, or refers to the vessel owner himself. As an aside, we find that person’s name on another codex-style vessel, K6754 (which has a very different narrative scene), suggesting that both pots may have come from the same looted burial.
Like all our dates, 2 Akbal 11 Uo is untethered in the Long Count. However, we might suspect that the purpose of the extended Distance Number is to connect the past with contemporary time. If so, the best fit would be 220.127.116.11.3 in 696, since this is the era in which codex-style ware was in production. While the 104-year tally does not link the two Calendar Rounds correctly, if we use it to count backwards from 696 we reach 592, which is one of the years in which 9 Imix 9 Yaxkin can be placed. The 592 date is interesting because it falls within the reign of Scroll Serpent, a Snake king with the same name as Ruler 19, seen at L6. While this whole section is far from transparent, it does give some slim suggestion that Ruler 19 might be the historical Scroll Serpent.
So the matter rested for two decades. It was not to see change until widely dispersed finds at El Peru, Naranjo, Uaxactun, and Calakmul allowed Dmitri Beliaev and myself to identify a hitherto unknown Snake king called K’ahk’ Ti’ Ch’ich’ Aj Saakil (Martin and Beliaev 2017). K6751 made an early contribution here, since Ruler 16 from the list (K1b) has a matching K’ahk’ Ti’ Ch’ich’ name, demonstrating that this was a form used by the Kaanul dynasty. Elsewhere, Naranjo Stela 47 tells us that K’ahk’ Ti’ Ch’ich’—there under the name Aj Saakil—directly preceded the king known as Sky Witness (Martin et al. 2016) (see Figure 6). This is fully consistent with the historical dates we have, since K’ahk’ Ti’ Ch’ich’ was active in 556, while references to Sky Witness’s reign appear between 561 and 572. The relevance of all this is that the name of Sky Witness matches that of Ruler 17 (K2b). With the known dates for Scroll Serpent falling between 579 and 611, and the sure knowledge of a different Snake king ruling before him in 573 (Martin and Grube 2000:104), we can see that Rulers 16, 17, and 19 correctly follow the sequence on the monuments (Figure 2). By now there was cause to wonder, might the painted king list be historical after all?
Figure 2. Comparison of names on K6751 with those from the monumental record (drawings by Simon Martin).
The complex story of the Snake kingdom, in which its Early Classic capital at Dzibanche (Velásquez 2004a, 2008a) shifted to one at Calakmul in the Late Classic (Martin 2005), has recently come into much greater focus. Thanks to the identification of Kaanul as a toponym at Dzibanche (Martin and Velásquez 2016:27-30) and the discovery of two remarkable texts at Xunantunich that explain the shift as the result of civil war (Helmke and Awe 2016a, 2016b), we can talk with more confidence about where the dynasty arose and why its transfer took place. If K’ahk’ Ti’ Ch’ich’ Aj Saakil was ruling at Dzibanche in 556—which all the circumstantial evidence would lead us to believe—then we are compelled to investigate Building VI Lintel 3 at the site (Martin and Beliaev 2017:5-6, Table 1). Carrying one of only two firm dates at Dzibanche, Lintel 3 records the Period Ending of 18.104.22.168.0, which took place in 554 (Figure 3). Unfortunately, it does not name its protagonist, who would have appeared on one or both of the preceding lintels, which are badly damaged in one case and destroyed in the other. However, it does record the king’s accession as a CHUM[*mu]-la-ji-ya KAL[*TE’]-ma-*li “seated into kaloomte’[-ship]”. This marks the subject’s elevation into the highest status ascribed to Classic Maya rulers, entirely in keeping with the powerful political position the Snake kingdom enjoyed at this time.
Figure 3. Dzibanche Building VI Lintel 3 (photograph by Peter Harrison).
The syntax on Lintel 3 is not entirely straightforward and this, together with the less-than-perfect preservation of the wood into which it is carved, means that there are different ways to reconstruct the two Distance Numbers that fix the accession in time. After accounting for shrinkage and erosion to the three beams I made a relatively small, seemingly unimportant, amendment of 100 days to the chronology that placed the accession to the Long Count position 22.214.171.124.8 in 550. Any setting in this general timeframe would make K’ahk’ Ti’ Ch’ich’ a viable candidate, but the true significance of this date emerges only after comparing its Calendar Round with the one given for the accession of Ruler 16 on K6751, since both are 7 Lamat 6 Uo (Figure 4). This cannot be coincidental and demonstrates beyond any reasonable doubt that Ruler 16 and K’ahk’ Ti’ Ch’ich’ are not namesakes but one-in-the-same person. It would follow that Ruler 17 is the Sky Witness we see on monuments at Los Alacranes, Naranjo, Caracol, Yo’okop, Dzibanche, Resbalon, and Pol Box, and Ruler 19 the Scroll Serpent who appears at Calakmul, Palenque, Naranjo, and Caracol. This allows me to say something that I could not in 1997—that the vase text does include rulers known from inscribed monuments and that the entire painted king list fits within historical time. What are the implications of this turnaround? Can the outstanding, not inconsiderable, problems be resolved?
Figure 4. 7 Lamat 6 Uo at J6 and (u)ch’am(aw) k’awiil k’ahk’ ti’ ch’ich’ at K1 on K6751 (conjoined image from a photograph courtesy of Los Angeles County Museum).
* * *
True codex-style wares were produced in the heart of the central southern lowlands, at a site in the domain of a k’uhul chatahn winik—a lordly title with deep roots in this region—which was under the direct influence of Calakmul. Three Dynastic Vase sherds have been found at Calakmul itself, demonstrating that the listing was directly pertinent to the regime there, doubtless naming the ancestors to which its kings traced their origin and legitimacy (Delvendahl 2005; Martin 2008a, 2012:140; García Barrios 2012:85-87). This is important when we think about the meaning of these lists to a contemporary audience. Their primary purpose was not documentation so much as lending special value and prestige to the pot, and the somewhat careless treatment of the dates must be seen in this light. The presence of at least one correct date could indicate that the Ur-text was accurate, and only garbled in the process of copying and re-copying over time. We can now highlight the three major difficulties that stand between us and any comprehensive understanding of the Dynastic Vases, all arising from the divergences between painted and carved sources: (1) conflicts in the sequence, (2) missing kings, and (3) dating discrepancies. From here on we enter speculative terrain.
The scrambled order of kings on the Dynastic Vases once seemed like a significant obstacle, yet it is overcome with ease if Ruler 10 (Yuknoom Ch’een), Ruler 13 (Yuknoom Yich’aak K’ahk’), Ruler 15 (Tajoom Uk’ab K’ahk’), and Ruler 18 (Yuknoom Ti’ Chan) were not the seventh century kings we know by those names but earlier namesakes instead. Indeed, the now-established sequence of Rulers 16, 17, and 19 requires that they be so. Moreover, we probably know the first of these characters, since a ruler called Yuknoom Ch’een—a predecessor to the great Late Classic king of that name—is the protagonist of the Dzibanche Captive Stairway (Nalda 2004; Velásquez 2004b, 2005) (Figure 5). This monument cannot be dated with certainty, but it is appropriately early in terms of style. This is most evident in the large identifying name-glyphs the prisoners wear on the back of their belts and their unusual wavy hair, for which the closest parallel is a captive pictured on Uaxactun Stela 19, dating to 357 (Martin 2009; see Graham 1986:177-178).
Figure 5. Names of the earlier and later kings using the name of Yuknoom Ch’een: a) Ruler 10, K6751 (H5); b) Yuknoom Ch’een I, Dzibanche M.5 (A3); c) Yuknoom Ch’een II, codex-style vase from Tomb 4, Calakmul Structure II; d) Yuknoom Ch’een II, Dos Pilas Hieroglyphic Stairway 2 East (photographs provided by the Los Angeles County Museum and Dorie Reents-Budet, drawings by Simon Martin).
If this problem has evaporated an important one remains, and it is our second major difficulty. The positions in the sequence occupied by Rulers 15 and 18 are precisely those where we would expect to find our missing kings Tuun K’ab Hix (537-546) and Yax Yopaat (573). Explaining their absence is a trickier proposition.
Naranjo Stela 47 explicitly describes Tuun K’ab Hix, K’ahk’ Ti’ Ch’ich’ Aj Saakil, Sky Witness, and Scroll Serpent as the chan tz’akbu(ul) k’uhul kaanul ajaw “four holy Snake[-Place] kings in order” (Martin et al. 2016:617) (Figure 6). It will be noted that there is no mention of an intervening ruler between Sky Witness and Scroll Serpent—a position taken at Dzibanche by Yax Yopaat and on K6751 by Yuknoom Ti’ Chan. This suggests that Stela 47 refers less to a strict list of successors than it does to the four overlords who directly supervised the Naranjo king during his long reign. The 18th king, whatever his identity, may not have ruled long enough to consolidate his power and for this, or some other reason, was not acknowledged as an overlord by Naranjo.
Figure 6. Four Snake kings on Naranjo Stela 47: Tuun K’ab Hix (A3b), Aj Saakil (A4a), Sky Witness (A4b), and Scroll Serpent (A5a) (drawing by Alexandre Tokovinine).
The absence of Tuun K’ab Hix is a bigger issue, since he was clearly a substantial figure who, in addition to installing that same Naranjo king in 546, lost a subordinate in a conflict with Yaxchilan in 537 and sent a daughter to marry the ruler of La Corona in 520 (Martin 2008b:4). The Dynastic Vase sequence cannot claim to represent the greatest kings of the Snake dynasty if he is omitted. A possible explanation here is that the Kaanul regime contained more than one lineage, perhaps even parallel lines that ruled from different centers (Marc Zender, pers. comm. 2017). The latter has a certain appeal because of the appearance of non-Kaanul toponym with Scroll Serpent in 593, raising the possibility of greater locational complexity to the kingdom’s history (Martin 2005:7; Martin and Velásquez 2016:26). If more than one lineage were involved, then the Dynastic Vases might represent only the branch from which the Calakmul kings claimed descent. Tuun K’ab Hix and Yax Yopaat would belong to a different patriline and be of no interest to the scribe who composed the master text of the vases. While this idea has its attractions, the twin royal seats portion of it is weakened by the appearance of Yax Yopaat at Dzibanche, where we also find evidence for K’ahk’ Ti’ Ch’ich’, Sky Witness, and Yuknoom Ch’een I. But another option is available to us. Although K’ahk’ Ti’ Ch’ich’ Aj Saakil is sometimes represented by his full name, he is more commonly identified by one or the other of its two parts—which effectively serve as alternates. The same dual-naming practice recurs in the eighth century at Calakmul, where Yuknoom Took’ K’awiil is called by a different appellative outside the city and its closest affiliates. If this were a feature repeated on the painted king list then both our missing kings might be present on K6751, but masked under different names. In this scenario Tajoom Uk’ab K’ahk’ (Ruler 15 at J5b-I6) would be another name for Tuun K’ab Hix and Yuknoom Ti’ Chan (Ruler 18 at K4) an alternative moniker for Yax Yopaat. Without a way to confirm or contradict either option the question must remain in abeyance for the present, with the missing kings left unexplained.
This brings us to the third major difficulty, the chronological divergences between the painted and inscribed sequences. Two instances are now particularly salient. After the accession of K’ahk’ Ti’ Ch’ich’ the K6751 text moves to that of Sky Witness, an event that it assigns to the Calendar Round 10 Caban 10 Pop. However, this combination does not occur within the 561-572 span we currently have for that king, with the two closest placements falling either much too early in 543 or much too late in 595. A second case comes where K6751 puts the accession of Scroll Serpent to the previously noted 9 Imix 9 Yaxkin, whereas Calakmul Stela 33 clearly states that he became an ajaw on 11 Caban 10 Ch’en (Martin 1997:862). The latter is fixed to 126.96.36.199.17 (579), while the closest point the painted version can be placed is 188.8.131.52.1 (592), some 13 years later. For the inauguration date of K’ahk’ Ti’ Ch’ich’ to be entirely correct and others not simply awry, but wildly so, must give us pause.
Are we, in fact, asking the right question of the data? As we have seen, K’ahk’ Ti’ Ch’ich’s accession was not into the standard status of ajaw, but specifically into that of kaloomte’ (Figure 7a). As my colleagues David Stuart and Marc Zender (pers. comms. 2017) have urged me to consider, might these ill-fitting dates refer to separate ceremonies that mark progress to that exalted rank? This kind of statement is extremely rare and otherwise only known from Tikal, where it occurs in the inaugurations of the kings Jasaw Chan K’awiil in 682, Yik’in Chan K’awiil in 734, and Yax Nuun Ahiin II in 768 (Figure 7b). One further instance at Palenque, a differently phrased back-reference to the accession of K’inich Kan Bahlam II in 684, exhausts the list. That Dzibanche, Tikal, and Palenque were all powerful hegemons when these phrases appear gives ample reason to see this expression as indicative of special power and authority. In the case of Yik’in Chan K’awiil and K’inich Kan Bahlam, at least, other inaugural statements make clear that they became an ajaw on the same day as they acquired kaloomte’ status—there was no delayed ceremony in their cases.
Figure 7. Seating into kaloomte’[-ship]: a) Dzibanche Building IV Lintel 3 (pI2-J2a); a) Tikal Stela 21 (B10-A11) (photographs by Peter Harrison and William Coe).
Nevertheless, we do have an interesting parallel elsewhere, though to find it we must travel far from the central lowlands to the eastern periphery of the Maya world. In 724 K’ahk’ Tiliw Chan Yopaat became the king of Quirigua under the auspices of Waxaklajuun Ubaah K’awiil of Copan—an event expressed by means a selection of different verbs, including uch’am(aw) k’awiil “he receives/takes K’awiil” (Looper 2003:Fig.2.1a). But 14 years later, in 738, he seized his overlord and beheaded him. At this point he underwent a second uch’amaw k’awiil event and, although the relevant text on Stela J (H5-G6) does not say so directly, it must be at this point he begins to use the kaloomte’ title that, as a vassal, would previously have been denied to him. Here is a better precedent for what could be happening on the Dynastic Vases, if under very different circumstances.
It is certainly possible that Scroll Serpent became an ajaw in 579, but a kaloomte’ only in 592—perhaps after some notable political or military accomplishment. This might also motivate the inclusion of the kaloomte’ title in his short identifying phrase on K6751, a feature only otherwise associated with Ruler 2. When it comes to Sky Witness, it is clearly much harder to argue that he acquired the highest title in 595. It is true that his name appears as the protagonist of an attack on Palenque in 599, which has long been enigmatic, and conceivably the two dates are related in some way (though see Note 13). But at least until that anomaly can be explained, it is easier to interpret 10 Caban 10 Pop as a straightforward copying error.
A further idea, developed from other evidence, is that at certain places and times the Classic Maya operated a system of dual-rulership, consisting of a senior and junior king. We have a number of occasions on which two contemporary characters carry full emblem glyphs, whether as father and son, or as brothers. Rather than an honorific paving the way to future power, these shared titles could indicate joint governmental responsibilities (Houston 2012:171), especially at powerful centers where administrative workloads may have been higher than most, and a greater-than-normal emphasis put on unquestioned succession.
A good example turns up at Calakmul itself, where the reigning king Yuknoom Ch’een II elevates his presumed son, Yuknoom Yich’aak K’ahk’ II, to full k’uhul kaanul ajaw status by 662, when he was just 14 years of age (Martin 2009, 2014:356). Yuknoom Ch’een, almost 62 at the time and perhaps not expecting to live too much longer, seems here to be establishing not an heir-apparency but a junior kingship. But even for co-kings closer in age one key distinction would remain: only the senior figure would carry the kaloomte’ title. On Ucanal Stela 4 we see two lords, one identified as a k’uhul k’anwitznal kaloomte’, the other as a k’uhul k’anwitznal ajaw (Martin 2014:76). Though this is a late monument, this might not be a new system but an existing one newly brought to the fore. Similarly, at Motul de San José a long-established monarch is joined by a younger partner with a full emblem glyph, someone who acquires the kaloomte’ title only after the senior king’s death (Tokovinine and Zender 2012:46). The same might be said for the young lords bearing emblems who perform on the Bonampak Murals (Houston 2012:167). All were ranked beneath the true king and kaloomte’ holder. A further instance could be relevant and lend still more credence to this scenario, since it comes from a fragment of inscribed vessel discovered at Dzibanche (Velásquez and Balanzario 2016). It names a k’uhul kaanul ajaw who is also a sukuwinik ch’ok kaloomte’ “Older Brother Prince, Kaloomte’”. We know from comparable cases at Palenque and La Corona that statements of age-seniority such as this signify that there are two brothers—one the ruler, the other the baah ch’ok destined to succeed him. In a kaloomte’-bearing kingdom that junior person would likely also be an emblem-carrying k’uhul ajaw. We find precisely this dual status held by Upakal K’inich, the younger brother and heir of K’inich Ahkal Mo’ Nahb III of Palenque, who might better be considered his junior co-king (Miller and Martin 2004:232; Stuart 2005:40, 189).
These features find an interesting and potentially important parallel in the Postclassic Maya highlands. Bartolomé de Las Casas (1909:615-617) describes an intricate structure of governance for the K’iche’ polity based at Utatlan: consisting of a supreme king as well as a king-elect, each from a separate lineage, whose sons held the ranks of major and minor “captain,” presumably a military command. Each lord would advance in turn from one position to the next up the hierarchical chain (though if they were judged insufficiently capable they could be passed over). This system ensured that whoever reached ultimate power would have served in all the lower offices, and therefore have both maturity and experience in governing as well as in leading armies. Postclassic Maya kingship has always been set apart from its predecessor, but perhaps this practice had deeper roots in the culture. It might not have been a ubiquitous practice for the Classic Maya but, rather a situational strategy that met the needs of particular times and circumstances.
Whether this has any relevance at all to the conundrums of Dynastic Vases remains unclear, but it is one of the few ways that the seemingly aberrant dates of K6751 might be intentional and, more or less, correct. Conceivably, their mismatched positions allude to a senior-junior kingship system for the Snake dynasty at Dzibanche—in which, after the death of the standing kaloomte’ the title passed to the current ajaw, and a new candidate was drawn into that status. The hypothesis allows for a delayed, enhanced accession, but also makes it possible that this powerful polity was continuously ruled by a monarch of the highest rank, without the lacuna that is otherwise implied by a new solo king working his way toward kaloomte’ status.
But before we get too enthusiastic about this scenario, we would do well to acknowledge an impediment that might be enough to dissuade us from it—in this case at least. We must accept, for example, that junior kings could perform Period Endings, as Scroll Serpent does for 184.108.40.206.0 (583) in the retrospective text on Calakmul Stela 33 (Martin 1996). More significantly, the same inscription moves on to the 220.127.116.11.0 (593) ceremony, without mentioning the supposedly key date 9 Imix 9 Yaxkin date we have on K6751. Whether relevant or not, it should also be noted that he carries no kaloomte’ title here, or in another inscription recalling of the 593 commemoration on Calakmul Stela 8.
* * *
With the 550 date now in hand, one might attempt a reconstruction of the chronology for the Dynastic Vases (though I confess some reluctance to do so, given the continuing uncertainties). The scheme set out in Table 1 works its way back in time using the minimum number of required corrections, alighting on the next available Calendar Round position in each case. Since any reign longer than 52 years will slip through such a calculation, additional columns have been introduced at two points where a very long reign seems possible (there may be one other). A dating scheme without longer reigns puts the accession of the dynastic founder Skyraiser to the year 232. This is probably too conservative. If we instead count back from 550 using an average reign-length of 22.5 years—which is derived from the Copan and Palenque sequences, as well as 881 years of English and British history (Martin 1997:853-854)—we reach the year 212. Doing the same calculation from 592, the best date available for Ruler 19, would put the origin of the dynasty still earlier, to about 187. Interestingly, all of these estimates would make the Kaanul line of Dzibanche less ancient than its great rival, the Mutul dynasty of Tikal. Similar calculations performed on Tikal’s count of kings put its founding before 100 (Martin 2003:5, n.6). This differential is clear when we consider that K’ahk’ Ti’ Ch’ich’s reign as the 16th king of Dzibanche overlapped with that of Wak Chan K’awiil, who was 21st in the Tikal line.
To conclude, the Dynastic Vase sequence, against the odds and despite all its errors and unexplained anomalies, has a basis in history and presents the first 19 kings of the Snake dynasty. The texts that seemed so deficient at one time, have begun to suggest that only our understanding of them is inadequate. The direct link between this sequence and a monument at Dzibanche gives us added confidence that this city was indeed the capital of the Early Classic Snake kings, in line with the evidence of names, titles, and a Snake toponym already uncovered there. Though other options have found favor, this is good evidence that the origins of this important dynasty were in modern-day Quintana Roo, Mexico. If we can fathom the puzzles that remain—rather than be bamboozled by numerous chak chay—we might yet cast some light on the structure of the Snake kingdom in its first incarnation. We must hope that future epigraphic finds, from Dzibanche and elsewhere, will ultimately unravel its secrets. If the history of research thus far is anything to go by, there will be more surprises ahead, and yet more opportunities to rethink the “Serpent State.”
[Note 1] The ending on toponyms spelled by a la suffix is as yet unknown and should properly be rendered –Vl. However, in line with recent publications this paper will from here on use Kaanul, with no implication that this is correct.
[Note2] Here the winikhaab or “K’atun” unit has been suppressed or obscured by the i-u-ti-yai uhtiiy “then (it) happened” verb. The spelling of the month Uo here receives the unique spelling of wo-hi woh, the form in use in Yucatan when the Spanish arrived in the sixteenth century (Martin 1997:854). An alternative to the Classic form IHK’-ATihk’at that we see in other spellings in the inscriptions—even elsewhere on the Dynastic Vases (see K6751 J6b)—the terms presumably coexisted, but woh may have been the vernacular form for the vase painters. The strangeness of this section is increased by the proportions and alignment of the glyphs, which have the awkward task of filling the skewed remaining space at the end of the text. The painter seems to have stopped and restarted his work, possibly adding some part—the possessed vase and name phrase in particular—on a later occasion.
[Note3] This scheme reconstructs a base-date of 18.104.22.168.2, 6 Ik 10 Kankin (552) from a Distance Number of 1.4.18 that counts from there to the Period Ending 22.214.171.124.0, 9 Ahau 3 Uayeb (554). A second Distance Number of 2.12.14 links the base-date (which likely marks the building’s dedication) to the preceding accession event on 126.96.36.199.8, 7 Lamat 6 Uo (550) (Martin and Beliaev 2017:Table 1).
[Note4] This finding suggests that we take a fresh look at the Snake royal names from the Dzibanche region and specifically the potential versions of Sky Witness’s moniker. Blocks CX15-CX17 of the Resbalon Hieroglyphic Stairway, associated with a Snake emblem glyph, provide the core elements of his name in the form u-?UT[T650] CHAN-na (Martin 1997:861). Stela 3 at Pol Box gives a closely related version, with the addition of a hand-based compound that can also be recognized on Block CX14 from Resbalon (Esparza and Pérez 2009:9-10). Octavio Esparza proposed that the hand was a later-disused YUK logogram, elaborated with no and ma to represent yuknoom. The case for this is much strengthened by an inscribed bone recovered from an important burial in the Temple of the Cormorants at Dzibanche (Velásquez 2008b). This also appears to have a Sky Witness name, this time introduced by a clear yuknoom: yu[ku]-no-ma ?UT-tu[T650-CHAN]-na. Returning to Resbalon, we can now say that the fullest name appears there as ?YUK-no-mau-?UT[T650]-CHAN K’AHK’-BAHLAM?. As Erik Velásquez (2008b) suggests, the tomb of Sky Witness—richly equipped with jade—has surely been found at Dzibanche.
[Note5] See Carter (2016:350-351) for a discussion of some of the copying errors on the Dynastic Vases.
[Note6] The value ?CH’EEN is represented by two logograms, one a bird’s head, the other a more variable sign that focuses on bones and dark places (Vogt and Stuart 2005:157-163). Originally, the bird was distinguished by a tri-lobed eyelid and what often looks like a bundle of sticks on its facing left-side. However, by Late Classic times both features could be dispensed with and a pared down raptor-head suffices to spell the word. Nevertheless, Figure 5c shows two faint strokes through the eye that may allude to the lobed form.
[Note7] Several of the component blocks from this stairway carry Calendar Round dates, the clearest being 5 Chicchan 3 Yaxkin (seen twice), 6 Men 18 Pax, and perhaps 10 Chicchan? 18 Xul (see Velásquez 2004b). Even without a tie to the Long Count, calculation shows that if these positions are correct they are quite widely spaced in time, spanning in excess of 20 years. The Long Count counterparts that fit a projected reign for Ruler 10, as well as meshing with the style parameters offered by Uaxactun Stela 19, fall into the second column of potential correlations in Table 1 of this posting.
[Note 8] Altar M is the earliest known product of K’ahk’ Tiliw Chan Yopaat’s reign and carries a text describing its own making in 734, four years prior to the conflict with Copan (Looper 2003:59-61). Oddly, it is owned by some other person (an ancestor or father?) and the king supervises its dedication. His titles are damaged, but appear to include the nohol kaloomte’ “South Kaloomte’” epithet he bears on Stela J (C14-D14). Nevertheless, I am reluctant to see this as evidence for his use of this high status prior to the split with Copan. Either this monument is deliberately retrospective, or indicates that K’ahk’ Tiliw had politically detached himself prior to the decisive clash.
[Note9] We have no knowledge of this early period, but ascribing the kaloomte’ epithet to Ruler 2 (a feature of most Dynastic Vases) may serve to distinguish him from the founder as the first king to claim or be ascribed that rank.
[Note10] The easiest amendment would be to the initial coefficient, and a number of alternatives fall within the required 556-582 range: *3 Caban 10 Pop for 188.8.131.52.17 (575), *4 Caban 10 Pop for 184.108.40.206.17 (563), *7 Caban 10 Pop for 220.127.116.11.17 (579), *8 Caban 10 Pop for 18.104.22.168.17 (567), *12 Caban 10 Pop for 22.214.171.124.17 (571), and *13 Caban 10 Pop for 126.96.36.199.17 (559). Selecting an alternative coefficient for Pop (0, 5, or 15), while keeping 10 Caban, produces no eligible results. In Table 1, I use *12 Caban for the arbitrary reason that it is the simplest copying error for 10 Caban available.
[Note11] Additionally, there is the case presented by Naranjo Stelae 18 and 46, in which two ch’ok—certainly brothers, perhaps even twins—were promoted during the reign of their presumed father K’ahk’ Tiliw Chan Chaahk (Martin et al. in press). The manner in which the order of their names is reversed on each monument, as if to avoid prioritizing one over the other, suggests that they were equals intended to be future co-rulers of some kind.
[Note12] I am indebted to Frauke Sachse (pers. comm. 2017) for pointing out this parallel.
[Note13] This system might also offer a way of understanding the 599 date for Sky Witness at Palenque. Theoretically, this character could be a later namesake of the 17th ruler, a sub-king of Scroll Serpent who we otherwise have no record of.
[Note14] The later interest in Scroll Serpent could well be motivated because he was the father of Yuknoom Ch’een II, the first Snake king to rule at Calakmul (Martin and Grube 2000:106). A damaged Distance Number on Stela 33 might connect 188.8.131.52.0 to the birth of Yuknoom Ch’een on 184.108.40.206.17 (600), the king who commissioned this monument in 657. It could also be significant that Scroll Serpent completes the K6751 list. Although patently not the last Snake king before the reign of Yuknoom Ch’een II, the painted king list may nevertheless draw attentional attention to this putative father.
[Note15] Amendments were made by comparing the full range of vases in search of workable combinations (although several are so overpainted as to be worthless for this exercise), or identifying coefficients that can be considered canonical rather than exceptional. At times the process amounts to no more than guesswork. It is noticeable that necessary corrections cluster toward the early part of the sequence (i.e. Rulers 1-6 in Table 1), possibly a hint that later dates are more reliable.
Carter, Nicholas. 2014. Sources and Scales of Classic Maya History. In Thinking, Recording, and Writing History in the Ancient World, edited by Kurt F. Raaflaub, pp. 340-371. Wiley Blackwell, Chichester.
Delvendahl, Kai. 2005. “Las sedes del poder. Arquitectura, espacio, función y sociedad de los conjuntos palaciegos del Clásico Tardío en el área maya evaluados desde la arqueología y la iconografía”. Tesis de doctorado en Antropología, Facultad de Filosofía y Letras Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, Mexico City.
Esparza, Octavio Q., and Vania E. Pérez. 2009. Archaeological and Epigraphic Studies in Pol Box, Quintana Roo. The PARI Journal 9(3):1-16.
García Barrios, Ana. 2012. Análisis Iconográfico Preliminar de Fragmentos de las Vasijas Estilo Códice Procedentes de Calakmul. Estudios de Cultura Maya 37:65-97.
Graham, Ian. 1986. Corpus of Maya Hieroglyphic Inscriptions, Vol. 5, Part 3: Uaxactun. Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology, Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts.
Helmke, Christophe, and Jaime Awe. 2016a. Death Becomes Her: An Analysis of Panel 3, Xunantunich, Belize. ThePARI Journal 16(4):1-14.
_______________. 2016b. Sharper Than a Serpent’s Tooth: A Tale of the Snake-head Dynasty as Recounted on Xunantunich Panel 4. The PARI Journal 17(2):1-22.
Houston, Stephen. 2012. The Good Prince: Transition, Texting and Moral Narrative in the Murals of Bonampak, Chiapas, Mexico. Cambridge Archaeological Journal 22(2):153-175.
Las Casas, Bartholmé. 1909. Apologética historia de las Indias. 2 Vols. Nueva Biblioteca de Autores Españoles, Vol. 13. Madrid.
Looper, Mathew G. 2003. Lightning Warrior: Maya Art and Kingship at Quiriguá. University of Texas Press, Austin.
Martin, Simon. 1996. Calakmul en el Registro Epigráfico. In: Proyecto Arqueológico de la Biosfera de Calakmul: Temporada 1993-94 by Ramón Carrasco V. et al., Centro Regional de Yucatán, INAH, Mérida.
_______________. 1997. The Painted King List: A Commentary on Codex-style Dynastic Vases. In The Maya Vase Book, Volume 5: A Corpus of Roll-out Photographs, edited by Barbara Kerr and Justin Kerr, pp. 846-867. Kerr Associates, New York.
_______________. 2003. In Line of the Founder: A View of Dynastic Politics at Tikal. In Tikal: Dynasties, Foreigners, and Affairs of State, edited by Jeremy A. Sabloff, pp. 3-45. School of American Research Advanced Seminar Series, School of American Research Press and James Curry, Santa Fe and Oxford.
_______________. 2005. Of Snakes and Bats: Shifting Identities at Calakmul. Precolumbian Art Research Institute (PARI) Journal 6(2):5-15.
_______________. 2008a. “Reading Calakmul: Epigraphy of the Proyecto Arqueológico de Calakmul 1994-2008”. Paper presented at the VI Mesa Redonda de Palenque, November 16-21 2008, Palenque, Mexico.
_______________. 2008b. Wives and Daughters on the Dallas Altar. <www.mesoweb.com/articles/martin/Wives&Daughters.html>
_______________. 2009. “On the Trail of the Serpent State: The Unusual History of the Kan Polity”. Paper presented at the 33rd Maya Meetings at Texas “History and Politics of the Snake Kingdom”, February 23rd-March 1st 2009. University of Texas at Austin.
_______________. 2012. Escritura. In Calakmul: Patrimonio de la Humanidad, pp.155-175. Grupo Azabache, Mexico City.
_______________. 2014. The Classic Maya Polity: An Epigraphic Approach to Reconstructing a Pre-Hispanic Political System. PhD thesis, University College London.
Martin, Simon, and Dmitri Beliaev. 2017. K’ahk’ Ti’ Ch’ich’: A New Snake King from the Early Classic Period. The PARI Journal 17(3):1-7.
Martin, Simon, Vilma Fialko, Alexandre Tokovinine, and Fredy Ramirez. 2016. Contexto y texto de la Estela 47 de Naranjo-Sa’aal, Peten, Guatemala. In XXIX Simposio de investigaciones Arqueológicas en Guatemala 2015, tomo II, pp. 615-628. Ministerio de Cultura y Deportes, Instituto de Antropología e Historia, Asociación Tikal, Guatemala.
Martin, Simon, and Nikolai Grube. 2000. Chronicle of the Maya Kings and Queens: Deciphering the Dynasties of the Ancient Maya. Thames and Hudson, London and New York.
Martin, Simon, Alexandre Tokovinine, Elodie Trefel, and Vilma Fialko. In press. La Estela 46 de Naranjo Sa’al, Peten, Guatemala: hallazgo y texto jeroglífico.” In XXX Simposio de investigaciones Arqueológicas en Guatemala 2016. Ministerio de Cultura y Deportes, Instituto de Antropología e Historia, Asociación Tikal, Guatemala.
Martin, Simon, and Erik Velásquez García. 2016. Polities and Places: Tracing the Toponyms of the Snake Dynasty. The PARI Journal 17(2):23-33.
Miller, Mary, and Simon Martin. 2004. Courtly Art of the Ancient Maya. Thames and Hudson, London and New York.
Nalda, Enrique. 2004. Dzibanché: El context de los cautivos. In Los Cautivos de Dzibanché, edited by Enrique Nalda, pp.13-55. Instituto Nacional de Antropología e Historia, Mexico City.
Robicsek, Francis, and Donald M. Hales. 1981. The Maya Book of the Dead, The Ceramic Codex. The Corpus of Codex-Style Ceramics of the Late Classic Period. University of Virginia Art Museum, Charlottesville.
Stuart, David. 2005. The Inscriptions from Temple XIX at Palenque: A Commentary. Pre-Columbian Art Research Institute, San Francisco.
Tokovinine, Alexandre, and Marc Zender. 2012. Lords of Windy Water: The Royal Court of Motul de San José in Classic Maya Inscriptions. In Motul de San José: Politics, History, and Economics in a Maya Polity, edited by Antonia E. Foias and Kitty F. Emery, pp.30-66. University Press of Florida, Gainesville.
Velásquez García, Erik. 2004a. “Los posibles alcances territoriales de la influencia política de Dzibanché durante el Clásico temprano: nuevas alternativas para interpretar las menciones epigráficas tempranas sobre Kaan”. Paper presented at the V Mesa Redonda de Palenque, Palenque, Mexico.
_______________. 2004b. Los Escalones Jeroglíficos de Dzibanché. In Los Cautivos de Dzibanché, edited by Enrique Nalda, pp. 78-103. Instituto Nacional de Antropología e Historia, Mexico City.
_______________. 2005. The Captives of Dzibanche. In The PARI Journal 6(2):1-4.
_______________. 2008a. Los posibles alcances territoriales de la influencia política de Dzibanché durante el Clásico temprano: Nuevas alternativas para interpretar las menciones históricas sobre la entidad política de Kan. In El Territorio Maya, Memoria de la Quinta Mesa Redonda de Palenque, edited/coordinated by Rodrigo Liendo Stuardo, pp. 323-352. Instituto Nacional de Antropología e Historia, Mexico City.
_______________. 2008b. “En Busca de Testigo Cielo (ca. 561-572 d.C.): El Punzón de Hueso del Edificio de los Cormoranes de Dzibanché.” Paper presented at the VI Mesa Redonda de Palenque, November 16-21 2008, Palenque, Mexico.
Velásquez García, Erik, and Sandra Balanzario Granados. 2016. “Rulers of the Kanu’l Dynasty from the Perspective of Dzibanche, Quintana Roo, Mexico.” Paper presented at the 81st Meeting of the Society for American Archaeology, April 6-10, Orlando, Florida.
Vogt, Evon Z., and David Stuart. 2005. Ritual Caves Among the Ancient and Modern Maya. In In the Maw of the Earth Monster: Mesoamerican Ritual Cave Use, edited by James E. Brady and Keith M. Prufer, pp. 155-185. University of Texas Press, Austin.