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.