by David Stuart, The University of Texas at Austin
The latest issue of the journal Mexicon has on its cover a photograph of a inscribed panel recently discovered at the ruins of Tz’unun, in northwestern Belize (Hanratty, et. al., 2016) (Figure 1). The new find is of particular interest because the four glyphs on the stone (part of a much longer original text) include an example of the Kaan or Kaanul emblem, k’uhul kaanul ajaw, at the upper left. As many readers know, the history of the Kaanul kingdom and its rulers is undergoing much scrutiny and revision these days, especially in the wake of several new epigraphic finds (Helmke and Awe 2016a, 2016b; Martin 2017; Stuart 2012). For this reason the discovery of any text that refers to this dynasty is of considerable interest, even a partial inscription like we see on the Tz’unun panel.
The three other glyph blocks on the Tz’unun panel record a short Distance Number of 12 days and the CR to which it leads. Mexicon‘s very brief description of the Tz’unun block states that the CR date is 7 Ahau 18 Mol (Hanratty, et. al., 2016). However, I believe it is far more likely to be 7 Chicchan 18 Mol, using a form of the day sign that represents the so-called “serpent segment.” A horizontal line clearly bisects the interior of the day sign, and the scutes of the snake’s body are just visible below. Hints of diagonal lines above conform to this form of Chicchan as well. This variant of Chicchan is common in the inscriptions at Caracol in the early seventh century, and appears from time to time in later texts.
The style and paleography on the Tz’unun panel reminds me a good deal of the Caracol Hieroglyphic Stairway (Martin 2017), while not quite as ornate. I therefore think a likely placement of the CR in the Long Count is 18.104.22.168.5 7 Chicchan 18 Mol, or August 7, 639 AD. Twelve days earlier is 22.214.171.124.13 8 Ben 6 Mol, or July 26, 639 AD. Unfortunately we have no idea what events were being recorded in this text – we are left with only the dates and the intriguing emblem title.
That said, the year 639 AD would have been an interesting one in the history of the Kaanul kingdom. As the recent finds at Xunantunich have demonstrated, a ruler named Waxaklajuun Ubaah Kaan was executed less than a year later in 640. And three years earlier, in 636, we have tantalizing records of a war between two rival factions of Kaanul lords, with Waxaklajuun Ubaah Kan (of Dzibanche?) defeated and Yuknoom Ch’een assuming the throne at Calakmul a short time later (Helmke and Awe 2016b; Martin 2017). My proposed revision of the date on the Tz’unun block, if correct, falls after the defeat of Waxaklajuun Ubaah Kan but before his execution. Who, then, is the Kaanul king being named at Tz’unun? We cannot say, but given the possible timing of the narrative it seems that the longer inscription might have contained elements of this fascinating political story, noting episodes we lack elsewhere. Let’s hope more of this new inscription someday comes to light.
Hanratty, Colleen, Bruce Love, Stanley Guenter and Tom Guderjan. 2016. First Evidence of the Ka’an Dynasty in Northern Belize. Mexicon XXXVIII(6):142.
Helmke, Christophe, and Jaime Awe. 2016a. Death Becomes Her: An Analysis of Panel 3, Xunantunich, Belize. PARI 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. PARI Journal 17(2):1-22.
Martin, Simon. 2017. The Caracol Hieroglyphic Stairway. Maya Decipherment, January 20, 2017. https://mayadecipherment.com/2017/01/20/the-caracol-hieroglyphic-stairway/
The summer of 2016 produced discoveries of tremendous importance for understanding the political history of the Classic Maya lowlands. While excavating Structure A9 at Xunantunich, Belize, Jaime Awe and his team unearthed two inscribed monuments of rare significance, their contents revealed in detailed textual analyses by Christophe Helmke (Helmke and Awe 2016a, 2016b). These inscriptions support and elaborate some existing proposals, while supplying entirely new twists to the story. What follows are a few thoughts inspired by these finds.
Xunantunich Panels 3 and 4 were immediately recognizable as parts of a hieroglyphic stairway first uncovered at the site of Naranjo (Maler 1908:91-93, Pls.24-28; Morley 1937-38.2:42-59; Graham 1978:107-110). There Teobert Maler uncovered 12 blocks bearing outlined medallions of text in two different formats, one of nine glyph-blocks and the other of four. The Xunantunich stones differ in their larger size and the inclusion of two of the smaller medallions apiece. That the monument had a complex history, with portions of it moved in ancient times, was already clear from the discovery a lone block at Ucanal—first designated in the Naranjo series as Step XIII and later as Ucanal Miscellaneous Stone 1 (Graham 1978:107, 110, 1980:153-154). In regard to its content, it has long been realized that the narrative focus falls on the career of the Caracol king we know as K’an II, repeating much of the information we find on his Caracol Stela 3 (Beetz and Satterthwaite 1981:12-22, Figs. 3, 4; Stone, Reents, and Coffman 1985:273-274, Table 1). In this light the stairway’s presence at Naranjo was initially explained as a “conquest monument” erected by K’an II to celebrate his subjugation of Naranjo (Schele and Freidel 1990:174, 178). But there were a number of holes in that argument, and I later suggested that the steps did not originate at Naranjo but were instead brought there from an original setting at Caracol (Martin 2000:57-58).
That idea was provoked not simply by the Caracol subject matter, but by an inscribed stone fragment excavated by Arlen and Diane Chase from rubble at the foot of Caracol Structure B5 (see Grube 1994:113, Fig.19.4a) (Figure 1). It shared the outlined border and rounded corners of the stairway medallions and, anecdotally, was carved from the same pale grey limestone that one can see when visiting the Naranjo steps stored in the British Museum. Importantly, when the drawing was sized to the scale of those blocks it proved to be a very close match (Martin 2000:Fig.12; see also Helmke and Awe 2016:Fig.3b). The hypothesis put forward was that the Caracol fragment was a discarded piece of the same monument. There is no way to be sure when the stairway was broken up and removed, but we know that Naranjo attacked Caracol in 680, forcing its king to flee, and the 168 days that the Caracol king was exiled would seem to be a good opportunity to seize such a trophy. With two further parts now found at Xunantunich, the dispersal of this dismembered monument proves to be wider still, and Helmke and Awe (2016a:4) have noted the likely significance of both Ucanal and Xunantunich as one-time allies, associates, or clients of Naranjo in the Late Classic period. In short, there may be political meaning behind the distribution.
Xunantunich Panel 4 has been identified as part of the opening statement of the inscription, directly following the Long Count of 126.96.36.199.0, falling in 642, on Step V of the Naranjo Hieroglyphic Stairway (Helmke and Awe 2016b:9, Fig.9) (Figure 2, 3a). The first medallion completes the essentials of the Period Ending and names its presiding deities, but the second pivots to describe a key political upheaval of the time, the shift of the dominant portion of the Snake dynasty from Dzibanche to Calakmul (ibid.:16) (Figure 3b). Such a transfer had been posited from converging lines of evidence pointing to a “reconstitution” of the polity at Calakmul during, or shortly before, the reign of its most important king Yuknoom Ch’een II (Martin 2005). That such an explicit statement is now forthcoming—describing first the negation and then the formation of political authority at the toponyms of Dzibanche (kaanul) and Calakmul (uxte’tuun) respectively—confirms the historicity of this event and demonstrates the significance it held for its contemporaries (Helmke and Awe 2016b:13-16; Martin and Velásquez 2016). The implications of its placement here at the very start of the narrative are startling, since it compels us to see the entire monument as a single metahistory, in which each event contributes to the greater story of the transfer.
The other find at Xunantunich, Panel 3, has contributed entirely new information (Helmke and Awe 2016a:8-10, Fig.7). Here the first medallion offers us the death-date of K’an II’s mother in 638, while the second presents a further death in 640, this time specified as ti-ye-TUUN-niti yehtuun, literally “at the edge of the stone.” The exact meaning of this construction continues to be debated, but there is little doubt that it is associated with an act of violence consistent with execution. The subject is named as Waxaklajuun Ubaah Kaan and his full k’uhul kaanul ajaw title establishes him as a previously unknown Snake monarch. As Helmke and Awe point out, this sheds immediate light on Step I from Naranjo, where the partially surviving name of this king—absent his title—has him suffering a “star war” defeat in 636 at the hands of another Snake lord, this one a lesser kaanul ajaw, I’ve previously nicknamed Yuknoom Head (see Martin and Grube 2000:106). From this we learn that the break between Dzibanche and Calakmul was a violent one, a conflict that we can essentially characterize as a civil war. Waxaklajuun Ubaah Kaan evidently spent four years as a captive, or on the run, before he was put to death. Crucially, Panel 3 comes at the very end of the text, its chronology advancing to the same Period Ending in 642 with which the stairway begins. This is the last action recorded on the monument and therefore constitutes its narrative closure—perfectly in line with the metahistorical purpose set out on Panel 4.
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If this summarizes what the Xunantunich discoveries have told us thus far, what other implications can be seen to arise from them? With Panel 4 established as the second block in the program, I believe we can go further with this re-assembly and here I would like to offer a speculative scheme for the next four step-blocks, of which three are currently known. The first move is to suggest that the reference to the Calakmul toponym 3-TE’-TUUN-niuxte’tuun that ends Panel 4 is part of a pair and joins the other Calakmul toponym, chi[ku]-NAHBchiiknahb, that begins Step XII from Naranjo (Figure 4a). These place-names are paired, in this order, on La Corona Element 13 (formerly Site Q Ballplayer 1) (Stuart and Houston 1994:28-29, Fig.29; also Schele and Miller 1986:257-258, Pl.101), and appear together again on Step VI—if there employed for a different purpose (see below).
But this is not the only argument one can make for the sequencing of these blocks. After a “focus marker” the text on Step XII moves directly to the verb i-pi-tzi-jiipitzij “then ball is played,” with no subject named. An unusual event to be associated with a Period Ending, this is precisely the verb that re-appears at the close of the program when Xunantunich Panel 3 refers to the upcoming 188.8.131.52.0 mark (Helmke and Awe 2016a:7, 11, Fig.9). This association is even better evidence that Step XII should be inserted at this point. Symbolic ballgames are regularly associated with monumental steps, where they were staged to celebrate success in war and the subsequent tormenting of prisoners (Miller and Houston 1987:52-63). Indeed, Step XII goes on to name the steps in question with a-ku-?-TUUN-ni u-K’ABA’-ba-a?-tuun uk’aba’ “?-stone is the name of.” It has been appreciated for some time that this passage continues on Step XI, which begins ye-bu for yehb “the stair of” and then provides the beginning of a royal name (Figure 4b). There can be little doubt that this takes us into the extended name phrase of K’an II.
The next suggested join is less certain. Step II contains the name and emblem glyph of K’an II and would seem to be a possible fit here. However, that text goes on to list two deities which supervise the king’s actions, a construction that does not typically fit with the syntax and subject matter we have here. Instead, Step IX, which also includes the name and titles of K’an II, shares the same double-size glyphs as Step XI and, for this reason alone, is a better candidate (Figure 5a). It might have followed Step XII directly, or via one or more other now-missing steps that made for an even longer nominal sequence. Since Step IX does not include a Caracol emblem glyph or other terminal titles we must assume, lacking a suitable candidate, that the following step is missing. The next contender for a continuation of the sequence is Step III, which is dedicated to the parentage of K’an II (Martin in Grube 1994:107) (redrawn here as Figure 5b). While it could have been placed at other points in the narrative, this first reference to the king would be a typical position. The combined scheme is set out in Figure 6, below.
From here on we must turn to the chronology of the stairway, which is one of the more important contributions of the new studies (Helmke and Awe 2016b:Table 2). We still do not know how many step-blocks were in the original composition, but the number of proven joins suggest that a good proportion are already in hand. Of the 13 steps from Naranjo and Ucanal, seven can be fixed in relative order by means of their dates and distance numbers, while four undated ones receive suggested placements in this study. This leaves only two blocks, Steps II and IV (Figure 7a, b). The closest parallel for the supervision of deities on the first of these appears on Caracol Stela 3 at C5-D5, where the same divine oversight takes place at K’an II’s accession in 618. It is not unlikely that the stairway text referred to this important event and one might posit that Step II is a surviving part of that account. If so, this is an area where two or more adjoining blocks must be missing, since we have no Distance Numbers to count to and from that point. Step IV presents a steeper challenge. The text looks very much like a truncated version of the one on Stela 3 at D10b-D14a. There a series of actions are recounted for the day 184.108.40.206.5 in 622, including the arrival of what seems to be a god effigy of some sort and the presentation of a gift, using the ya-k’a-wayak’aw verb seen on Step IV, where the Snake king Tajoom Uk’ab K’ahk’ is named as the bestower (the gift may well be the effigy itself). However, Step IV ends with a Distance Number of 14.7.10, which is too large to fit into the slowly accumulating chronology of the stairway as we currently understand it. Since Tajoom Uk’ab K’ahk’ acceded in 622 and died in 630 it cannot link events within his reign. Wherever this stone fits, it is an outlier of some kind, directing us to another event of unknown significance in the future or past.
* * *
But there is a final nagging feature of the stairway narrative that demands our attention. As we have seen, the known text discusses two characters that bear the full k’uhul kaanul ajaw title of Snake kings, Tajoom Uk’ab K’ahk’ (in 630) and Waxaklajuun Ubaah Kaan (in 636 and 640), as well as one carrying the lesser epithet of kaanul ajaw Yuknoom Head (in 631 and 636) (Figure 8a). Conspicuous by his absence is the Snake king in power when the stairway was commissioned in 642, Yuknoom Ch’een, who had assumed the throne six years earlier in April 636—an event that, according to the new chronology, the stairway completely ignores. I have previously wondered if Yuknoom Head could not be some pre-accession guise for Yuknoom Ch’een since, if true, it would resolve a number of difficulties (Martin 2005:7, n.9).
To examine this question, we should begin by comparing what we know of each character. In addition to his mentions on the stairway, Yuknoom Head is twice named on Caracol Stela 3, at D20a and F4a, where he is linked to conflicts in 627 and 631. The later of the two is the great triumph also commemorated on Step VI, his conquest of Naranjo by means of a “star war.” The earlier one is a battle credited to K’an II which is done yiitij/yitaaj “with” Yuknoom Head (this phrase is syntactically scrambled so that the Caracol emblem glyph can complete the rear face text). This no doubt indicates cooperative military action between the two polities, though not necessarily as equals. Although Yuknoom Head is without title here, the reference is consistent with his lack of kingly status since Tajoom Uk’ab K’ahk’ was alive at this time. When Yuknoom Head battles the next k’uhul kaanul ajaw, Waxaklajuun Ubaah Kaan, in the “civil war” of 636 he is identified with a combination where his title ka-KAAN[AJAW] overlays his name, which can be seen only as yu[ku] at top and li below (Figure 8b). This is not a unique case, not dissimilar amalgams occur in the texts of the later Calakmul king Yuknoom Took’ K’awiil, for example on Calakmul Stela 52 at G1.
Turning now to Yuknoom Ch’een, until recently we knew nothing of his career before his attack on Dos Pilas in 648 (Guenter 2003). However, one of the new La Corona panels delivers a much earlier reference, describing a ballgame he conducted at that site in February 635 (Stuart 2012). It is notable that this date falls between the two mentions of Yuknoom Head on the stairway. The ballgame occurs 54 days before a “foundation” event—a verb associated with both newly installed and restored royal authority—which appears to take place at Dzibanche (Stuart 2012; Martin and Velásquez 2016). Evidence from Calakmul establishes that Yuknoom Ch’een took the role of “founder” in its short dynastic count, clearly claiming that he was the first Snake king at that site (Martin 2005:7-8). However, on Step VI a reference to Yuknoom Head as “at Uxte’tuun, Chiik Nahb Person” appears to place him as the first Snake dynast at Calakmul (Tokovinine 2007:19-21). Yuknoom Ch’een acceded to office just 58 days after Yuknoom Head’s victory over Waxaklajuun Ubaah Kaan, and the two events seem connected—indeed that the second appears to be dependent on the first (see also Helmke and Awe 2016b:18).
To recap, here is a chronology of the major events falling between 630 and 640:
9.09.17.11.14 630 Death of Tajoom Uk’ab K’ahk’ (Ucanal Misc. Stone 1)
9.09.18.16.03 631 Naranjo conquered by Yuknoom Head (Naranjo HS Step VI & Caracol St. 3)
9.10.02.01.10 635 Ballgame of Yuknoom Ch’een (La Corona Elements 33 & 35)
9.10.02.04.04 635 Foundation at(?) kaanul (La Corona Element 33)
9.10.03.02.12 636 Waxaklajuun Ubaah Kaan defeated by Yuknoom Head (Naranjo HS. Step I)
9.10.03.05.10 636 Accession of Yuknoom Ch’een (Calculated from La Corona Altar 1)
9.10.07.09.17 640 Execution of Waxaklajuun Ubaah Kaan (Xunantunich Panel 3)
What are we to make of all this? Lacking a clear solution, we are left with two main scenarios:
(1) Yuknoom Head and Yuknoom Ch’een were contemporaries, perhaps siblings or a father and son. The former was established at Calakmul by at least 631 (kaanul having at some point replaced an existing dynasty there) and after the death of Tajoom Ukab K’ahk’ he fought the next king and holder of the k’uhul kaanul ajaw title Waxaklajuun Ubaah Kaan. He succeeds but, possibly wounded or killed, disappears at much the same moment and Yuknoom Ch’een quickly takes on the kingly mantle; or (2) The same set of events unfold but Yuknoom Head is either a pre-accession name, or simply a distinct or more elaborated moniker, for Yuknoom Ch’een. It would be the same person who establishes a base at Calakmul, attacks Naranjo, triumphs in the civil war, and assumes the full Snake title.
There are pros and cons to both positions. If the stairway seeks to encapsulate the instantiation of legitimate authority and practical power at Calakmul, how can the first true Snake king there—and the current one at that—be excluded from the narrative? Was the immense influence that Yuknoom Ch’een later displayed based on no more than his good fortune in inheriting the accomplishments of his predecessor, or was it instead grounded in spectacular successes from his early career? The strongest counter-argument is that it would be very unusual for a pre-regnal name to so closely resemble that of an eventual king. That point recedes if the form were instead an unusually complete or alternative name for Yuknoom Ch’een, since Classic Maya kings had lengthy nominal sequences and the short name ubiquitously ascribed to him can only be one part of it. Snake kings seem especially prone to having different parts of their name emphasized at different places and times (e.g. Martin and Beliaev, in press). Even so, it is patently an obstacle that no other source associates him with the form given at Caracol.
* * *
To conclude, the finds at Xunantunich provide valuable new insights into Caracol’s hieroglyphic stairway and the events it describes. It is a Period Ending monument, but one dedicated to the ritual ballgame that appropriately chimes with the martial flavor of the whole text. Beyond that, its rhetorical purpose is to assert K’an II’s support for the new Snake order, presenting its own wars against Naranjo as contributions to the decisive Calakmul triumph over that rival in 631. K’an II was a self-declared client of the kaanul dynasty, having received his royal headband in a ceremony supervised by Yuknoom Ti’ Chan in 619, the year after his initial accession (Martin 2009, 2014:184). He continued to be a dutiful subject ally in the time of Yuknoom Ti’ Chan’s successor, Tajoom Uk’ab K’ahk’—accounting for the positive contact with that king—but evidently took common cause with Yuknoom Head against Waxaklajuun Ubaah Kaan. Alex Tokovinine (pers. comm. 2016) suggests that the wars between Naranjo and Caracol arose because they backed different sides in the civil war. Here Naranjo, itself a long-time vassal to the kaanul kings, would play the loyalist and thus enemy to the aspiring power of Calakmul, whereas Caracol supported the breakaway and the stairway celebrates the success of that choice. Yet the general struggle must have begun somewhat earlier, in the time of Tajoom Uk’ab K’ahk’, since Caracol was at odds with Naranjo from at least 626. The data demonstrate that as early as 642 the rise of Calakmul was considered to be a significant development in the political landscape of the central lowlands, one worthy of special record. The following decades of Yuknoom Ch’een’s rule would more than bear out that judgement, as the Snake dynasty drew ever more royal houses into its orbit and came closer than any of its rivals to forming a Maya “imperium.”
My thanks go to David Stuart, Stephen Houston, and Christophe Helmke who made helpful comments in the development of this text.
 Theoretically, there could be an intervening Lunar Series on another block or blocks. However, the direct join between Glyph F on Naranjo HS Step VI and 18 K’ank’in on the first medallion of Xunantunich Panel 4 makes that unlikely.
 David Stuart (pers. comm. 2016) reminds me of a pair of monuments at Ceibal (Seibal)—Stela 5 and 7— that show a single king equipped with ballplaying gear, where the texts also associate a Period Ending with a game.
 Following incremental insights and corrections from Spinden and Joyce, Morley (1937-38.2:44) connected this Distance Number of 14.7.10 to the terminal mark of 220.127.116.11.0. This would date the missing event to 18.104.22.168.10 in 628, which has no outside corroboration but does at least have the merit of falling within the reign of Tajoom Uk’ab K’ahk’.
 It could be argued that the lack of interest shown in Yuknoom Ch’een was because K’an II had, by means of his support for the new regime, pulled away from kaanul supervision. There may be something to that, but the grandiosity of this monumental statement—which serves to glorify Calakmul—must place as much of an eye on the present and future as it does on the past.
 The names of Yuknoom Head and Yuknoom Took’ K’awiil share several features. Both show the yu[ku] conflation atop a human face with a dot on its cheek, together with a li suffix (Martin 2005:5, n.5). The same form appears in the name of an unrelated sculptor on Calakmul Stela 51 (Martin, Houston, and Zender 2015) and, more distantly, at Palenque where K’inich Kan Bahlam II is associated with the same name as a child (Tablet of the Foliated Cross, G4, and Tablet of the Sun, J2). Variable elements are cloth-like projections extending over the cheek, an infixed k’in sign that might signal CH’EEN (none of the examples are sufficiently well-preserved to be clear on this point), and a TOOK’ “flint” sign. Yuknoom Head’s name does not include these, but on Caracol Stela 3 at D20a we might see the presence of the arm-and-stone motif that cues the god-name YOPAAT, but that identification remains uncertain.
Beetz, Carl P., and Linton Satterthwaite. 1981. The Monuments and Inscriptions of Caracol, Belize. University Museum Monograph 45. The University Museum, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia.
Graham, Ian. 1978. Corpus of Maya Hieroglyphic Inscriptions, Vol. 2, Part 2: Naranjo, Chunhuitz, Xunantunich. Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology, Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts.
1980. Corpus of Maya Hieroglyphic Inscriptions, Vol. 2, Part 3: Ixkun, Ucanal, Ixtutz, Naranjo. Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology, Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts.
Grube, Nikolai. 1994. Epigraphic Research at Caracol, Belize. In Studies in the Archaeology of Caracol, Belize, Pre-Columbian Art Research Institute Monograph 7, edited by Diane Z. and Arlen F. Chase, pp.83-122. Pre-Columbian Art Research Institute, San Francisco.
Helmke, Christophe, and Jaime Awe. 2016a. Death Becomes Her: An Analysis of Panel 3, Xunantunich, Belize. PARI 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. PARI Journal 17(2):1-22.
Maler, Teobert. 1908. Explorations in the Department of Peten, Guatemala and Adjacent Region Topoxté, Yaxhá, Benque Viejo, Naranjo: Reports of Explorations for the Museum. Memoirs of the Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology 4(2). Harvard University, Cambridge, Mass.
Martin, Simon. 2000. At the Periphery: The Movement, Modification and Re-use of Early Monuments in the Environs of Tikal. In The Sacred and the Profane: Architecture and Identity in the Southern Maya Lowlands, edited by P.R. Colas, K. Delvendahl, M. Kuhnert, and A. Pieler, pp. 51-62. Acta Mesoamericana 10, Markt Schwaben.
___________. 2005 Of Snakes and Bats: Shifting Identities at Calakmul. The PARI Journal 6(2):5-15.
___________. “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.
____________. 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. In press. K’ahk’ Ti’ Ch’ich’: A New Snake King from the Early Classic Period. The PARI Journal 17(3).
Martin, Simon, and Erik Velásquez. 2016. Polities and Places: Tracing the Toponyms of the Snake Dynasty. The PARI Journal 17(2):23-33.
Morley, Sylvanus G. 1937-8. Inscriptions of Peten. Carnegie Institution of Washington Publication 437: 5 Vols. Washington, D.C.
Miller, Mary Ellen, and Stephen D. Houston. 1987. The Classic Maya Ballgame and its Architectural Setting: A Study of Relations between Text and Image. Res: Anthropology and Aesthetics 14:46-65.
Schele, Linda and David Freidel. 1990. A Forest of Kings: The Untold Story of the Ancient Maya. William Morrow, New York.
Schele, Linda and Mary Ellen Miller. 1986. The Blood of Kings: Dynasty and Ritual in Maya Art. Sotheby’s and Kimbell Art Museum, Fort Worth.
Stone, Andrea, Dorie Reents, and Robert Coffman. 1985. Genealogical Documentation of the Middle Classic Dynasty of Caracol, El Cayo, Belize. In Fourth Palenque Round Table, 1980, Volume IV, edited by Elizabeth P. Benson, pp. 267-276. Pre-Columbian Art Research Institute, San Francisco.
by David Stuart (The University of Texas at Austin), Marcello Canuto (Tulane University), Tomás Barrientos Quezada (Universidad del Valle de Guatemala), and Maxime Lamoureax St-Hillaire (Tulane University)
During the 2015 excavation season at La Corona, Guatemala, two new sculpted blocks were recovered in excavations of the site’s main palace overseen by one of the authors, Maxime Lamoueax St-Hilaire. Both blocks are parts of larger compositions that were removed from their original settings and re-set in a masonry wall near the northeast corner of the palace complex. The precise archaeological context of the discovery will be presented separately, and described in detailed at the upcoming SImposio de Investigaciones Arqueológicas en Guatemala.
Each stone has been assigned an “Element” designation in accordance with the nomenclature system developed for La Corona’s corpus of sculpture (Stuart et. al. 2015). Each stone seems to be part of a larger panel or sculpted step, so it is important to note that their designations may be modified in the future to reflect new understandings of their original form and presentation.
Also, we should stress that the following commentary is itself preliminary. More formal and complete presentations will appear as part of the series La Corona Notes, and in subsequent publications sponsored by the Proyecto Arqueológico Regional La Corona, directed by Marcello Canuto and Tomás Barrientos Quezada.
Element 55 shows a small intricately carved scene of a costumed ruler engaged in a dance performance. The date is the period ending 22.214.171.124.0 7 Ahau 3 Cumku, or January 20, 702 A.D. The accompanying hieroglyphs name the ruler as ? Ti’ K’awiil, a prominent king of Calakmul sometimes known in the literature as “Took K’awiil'” (a designation based on his variant name glyphs; see Martin and Grube 2000:112). This appears to be the left-half of a larger scene that would have presented another figure facing the dancer, in all likelihood a local La Corona ruler.
The main portion of the text (from B1 to D6) reads:
u baah ti ahk’ot ? ti’ k’awiil k’uhul kaanul ajaw elk’in(?) kaloomte’ ux te’ tuun
“(it is) his person in (the act of) dancing, ? Ti’ K’awiil, the Holy Kaanul Lord, the east Kaloomte’, (at) ux te’tuun.”
The inscription on the left side of the block gives the Calendar Round date 7 Ahau (A1) 3 Cumku (A4), along with Glyphs G9 (A2) and F (A3). This corresponds with the half-k’atun period ending falling on 126.96.36.199.0. The verb phrase (B1) and the name and titles of the king (C1-D5) make up most of the rest of the text, ending in a place name uxte’tuun (Calakmul), indicating where the dance performance took place. The glyphs are very finely carved in a style reminiscent of Block V from Hieroglyphic Stairway 2 (the somewhat infamous “2012 block”). A certain scribal flair is evident in these hieroglyphs which display unusual head variant signs and ornate forms, such as the unusual “east” glyph (D4) displaying the head of the sun god K’inich Ajaw emerging from the open maw of an alligator.
The Calakmul ruler depicted, ? Ti’ K’awiil (“Took’ K’awiil”) assumed the throne in 698, as revealed in two historical texts unearthed in 2012 (one at La Corona, another at El Peru) (Stuart et. al., 2014). He is named on several other monuments at Calakmul, and a particularly beautiful version of his name, similar to the one given here, occurs Stela 8 of Dos Pilas. The ruler’s dance on 188.8.131.52.0 marked a special occasion in his life history, being the first major period ending of his reign. He would live at least three more decades and be responsible for some of Calakmul’s most beautiful monuments, including those erected around Structure 1 on 184.108.40.206.0.
Element 56 is a all-glyphic block, probably the second part of a longer text with its first portion still missing. In format this partial inscription is very much like the “2012 block” discovered a few years ago in Hieroglyphic Stairway 2. It displays precisely the same grid dimensions as that block, in fact, and dates to just a few years before. Its style bears a strong resemblance to other texts known from La Corona dating to the end of the seventh century.
Summary of inscription:
The partial text recounts several important events involving the La Corona ruler named Chak Ak’ Paat Yuk, leading up to his accession in 689 and culminating in the dedication of an ancestral shrine for the new king’s deceased parents in 690.
The text emphasizes aspects of Chak Ak’ Paat Yuk’s political career, and especially close interactions with the king who reigned at Calakmul in those years, Yuknoom Yich’aak K’ahk’. Some of the history mentioned on Element 56 describes ceremonial dressing and adornment, no doubt reflecting the complex process of royal investiture before Chak Ak’ Paat Kuy’s inauguration on September 9, 689. He returned to Saknikte’ two weeks later on September 23, to establish his new political presence, and shortly thereafter focused his attention on the construction of a shrine (wayib, “sleeping place”) for his father and mother, who died within a few months of each other over twenty years earlier, back in 667.
It is difficult to know what the missing first half of this inscription had to say, but we suspect it may have opened with a Long Count date 220.127.116.11.13 3 Ben 11 Zip and an accompanying record of the shrine dedication. It may also have had something to say about the end of the reign of Chak Ak’ Paat Yuk’s older brother, K’inch ? Yook, who is last heard from in 683.
We should mention that the name Chak Ak’ Paat Kuy refers to the same individual we have previously called Chak Ak’ach or Chak Ak’ach Yuk (“Red Turkey”). The new name reflects a revision based on clearer spellings in this new inscription (Houston, Stuart and Zender, in preparation).
The inscription opens in mid-passage, clearly indicating it was once part of a larger text. First glyph (pA1) is the place name SAK-NIK-TE’, for the local toponym of La Corona, Saknikte’, meaning “white blossom.” The date iassociated with this episode is missing but it can be reconstructed based on the time interval indicated afterward. The event is missing, but given what comes next it seems reasonable to suppose that this passage once recorded Chak Ak’ Paat Kuy’s departure from Saknikte’ as he heads off to Calakmul.
Four days later a new event takes place, written with the phrase pehkaj yichnal yuknoom yich’aak k’ahk’ kaloomte’ “he was summoned(??) before Yuknoom Yich’aak K’ahk’, the kaloomte’” (pB4-pA6). That is to say, the La Corona ruler has an important meeting and conference with Calakmul’s king. It is possible that his older brother K’inich ? Yook had recently passed away or otherwise been de-installed as ruler at La Corona, leading to the need for a face-to-face discussion.
Many months later we find Chak Ak Paat Kuy beginning an investiture rite, probably while he is still in Calakmul. The first of these events is recorded here, possibly taking place at dawn or sunset (a temporal adverb appears at pC1). The verb statement is unique, never seen before in any Maya text: po-tza-ja U-pa-ti, for pohtzaj u paat, possibly “his back is wrapped” (pD1-pC2). This happened under the watchful direction of the Calakmul king. We suspect that the La Corona nobleman was being given a ceremonial snake back-rack, much like the one we see depicted on Element 55. A similar costume is shown worn by his older brother K’inich ? Yook on La Corona’s Panel 1.
One week later Chak Ak’ Paat Kuy’s “say huun is tied (kahchaj).” We are not quite sure what a say huun is, but it probably is some paper-cloth adornment or accessory, possibly a type of headband or wristlet. Whatever it is, the same event is recorded as a pre-accession rite on Aguateca’s Stela 1 and also at Naranjo’s Stela 32. Here the spelling of the object is sa-HUUN, whereas elsewhere it is more fully sa-ya-HUUN.
18.104.22.168.2 6 Ik 5 Yax (August 18, 689) (pC5)
Three days later “he sets-up(?) at Ahktuun.” The phrase is somewhat enigmatic, but it may indicate the La Corona lord’s movement in or around Calakmul as he prepared for his upcoming accession ceremony, recorded in the next passage. The verb is the same one we often find associated with formal “foundation” events for royal courts at new locations. Ahktuun (literally “turtle-stone”) is the basis for a word for “cave” (often spelled actun in modern Yukatek), although here it may refer to an architectural or urban feature. The passage also cites the verb huli, “he arrived” in connection with an enigmatic place name (tz’i?-ni).
Here we have the record of Chak Ak Paat Kuy’s accession as king. The episode mirrors an accession reference we have on La Corona, Stela 1, falling just one day earlier. The king’s name and title phrase is especially long, and includes elements not seen elsewhere (although his name on HS2, Block 5 shows a few parallel elements).
Seventeen days later Chak Ak’ Paat Kuy finally seems to be back at La Corona. As the inscription here puts it very directly, ? t-u-hulil ti tax ajaw, “he ‘sets-up’ upon his arrival as the new king.”
22.214.171.124.0 8 Ahau 8 Uo (March 16, 692) (pG2-pH2)
In the last two columns we read how the “arrival” just cited took place 2.9.2 before 8 Ahau 8 Uo, “when will occur 13 k’atuns.” This is an anticpatorty record that establishes the events in relation to cosmic time, noting their proximity to the upcoming k’atun ending.
126.96.36.199.13 3 Ben 11 Zip (April 9, 690) (pH4-pG5)
The text closes with a stand-alone record of a major ceremony that occurred after the arrival and before the k’atun ending. This is och-k’ahk’ “fire-entering” – a dedication or activation rite at an architectural feature called “the three platform houses.” This almost certainly refers to a collection of structures atop the palace at La Corona. This is the designation of the “the wayib (shrine)” for Chak Nahb Chan and Lady Chak Tok Chahk, the mother and father of Chak Ak’ Paat Kuy and his elder brother and predecessor K’inich ? Yook.
Both stones are partial commemorations of important ceremonies. One is a visual record of a calendar dance ritual at far-off Calakmul, perhaps involving a local ruler as well. The other is a detailed textual record of a local nobleman’s transformation into a ruler under the close supervision of Calakmul’s powerful king, culminating in a ceremony honoring his beloved parents.
This note represents a preliminary analysis of two newly excavated sculptures from La Corona. More detailed analyses will appear in future issues of the La Corona Notes. More to come.
UPDATE: I would like to thank Jens Rohark for pointing out glaring inconsistencies in my initial conversions of the dates on Element 56. These have now been corrected to reflect the Martin and Skidmore 584286 correlation.
Several colleagues have offered valuable thoughts and comments on these new finds, including Stephen Houston, Marc Zender and Simon Martin. Many thanks to them. The authors would also like to thank the Instituto de Antropología e Historia de Guatemala (IDAEH) and the Ministerio de Cultura y Deportes for their continued support in the excavation, conservation and analysis of the two sculptures presented here. We would also like to extend our appreciation to PACUNAM and to the National Geographic Society for their financial and logistical support of the Proyecto Arqueologico Regional La Corona (PARLC) in the 2015 season. The individual authors also acknowledge the help and assistance of their respective academic institutions, Tulane University, the Universidad del Valle de Guatemala, and The University of Texas at Austin.
Houston, Stephen, David Stuart and Marc Zender. In preparation. The Reanalysis of a La Corona King’s Name. To appear in La Corona Notes.
Martin, Simon, and Nikolai Grube. 2000. Chronicles of the Maya Kings and Queens: Deciphering the Dynasties of the Ancient Maya. Thames and Hudson, London.
Stuart, David, Marcello Canuto and Tomas Barrientos Quezada. 2015. The Nomenclature of La Corona Sculpture. La Corona Notes, Number 2. Mesoweb. http://www.mesoweb.com/LaCorona/LaCoronaNotes02.pdf
Stuart, David, Marcello Canuto, Tomás Barrientos, Jocelyne Ponce and Joanne Baron. 2015. Death of the Defeated. Historical Data on Block 4 of La Corona’s Hieroglyphic Stairway 2. La Corona Notes, Number 3. http://www.mesoweb.com/LaCorona/LaCoronaNotes03.pdf