The Captives on Piedras Negras, Panel 12 6


Panel 12 from Piedras Negras is a key record of Early Classic political relations in the Usumacinta region. Its figural scene, framed by rows and columns of incised glyphs, shows a standing ruler facing three bound and kneeling captives, with a fourth prisoner shown set off from the rest behind the royal warrior. As we’ve known for many years based on an observation first made by Linda Schele, the first (front) captive is identified in nearby caption as “‘Knot-eye Jaguar,’ the Yaxchilan Lord.” This is surely the ninth king of Yaxchilan who ruled at the Period Ending and continued on the throne for about one more decade, until the accession of K’inich Tatbu Jol on (these dates become important a bit later). The middle captive on Panel 12 looks to be from the kingdom affiliated with the ruins known today as Santa Elena, and presumably much of its surrounding region along the nearby lower Río San Pedro. Little is known of the history of Santa Elena, but this prisoner’s name looks very similar to one we know from its later inscriptions, possibly re-used by several rulers.

The third (left-most) prisoner on Panel 12 has thus far gone unidentified, but I’ve an idea who he might be, based on observations of the original panel made earlier this year. The emblem glyph is highly eroded, but its shape and features suggest it might be LAKAM-TUUN-ni-AJAW, for Lakamtuun Ajaw, “the Lakamtuun Lord.” This past March I presented evidence at the UT Maya Meetings suggesting that Lakamtuun was a kingdom or political region located on the banks of the modern Río Lacantun, a major tributary of the upper Usumacinta, and perhaps near the ruins of known as El Palma. The Classic kingdom of Lakamtuun was politically important, cited at Yaxchilan, Seibal, and Itzan, and now maybe Piedras Negras.

The personal name of the Panel 12 mystery captive, recorded before the murky emblem glyph and after U-BAAH, is also suggestive. The components look to be a ?-CHAN AHK with the initial sign resembling one known to represent a downward facing snake, but lacking a firm reading. In the comparison presented in the accompanying image, one can see what looks to be the very same name written in Lintel 35 of Yaxchilan: ?-CHAN-a-ku LAMAK-TUUN-AJAW. He is cited there as a foreign lord who oversaw a subsiduary noble with political connections with the tenth Yaxchilan king, K’inich Tatbu Jol.

So, Panel 12 looks as if it shows a Piedras Negras king with three subservient rulers from neighboring kingdoms, each located along a major rivers of the western lowlands: the Río Usumacinta (Yaxchilan), the Río San Pedro Martir (Santa Elena), and the Río Lacantun (Lakamtuun). I doubt this geographical spread is a coincidence, for it may have been used to bolster Piedras Negras’s message political influence, of not control, over a vast territory to its north and south.

My sense is that the scene of Panel 12 is largely performative and symbolic of such political dominance, not to be taken too literally as evidence of long-distance taking of royal prisoners. Yaxchilan’s Lintel 35 suggests that the Lakamtuun ruler (if that’s who he is) was still reigning a few years after Panel 12’s carving and dedication. Likewise Knot-eye Jaguar of Yaxchilan seems to have ruled locally for several more years, though still perhaps as a vassal of Piedras Negras. This is not as strange as it might seem, since we know that later Maya kings represented subject rulers as bound prisoners, even though the subservient lords continued to rule for many years. Jaguar Claw of Seibal, in “power” yet shown early-on as a prisoner at Dos Pilas and Aguateca, is a good case for comparison.

It looks as if the Piedras Negras king consolidated political authority up and down the Usumacinta drainage, north and south, around the Period Ending I find the timing of great interest, for it so happens that several polities of the western area first “get going” on or around this date. It is the first known Period Ending celebrated in texts at Piedras Negras, Yaxchilan, and Tonina, and it is featured prominently in the “deep history” recorded on Piedras Negras Altar 1. Moreover, is also the opening date of the vast panorama of history recorded in the three tablets of Palenque’s Temple of the Inscriptions, which highlights K’inich Janab Pakal’s victories over (no coincidence, this) Santa Elena. In sum, It seems was a seminal period in defining the geo-politics of the western Maya lowlands for the Classic Period.

Knots, Skulls and Jaguars Reply

Dusting off a minor paleographical tidbit others have probably noticed:

A familiar royal name in the history of the Usumacinta kingdoms is “Knot-eye Jaguar.” This nickname came about as a convenient term of reference, based on the form of the name glyph: a jaguar’s head with a strap or cord running from its eye up to a bow-tie knot (see attached image, at lower left). This name, however it was originally read, was used by the ninth king of the Yaxchilan dynasty as well as by a near-contemporary lord associated with the nearby Lacanha and Bonampak (one wonders if these may be the same person), and by others who came later in the history of the region.

We lack a firm reading of the whole name, but there’s good reason to think the jaguar is simply BAHLAM, “jaguar,” with the eye-knot being a separate sign. Many years ago, while looking at photographs of a Bonampak-area stela in the Musees Royaux d’Art et d’Historie in Brussels, I noticed what looks to be a visually expanded version of the same name (it may still be a different individual) accompanied by a Bonampak emblem glyph. In the detail attached we see that the upper portion of the glyph is a jaguar head prefixed by a skull showing precisely the same curved strap and top knot. This rare “knot-eye skull” seems to be a new logogram — representing a trophy head, perhaps — and its use in other settings might offer clues to a reading. Despite the unknowns, the Brussels example strongly suggests that the standard and familiar form of the royal name “Knot-eye Jaguar” is a conflation of these two components: a “knot-eye skull” before BAHLAM.


Drawing of a Text from Jonuta, Tabasco Reply

JonutaJust a brief post this time, to share a drawing I made some years ago of an interesting inscription from Jonuta, Tabasco. The beautiful panel fragment on which these glyphs appear was published in Proskouriakoff’s Classic Maya Sculpture (Figure 69b) in a painfully small reproduction of a photograph taken sometime in the 1940s by Hasso von Winning. This sketch (made for my dissertation) was based on a larger print of the same photograph, now housed in the archives of the Corpus of Maya Hieroglyphic Inscriptions at the Peabody Museum. I have no information on the panel’s current whereabouts, nor of any record of it since von Winning’s image.

No time to offer any full commentary on the text, but it does contain a number of interesting grammatical features. One is a full spelling i-yu-wa-la for the demonstrative particle iyuwal, “and then…,” which later appears in Ch’olti’ as a progressive aspect marker, with cognate forms in other Ch’olan languages. Several other examples of the same i-yu-wa-la glyph appear before verbs on Stela J at faraway Copan.

The crisp style of these glyphs suggests to me a date of about 9.17. or Jonuta remains a very poorly known site, but in the Late Classic it evidently held some importance as a major political and ritual center along the extreme lower Usumacinta River, well downriver from Pomona and the Pakbu’ul kingdom.

The Origin of Copan’s Founder 2

The first Classic king of Copan, K’inich Yax K’uk’ Mo’ (KYKM), had a complicated life story spanning much of Mesoamerica. His arrival at Copan in AD 426 was the seminal event of the dynasty, but where did he come from? For many years we’ve known about his strong symbolic connections to Teotihuacan, but even within the Maya area he seems to have had roots outside of the Copan Valley, perhaps in the central Petén lowlands. New information, noticed last week while visiting Copan, now leads to an important revision to KYKM’s story, adding a new and unexpected dimension to the founder’s significance in Maya history.

Before citing the newest evidence, one clarification is necessary: KYKM was not a Teotihuacano. Some might assume his highland ethnicity based on KYKM’s appearance in later Copan iconography, where he consistently assumes the garb of a Teotihuacan warrior (best known on Altar Q). Yet his earliest portrait on the Motmot marker, possibly carved while he was still living, shows his “Maya-ness”, and only much later do we see the visual connections to highland Mexico. The key distinction is that KYKM’s political identity was deeply rooted in Teotihuacan and its pan-Mesoamerican role as a hub of political authority. The written evidence from Copan suggests that he acquired sanction for rule at Teotihuacan before founding Copan’s ruling line. Specifically, Altar Q tells us that in AD 426 KYKM is said to have “received k’awiil” (k’am k’awiil) at or in connection with Teotihuacan. K’am k’awiil is a term used elsewhere in Maya inscriptions in association with the establishment of new political lines and offices. Teotihuacan’s historical role in the Early Classic may presage that of later Tollan, “the Place of Bulrushes,” which served a center of political pilgrimage throughout Postclassic Mesoamerica, even among rulers of different ethnicities.

Now back to Copan. Last week, while looking closely at Stela 63, I noticed for the first time that KYKM has a special title with his name glyph, just barely preserved on the front on the monument (see attached photo, at bottom). The very last glyph of the inscription is damaged, but it shows his personal name, followed by what looks to me to be the place glyph 3-WITZ-a or Uxwitza’, “Three Hills Water,” along with ch’ajoom — a common ruler’s title almost as generic in meaning as ajaw, “lord.” This is a toponymic title, and clearly connected to a similar title KYKM carries on the later Stela J, where he is named as the “Three Hills Lord” (also in attached photo).

Uxwitza’, “Three-Hills-Water,” is a known place name, identifiable with one and only one Maya site: Caracol, Belize. There Three-Hills-Water is cited as a local name in both Ealry and Late Classic inscriptions, and rulers of Caracol are often portrayed standing atop animate witz mountains wearing the headband of the number 3 (hence 3-WITZ). The evidence from Stela 63 is, I feel, basic and hard to ignore: KYKM was a Caracol lord by origin.

Jane Buikstra’s strontium analysis of the founder’s bones, excavated by Bob Sharer and David Sedat within the so-called Hunal tomb, points to KYKM having spent his younger days outside of the Copan valley, probably in the central Maya lowlands. The new historical evidence would seem to agree with Buikstra’s analysis, although far more discussions on the topic will tell us for sure. A Caracol origin for the Copan founder also conforms to an odd connection ceramic Copan seems to have had with Belize – something now to be analyzed with renewed effort. The connection might also be reflected in the unusual mention of a later Copan ruler on Caracol’s Stela 16.

I suspect KYKM was born as a member of Caracol’s nobility at a time when “pre-dynastic” Copan was already a place of siginficant size and importance. He may have already had personal connections to Copan, but in AD 426 journeyed to Teotihuacan to receive the emblems and sanction of office (K’awiil), and then established a ritual center — and a new political order — where Copan’s acropolis now lies, shortly before the turn of the Bak’tun.

More to come…


Reconstructing an early warrior scene at Palenque Reply

Three similarly sized carved stones at Palenque are all that remain of an early mosaic relief dating to the long reign of K’inich Janab Pakal (see attached image). The original panel was demolished in ancient times, and all three stones were re-used by the Maya for construction blocks. Two of the carved stones can still be seen in the walls of Temple IV in the North Group (one upside down), and a third was found by archaeologist Alberto Ruz in the masonry of the aqueduct, just to the east of the Palace. The two Temple IV blocks (left and center in the accompanying drawing) have long been seen as probable fits, but I think the third can now be added, giving a hint of a larger figural scene. The image provided, using drawings by Linda Schele, shows the likely arrangement of all three blocks. I’m sure others have noticed this as well.


An inscription ran along the top of the figural scene, broken only by the large feathered headdress of a warrior between the sixth and seventh extant glyphs of the horizontal band. Smaller glyphs look to be name captions for one or two other figures, and two or three small vertical elements may be all that remain of their upright spears (Piedras Negras Panel 2 might offer a vague parallel).

The inscription records a military victory by K’inich Janab Pakal. Unfortunately all that remains of the date — the month position “17 Pop” — is not enough to provide a full reconstruction. The verb is ch’ahkaj, “was conquered,” but the placename for the defeated site, in the third glyph (tz’i?-sa-ti), is difficult to analyze. Interestingly, the text also includes references to two of Pakal’s important “lieutenants,” Aj Sul and Chak Chan.

It’s hard to make out much more from such paltry remains, but I find it extremely interesting that such an early sculpture appears on mosaic blocks — something we never find in Late Classic Palenque art. By the end of Pakal’s reign this mode of presentation for relief carving seems to have given way to the use of large thin slabs of limestone, first used perhaps inside the Temple of the Inscriptions.