New Captive Sculptures from Tonina

Within the past few months important inscriptions and sculptures have been recovered during excavations near Tonina’s ballcourt overseen by archaeologist Juan Yadeun. Nothing has been presented formally, but two well preserved captive sculptures have recently been featured in the news, alongside the claim that one beautifully preserved sculpture depicts a bound warrior from distant Copan (Figure 1). As I present here, the Copan connection seems dubious, with a Palenque affiliation for the prisoners far more likely, based on comparative evidence from Tonina’s written history.

Figure 1. The captive "Buk' ?" of Palenque. The Tonina sculpture is as yet un-numbered (AP photo by Moyses Zuniga).

Eight glyphs grace the captive’s body — one on each shoulder and a vertical column of six blocks running down the chest and loincloth. The shoulder glyphs mark the beginning and end-point of the text.


uxlajuun(-eew) buluch winikij
k’altuun ta Juun Ajaw
i uht ochk’ahk’ ta ?n
Buk’ ? bolon eht?

“Thriteen-and-eleven score days (before)
the stone binding on 1 Ahaw,
then occurs the fire-entering at the ballcourt.
(It is) Buk’ ? of the nine companions(?).”

The final two glyphs present an interesting question in term of discourse and syntax. The captive’s name (Buk’ ?) at the base of the loincloth seems to “hang” somewhat relative to the surrounding syntax and the fire-entering verb — how would be be connected with that event as either an agent or patient? As my translation above indicates, one might cosnider a rhetorical transition occurring after the ballcourt term, with the personal name serving as a simple caption for the figure, much like we see in other Tonina captive sculptures. It’s possible, too, that the name is cited in this context as part a supplemental clause of some sort, in the sense that the fire-entering at the ball-court takes place “with regard” to the named prisoner. In any case, it’s a rare structure.

The text juxtaposes two dates that can be easily identified. “1 Ahaw” is surely the period-ending 1 Ahaw 3 Pop (February 15, 697 AD), cited here as a future anchor to the contemporaneous event, the ritual dedication of the ballcourt. The distance number that opens the text would place this earlier och-k’ahk’ event at 2 Manik’ 15 Yaxk’in (June 27, 696). This same date is cited also on M. 140 (at pBa and pCb), although the associated event description is missing (see Graham and Mathews 1999:171).

Figure 2. Monument 145 from Tonina, citing the capture of "Buk' ?" on the day of battle with Palenque (CMHI photo by I. Graham).

The captive Buk’ ? is cited also on Monument 145 (Figure 2), which states that he was taken prisoner (chuhk-j-iiy) on 3 Ak’bal 11 Keh (October 2, 692) (see middle glyph block of bottom row). ┬áThis is the same date given on Monument 172 as the military defeat of Palenque, when the captive K’awiil Mo’ was captured by the Tonina ruler K’inich Baaknal Chahk (see Miller and Martin 2004:185; Graham, Henderson, Mathews and Stuart 20o6: 117). Evidently, then, Buk’ ? was another prominent prisoner taken in this same battle with Palenque.

Despite claims in the media, I doubt Copan was part of this Tonina-Palenque conflict, at least on the evidence available. The confusion here may lie in the fact that a name that is visually similar to Buk’ ? occurs in a number of Copan texts. There a name is spelled k’u-yu-?-AJAW (K’uy ? Ajaw) and refers to a patron deity of the Copan kingdom. The two names are utterly distinct, however, and on present evidence there is little reason to draw any connection between Copan and the prisoners so vividly depicted at Tonina.


Graham, Ian, and Peter Mathews. 1999. Corpus of Maya Hieroglyphic Inscriptions, Volume 6, Number 3: Tonina. Cambridge: Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology.

Graham, Ian, Lucia Henderson, Peter Mathews and David Stuart. 2006. Corpus of Maya Hieroglyphic Inscriptions, Volume 9, Number 2: Tonina. Cambridge: Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology.

Miller, Mary Ellen, and Simon Martin. 2004. The Courtly Art of the Ancient Maya. New York: Thames and Hudson.